What You Should (and Shouldn’t) Unplug or Turn Off When You Go On Vacation

Multiple power adaptors and cables plugged into a power strip
Jason Fitzpatrick / How-To Geek

From saving money on your electric bill to protecting sensitive electronics from damage, there are plenty of good reasons to unplug things when you go on vacation. Here’s what you should shut down, what you shouldn’t, and when.

Why Unplug and Turn Things Off When You’re On Vacation?

You might wonder why anybody would bother if you’ve never unplugged anything or fiddled with your appliances before a vacation. There are three good reasons to unplug or turn off certain things around your home while you’re gone.

First, the low stakes reason. You’ll save money. Even with energy efficiency improvements over the years, the standby power consumption of many devices around our homes is surprisingly high. Why spend money keeping your home in a ready-to-go state when you’re hundreds of miles away enjoying your vacation?

In addition to saving money, unplugged devices are safe from power surges. You won’t be home to deal with power outages and manage your home, so it’s best to take precautions in advance. And the single best precaution you can take to protect your electronics and appliances from power outages is to unplug them.

Finally, you’re proactively managing the small (but always present) risk that something will go catastrophically wrong while you are away. If a particular appliance is going to catch on fire or a plumbing fixture is going to leak eventually, better those things happen when you are home and can immediately deal with them than when you’re out of town.

So with that in mind, let’s look at some things you should unplug and turn off when you’ll be out of town—and some things to leave on.

But before we jump in, a quick note. Millions of people go on vacation every year without ever unplugging a thing or turning anything off, and they come back to homes that are intact without any fires, flooding, or fried electronics, so we certainly don’t want to fearmonger about the matter. However, the following advice is easy to follow and stacks the deck in your favor to avoid mishaps and damage.

Unplug or Turn Off These Things If You’ll Be Gone

For the most part, you can unplug nearly everything in your home before going on vacation without any problem. And, if you’re being very cautious about avoiding power surges or accidents, there’s nothing wrong with an unplug-all-the-things approach to the problem (with a few exceptions we’ll discuss in the next section.) But let’s highlight some key things you should unplug or turn off before heading out.

TVs, Game Consoles, and Cable Boxes

You’d be surprised how much energy your home media center consumes in standby mode. But over the days you’re away on vacation, the bigger goal isn’t saving money by unplugging but protecting expensive electronics from harm. Nobody wants to return from vacation to find out they need to replace their TV and everything else attached to it.

So before you head out, unplug your TV, game consoles, media players and streaming devices, and your cable or satellite box. We don’t usually recommend unplugging your cable or satellite box (because they take so long to boot up and become fully operational again). But it’s not a big deal to wait out the long reboot time a few times a year when you return from vacation.

Computers and Related Accessories

If returning from vacation to find a power surge nuked your TV is bad, returning to find that it took out your computer and everything on it is far worse. (No time like the present to ensure you’re properly backing up your computer.)

Before you head out on vacation, unplug your computers, monitors, printers, and other related equipment from the wall. It won’t harm your computer to leave it unplugged, and it will protect it from any power events in your absence.

Non-Critical Smart Home Equipment

Most smart homes are a mix between critical equipment (like security cameras or smart smoke detectors) and non-critical equipment (like smart speakers or smart mood lighting).

You should unplug all the non-critical smart home devices in your house, especially the ones plugged into regular outlets and not protected by a surge protector.

Battery Chargers

The popularity of lithium-ion-powered tools for use in and around the house has skyrocketed over the years. Many people have stick vacuums, power tools, and even entire lawn and garden platforms powered by high-capacity batteries.

As a general rule, you should only leave such batteries on the charger just to charge them. But it’s extra important to avoid leaving them on the charger while away from home. Modern batteries and chargers have robust protections built in, but a lithium-ion battery failure is a disaster in the making. The last thing you want while on vacation is your lawn mower battery burning your house down.

Your Water Home’s Water Supply

Somewhere in your home, there is a point where the water enters the premises and branches out to supply your sinks, showers, and so on. When you’re away from home for more than a day, it’s wise to turn off the main water supply valve.

