Conserve Energy, Save Water and Reduce Utility Costs for Vacation Rentals and Second Homes
Southern California — particularly San Diego County and Orange County — is a popular spot for purchasing a second home or vacation rental.
Folks who live and work in Los Angeles love to escape from the city for the weekend, and those who live in colder parts of the country come here to get away from the cold and enjoy the lifestyle that only towns along the California coast can offer.
This results in lots of homes that are only occupied part time by the owners and spend the rest of the year vacant or being rented out on a short-term basis as vacation rentals.
This is a great way to make your second home at least partially pay for itself, and the movement away from conventional hotels and towards more creative lodging options is changing the travel industry in ways that can make your vacation rental even more lucrative.
Unfortunately, although more travelers are looking for apartments and homes to rent for their vacations, many still treat the private residences where they stay like hotel rooms.
This can mean lots of cleanup and replacing damaged furnishings, but it can also mean some big surprises when you open your utility bills after your short-term renters left the air conditioning on all day every day or forgot to turn off the hose after filling up the kiddie pool.
There are some things that renters expect that come with expenses you cannot do much about, but there are lots of things you can do to make your second home greener and keep more of your money in your wallet.
Read on for 34 tips you can use to conserve energy, save water and reduce utility costs for your second home or vacation rentals.
Heating and Cooling
Just like in a primary residence, heating and cooling costs often have the greatest influence on the overall utility costs for your second home or vacation rental.
If left to their own devices, renters will sometimes leave the air conditioner on all day and all night, even when they are gone, or may forget to turn off the heater before they head out for that day’s adventures.
Air conditioning is definitely something people look for when shopping for a rental, so you will want to offer it if you have it, but there are steps you can take to make sure climate control does not seriously affect your profit margin.
1. Invest in a locking thermostat to prevent renters, repairmen and house cleaners from changing the temperature setting.
2. Provide extra blankets, energy-efficient space heaters and portable fans to encourage renters to use these options before changing the thermostat (or to reduce the chance of irritating them with a locking thermostat).
3. If you renovate the home, add upgrading the insulation to your list of improvements.
4. Add inexpensive, clear window film to older windows to make them more energy efficient.
5. Install inexpensive ceiling fans to cut down on cooling costs.
6. Strategically plant trees to shade the house and lower cooling costs.
7. Install an attic fan.
8. If you have central heating or air, have your air ducts professionally cleaned.
Lighting is an easy place to save at least a few dollars each year, but it can be a bit challenging to ensure that renters will not leave the lights on while they are out or forget to turn them off at night.
Since this seems to all-too-often be the case, here are a few things you can do to reduce energy usage and save money on lighting without requiring the help of your renters.
1. Install motion-sensing porch lights to properly light walkways and doorways when needed but to discourage leaving the light on all night.
2. Install solar path lights to light walkways and the edges of patios or decks to help you avoid a lawsuit and to avoid the cost of using electricity to power these necessary lights.
3. Replace all of your light bulbs with CFL or LED bulbs.
4. Replace your light switches with timers that will automatically shut the light off if renters forget.
5. Lower the wattage or remove lamps that are not necessary to provide adequate light without giving opportunities for overdoing it.
Appliances and Electronics
Appliances and electronics are major purchases, so replacing older models with more energy-efficient ones can mean not realizing your utility savings for anywhere from a few months to a few years.
However, they can also be some of the biggest energy hogs in your second home.
For this reason, alone, it is worth considering replacing some or all of your older appliances and taking steps to reduce the energy used by televisions, refrigerators, toasters, blenders and microwaves.
1. Opt for ENERGY STAR certified, energy-efficient appliances, which will automatically help you save money on utilities.
2. Wherever possible, plug appliances and electronics into power strips that can be switched off when you or your renters are not at the house to help reduce vampire power draw when they are not in use.
3. If you are not using power strips, unplug appliances and electronics when not in use to avoid vampire power draw (you will probably want to keep things like your refrigerator plugged in unless there will be a long vacancy).
4. If your budget allows, choose LED televisions over plasma televisions.
5. Opt for the smallest television that will fit the space and allow you or your renters to comfortably enjoy your favorite shows (a 32-inch television uses about half of the energy used by a 60-inch television).
6. Provide glass food storage containers (instead of plastic) to help your refrigerator keep things cool more efficiently.
7. Purchase a smaller refrigerator without an ice dispenser to save energy.
8. Regularly clean your refrigerator’s coils to help your refrigerator not have to work so hard.
9. If possible, position your refrigerator away from the hot water heater, clothes dryer, central heat vents, wall heaters and stove.
Conventional landscaping can waste a lot of water, but it does not need to be that way.
Second homes are used less often and are generally visited with the intention of using them as a home base from which you or your guests will enjoy the beach, the mountains and local attractions.
While the exterior is important and comfortable outdoor living areas are vital to vacation homes, these homes can afford to be more conservatively landscaped, particularly when done well.
For example, most renters will not even notice that there are no water-loving plants if the landscaping they see has well-placed, drought-tolerant plants with vibrant blooms.
Here are five ways you can save water (and lower your water bill):
1. If you have an irrigation system, install a rain sensor to avoid wasting water when Mother Nature has already watered your plants for you.
2. Remove your water-wasting, natural grass lawn and opt for drought-tolerant plants, or pet-friendly, kid-friendly artificial grass.
3. Use ground covers to help the soil retain water to reduce the amount of irrigation needed.
4. If you have landscaping that requires water and do not have an irrigation system, install a drip system that will more efficiently deliver water to your plants.
5. Replace lawn areas or flower borders with low-water, low maintenance paving stone patios and walkways.
1. Shop around for the lowest price on fixed-price utilities, such as Internet and cable.
2. Check your water heater to see if you can lower the temperature (most of us have them set too high and are wasting money heating the water more than necessary).
3. Folks vacationing in your home for one week or longer will probably find onsite laundry appealing, so if you do not want to remove your washer and dryer, you could at least turn off the hot water so that all washing is done in cold water.
4. Take your garden hoses with you when you leave to discourage renters from washing their cars at your house or allowing their kids to play in the water.
5. Consider purchasing or leasing solar panels to lower your electricity bill.
6. Consider installing touch-activated or hands-free faucets to save water.
7. Install a clothesline to encourage drying clothes, bathing suits and beach towels naturally and without gas or electricity.
If you have a swimming pool on your vacation property, you will also want to read our previous article about the Top 7 Ways to Reduce Your Pool’s Energy Use.
Like housekeeping expenses, repairs, pest control and general maintenance, utility bills are tax deductible as operating expenses.
While this certainly helps offset the cost of maintaining a second home that is used as a vacation rental, it can still be more beneficial to you to take steps to reduce the utility bills connected to your vacation home.
What tips and tricks have you used to conserve energy or save water at your second home?