Should You Heat an Empty House? Are You Just Burning Money?

Researched & Written by Craig

Spending some time away from home can be seriously refreshing, especially in the winter. However, empty homes pose some problems in cold weather. Just because no one’s in your home doesn’t mean you can leave it cold.

You should heat your empty house. Winter temperatures can lead to problems like frozen pipes, flooding, and other water damage. You don’t have to heat it to a comfortable temperature, though. Proper insulation and the right thermostat setting will help you keep bills down when you’re not around.

Some people might think that winter temperatures won’t cause problems, but even dropping below 40 degrees Fahrenheit can lead to damage.

If you’re not home, your house still needs to be kept reasonably warm.

Heat isn’t free, but it’s much cheaper to keep your empty house warm than to repair serious damage later.

Why It’s Important to Heat Empty Homes

It can be tempting to leave your vacant house to its own devices. After all, no one is there to complain about the cold. However, the cold will leave its mark, especially if you live in a cooler climate. Problems can start to crop up as early as autumn

Cold temperatures cause three main problems for unheated homes:

  • Frozen pipes
  • Flooding
  • Humidity and water damage

Unheated homes naturally wind up at the same temperature as the outdoors over time. Even the best insulated home will slowly cool down as winter sets in. Heat slowly escapes through cracks, vents, and even through solid walls. The result is a house that can’t protect its plumbing anymore.

When your pipes get too cold, you’re faced with one of two possibilities: either they’re going to freeze, or they’re going to crack and leak. With older pipes, you might even get lucky (ha!) and have to deal with both problems.

The only way to prevent this is to keep your pipes from getting too cold. Heating your home enough to keep the plumbing in the walls above freezing is the simplest way to manage that.

Even if your pipes don’t freeze or crack, cold temperatures lead to humidity problems. Vacant homes are typically sealed up tight against the elements. If you aren’t maintaining your home’s temperature, then this seal causes two problems.

First, any humidity inside the house is trapped. There’s nowhere for the moisture to go, so it’s going to hang around causing problems.

Second, even in the winter, temperatures can fluctuate. Sunny days can cause your house to heat up slightly. If you’ve ever stepped into a car on a sunny day and found the inside to be scorching hot, it’s the same principle. Your house may not get that warm, but it will certainly become warmer than the great outdoors.

So now you have a humid, warm space separated from the frigid outdoors. Have you ever seen condensation on a cold glass of water on a hot day? That’s what the windows and exterior walls of your house will look like. This condensation can lead to serious water damage near doors and windows, including mold, mildew, and rotten frames.

Heating your empty house can prevent this from ever being a problem.

What’s the Best Temperature for an Empty House?

Luckily, you don’t have to heat your home much to protect it from the elements. You can keep a vacant house at 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit to keep it safe.

This is balancing two factors. First, you need to keep your heater running high enough to stay efficient. Most home HVAC systems can effectively maintain a temperature of 55 degrees through your entire home. Any lower than that and some heaters become less effective. That can lead to the far corners of your home getting too cold and putting your plumbing at risk.

Second, you want to keep your costs down. Energy costs to heat a home increase for every degree above the outdoors you want to maintain. The smaller the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures, the lower your heating bill will be. 55 degrees is a safe compromise between safety and cost-effectiveness.

How to Efficiently Heat an Empty Home

Heating your empty house efficiently can be simple. The trick is to keep your HVAC system set low and help the house retain as much heat as possible.

Protect the Plumbing

First and foremost, make sure that your pipes are in good condition. If you’re going to be away for longer than a few weeks, it’s best to turn off the water and drain the pipes completely. It’s easier to keep pipes from freezing if there’s no water in them to begin with.

If you have hose spigots on the outside of the house, make sure to insulate them. Hose spigot covers can work, or you can use old bundled towels covered with plastic. Just make sure everything is dry and tightly sealed.

Set the Thermostat

Next, go set your thermostat to the right temperature. 55 degrees is safe in just about every house. Make sure the heater is set to automatic, so it will kick in only when temperatures drop below that threshold. This will help you keep heating costs low.

If your thermostat allows you to set the fan, consider setting it to low but constant. This will keep humidity from building up in any one room. That way, even if there’s an unusually warm day, you won’t face humidity and condensation problems.

Keep Things Airtight

If your empty house is leaking air every which way, your heating bills will be sky-high no matter what. Insulating the house properly will help keep bills down, since you won’t be losing as much heat to the outside.

You don’t have to tear out walls or anything to manage this, either. Just focusing on the worst air leaks will be enough to save you money.

  • Seal Doors. If a house is going to be empty for a while, consider replacing the weatherstripping on outside doors. This will help keep heat from escaping through cracks and gaps around the doors. You may also need to recaulk around older exterior doors.
  • Seal Windows. Plastic film insulation is a simple way to seal off your windows. You can find purpose-specific window film at hardware store. You can also use plastic cling wrap an tape if you have just a few windows you want to cover. Also, like doors, older windows can sometimes benefit from some recaulking around the frame. If you see cracks or feel a draft around the window, you should probably seal it.
  • Close Vents. Open vents let your heating budget fly right out the door. Close any vents that lead to the outdoors, including oven vents, dryer vents, ventilation fans, and anything else that sends air outside.

If you keep these tips in mind, your vacant house will stay warmer all winter long.

Conclusion

When it comes right down to it, heating an empty home is all about preventing water damage.

From plumbing problems to condensation damage, an unheated vacant house can develop all sorts of water problems. Keeping your home at a stable 55 degrees will help keep water of all types under control. Insulating the house before you leave and setting the thermostat will save you thousands of dollars in the long run.

I’m working to turn this website into a great resource for every homeowner. Hopefully this article has helped you safely heat your vacant home. If it’s made your life a little easier, why not support us by checking out some of our other posts?

Thanks for reading! Have a great day.

-Craig