By doing so, any leaks that might arise from a cracked seal, a failed water heater, or any issues, are limited to just the water in the leaking device (and the small amount of water left in the line supplying the device). If your water heater’s tank finally cracks when you’re away, turning off the supply is the difference between coming home to a big puddle on the floor or extensive water damage.

Don’t Unplug Or Turn Off These Things

Most things in our homes aren’t critical (especially when we aren’t there to enjoy them). Whether or not our TV and cable box are ready to go when we’re not home doesn’t matter, nor does it matter if our computer automatically downloads updates while we’re away.

As a general rule, if your goal is to minimize the risk of electrical damage, flooding, and such, the only things you should leave plugged in or turned on when you’re away are the things that are critical to your health, the “health” of the home, or your ability to monitor the home while away. Some things in that category are obvious. Nobody unplugs a full fridge before they head off for a holiday or turns off the pump for their fish tank. But some things are less obvious, however.

Wi-Fi Routers and Modems

Turning your Wi-Fi router and modem doesn’t save much power, and we recommend people keep their router and modem turned on all the time.

More importantly, shutting down the network link to your home cuts you off from any smart home gear you might have inside. That means no alert from your smart thermostat if things go awry, for example. And even having your modem and network up and active can serve as a simple way to check if your power is on. That offers peace of mind if you get an alert from your electric company that a storm knocked out power to your neighborhood, and you’re debating heading home early to deal with it.

Critical Smart Home Equipment and Monitors

If a piece of smart home equipment has a function that is useful to you while you are away from home, leave it plugged in.

Smart lights that mimic home occupancy for security fall in that category, but smart lights that are just part of your Twitch streaming setup aren’t (and you can unplug them along with your gaming rig). Anything related to your smart security system is critical too, of course.

Even things like air quality monitors are useful while you’re away. You might have bought them to tell you how healthy (or not) your indoor air quality was, with an emphasis on the quality while you’re living (and possibly working too) in your home. But an alert that a particular metric like particulate or moisture is off the charts while you’re away is a good reason to call a neighbor to investigate.

Circuit Breakers

Rather than unplug things, some people have a habit of flipping some of their circuit breakers off before heading off on vacation. There are a few problems with that approach, however. First and foremost, unless you know exactly what is on a particular circuit, you always risk turning off something you don’t want to turn off.

Over the years, I’ve seen so many homes where the circuit panel label says something like “Main Floor Half Bath” or “Kitchen,” but that circuit is also connected to the outlets in one of the garage walls or some such thing. So you might think you’re taking a shortcut to avoid unplugging all the electronics in the den, but you’re also inadvertently turning off the chest freezer in the garage.

HVAC Systems

It might seem like your heating and cooling system exists for your personal comfort alone, but it also exists to protect your home.

Adjust the temperature range to save money instead of turning off the furnace or AC while you’re out of town. You can set your thermostat back in the winter, within reason, to avoid keeping an empty home toasty. And you can turn the thermostat up in the summer to lower your AC costs. But leaving them on, with adjustment, ensures the HVAC system keeps your home stable while you’re away.

Sump Pumps and Abatement Systems

Any system that ejects water, waste, stale air, or anything else from your home should always stay plugged in, no questions asked. If you don’t know what something does, it should stay plugged in until you figure it out.

This is also a strong argument against the flip-the-breakers method of turning things off. The circuit breaker label might say “Rec Room Outlets” but fail to mention the crawl space sump pump is on the same circuit.

Water Heaters

If you’re only gone for a few days, it’s probably not worth fiddling with your water heater at all. You should skip turning off your water heater for longer trips and instead put it in vacation mode. That keeps the heater operating (and the water in a safe temperature range).

In addition to water safety concerns, turning off the water heater completely can subject it to temperature stresses which can cause leaks. There’s a point in every water heater’s life when it’s held together by calcification and cobwebs, and coming back from vacation to find out that your water heater now leaks isn’t a fun welcome home present.

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