The good news is that traditional tank-based hot water heaters are now also getting smart and likewise saving homeowners money. Electric- and gas-based hot water heaters, from companies such as Rheem, are significantly more efficient than yesteryear’s versions. They’re Wi-Fi–enabled to allow programing hot water temps. Rheem’s Econet app makes it super easy to cut costs with the “I’m away” button, which immediately lowers temps from 120 to 80 degrees until you arrive home again. Even without a smart water heater, it’s important to know this: Setting the water temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit—as opposed to the usual 140-degree manufacturer setting—is more than sufficient and can save hundreds of dollars per year.
3. Go green for emergency power backup
No one wants to go on vacation only to find the house without power because of bad weather. You don’t have to rely on an oil- or gas-powered generator as a backup power system. Large-capacity lithium batteries can ensure your home is safe from storms when you lose power, an especially important consideration if your HVAC system requires electricity. Even though large-scale lithium battery backup systems (Tesla or Enphase) can power even the largest homes, expandable and cost-effective systems from Goal Zero are solid options with less of an investment, allowing you to start small with a 3,000- or 6,000-watt portable power station. Goal Zero also has the possibility to expand with less expensive add-on batteries that can integrate the system into four to six circuits on your circuit board.
4. Add insulation to your vacation home
If you feel cool air dancing through your home, a tactical approach to upgrading your home’s envelope can save you up to 15% according to the EPA. “An inexpensive DIY project for homeowners is to install fiberglass batts to better insulate your attic,” says John Outterson, an architect at Alexandra Immel Residential Design in Seattle. He continues, “The key is to make sure the batts are tight-fitting and completely fill the space between the studs with no gaps or voids. If you have a crawl space under your house, think about adding an air barrier or encapsulating it completely, which can save a lot of money.” This simple DIY is easy enough and results in big savings.
For a bigger investment, consider replacing old windows and install storm doors and weather stripping.
5. Change every lightbulb to LED
Head to the nearest hardware store to purchase cost effective LED bulbs. The savings of using LED versus traditional bulbs is significant. According to the US Department of Energy, lighting typically accounts for around 15% of home electricity costs—the average household saves about $225 in energy costs per year by using LED lighting. Though cutting over to energy-efficient lighting is a super fast way to save money in the short run, it is also a valuable long-term investment: LED bulbs typically last 30,000 to 50,000 hours, versus only 1,000 hours for incandescent lights.
6. Modernize your entertainment
Maintaining two homes can often be expensive. Not long ago, cable providers sold one-size-fits-all bundles that required installation at each home. With the advent of streaming services—such as YouTube TV, Netflix, HBOMax, Amazon Prime, and others—you can buy a high-speed internet service from local providers but share these á la carte offerings across homes. Moving away from one-stop shopping cable plans to an unbundled approach can often save 25% or more (in some cases between $30 and $100 a month), and deliver virtually the same experience.
7. Manage your pantry
With a bit of stewardship, refrigerating, freezing, culling, vacuum-packing, and judicious use of air-tight containers, food stuffs can be conserved over several months, saving money. If you are ahead of the game, you are already using a food saver machine such as a Nesco or FoodSaver sealers to extend the life of foods that can spoil. After you go to a U-Pick farm, chop up fruits and vegetables, seal them, and pack them away in the freezer for the next visit. For the rest of the fridge, follow the FDA’s useful guide of expiration dates. Pack vinegars, oils, and spices in air-tight containers, and they can last season after season. “These things last longer than you think,” van Arsdale notes. “All of this adds up to convenience and savings, by as much as 25% of your annual spending on longer shelf-life foods.”
8. Use the rental income
Perhaps the most significantly way to increase your vacation home ROI is by renting the property when you’re not using it. Federal tax laws allow homeowners to rent their houses for a maximum of fourteen days without having to file the earnings as taxable income. Raymond Mott, broker and owner of Charlestown, Rhode Island-based Mott & Chace, a Sotheby’s International Realty, suggests this is an excellent way to maximize your RIO. “Many vacation homeowners rent their house for up to two weeks per year to cover taxes and ongoing maintenance,” he says. Some DIY prep work is involved, mostly around cleaning and organization, but it’s minor compared to the income you’ll receive. Pro tip: You must repair any structural loose ends, such as wobbly stairs and banisters, loose deck slats, and things that can be overlooked as the so-called charm of your vacation home. You also have to confirm that your homeowner’s insurance policy covers short-term tenants at your house. It’s worth paying more for your policy to protect yourself.
With a firm resolution to modernize your vacation home’s infrastructure, and some personal initiative, you can effectively improve your operating efficiency and improve your beloved vacation home’s ROI. The installation of smart technology combined with good old-fashioned ingenuity can deliver a modern and efficient experience for you, your family, and any guests. Everyone, including your checkbook, comes out a winner. Plautus would be pleased.