Water Heater Vacation Mode Vs Pilot Mode

Are you going on a vacation? If so, you’re probably wondering about your water heater and energy consumption! Water heater vacation mode vs pilot, which one might be better for your utility bills? Or should you turn your heater off completely?

Water heaters tend to consume energy even when they’re not actively trying to make your water warmer. The only way to make sure they are not using power is to turn them off completely.

However, once you turn the heater off, it will spend lots of energy trying to heat the water back from cold to warm!

As such, it might be smarter to simply place your heater onto a setting that spends as little energy as possible while you’re away. But what is the best option? Water heater vacation mode vs pilot – which one might be the right for you and your heater?

Let’s find out!

Water Heater Vacation Mode Vs Pilot Mode



When no one is going to be home, there seems to be no reason for a water heater to be turned on, right?

You might be surprised to find out that you might be better off leaving your heater on than turning it off completely! This is because there will be some ‘collateral damage’ if you turn the heater off and allow your home to cool off.

Unless you’re planning to go on very long vacations, you don’t need to turn your heater off. If you do, it’ll use more energy to heat everything up later on.

From hybrid water heaters to tankless water heaters, all water heaters need some type of energy to work. The more they need to raise the temperature, the more energy they’ll use.

As such, it might be better to learn all about water heater vacation mode vs pilot mode, as these might help you save a few bucks on your utility bill.

But first, you must understand both of these modes to know their benefits and flaws.

What Is the Vacation Setting on a Water Heater?

Even if you’ve seen the label on your unit, perhaps you don’t know what does vacation mode on water heater do.

This is a system that allows your heater to run at low temperatures, much lower than standard. No one might give you the exact answer to ‘What temperature is vacation mode on water heater?’ without looking into your model. However, most manufacturers set vacation mode on their devices to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sure, 50 degrees is too low for your home. No one wants to shower at temperatures that are so low!

By keeping the water heated to this temperature, your heater is preventing everything from freezing.

What Is Pilot Mode on Water Heater?


Pilot mode is similar to sleep setting some other devices have. It exists on gas water heaters that have a pilot light.

A pilot light is an ignition source used by most gas water heaters. As long as it’s on, you’ll have gas flowing through your heater.

Without a pilot light, the gas won’t burn. Instead, it might flow out of the unit, causing carbon monoxide poisoning.

Pilot mode helps ensure the light is on at all time. It is also known as a standing pilot. It is a safety mechanism that ensures all the gas is used for heating purposes.

However, pilot mode also spends the energy while it’s working.

Should You Keep Your Water Heater at Low Temperatures?

Many homeowners think that it might be better to keep their water heater at low settings. The answer to this might be tricky.

If you set your water heater at lower temperatures, you might save on utility bills. It is estimated that standby heat losses on heaters set at a temperature of 140 degrees or higher stand anywhere between $36 and $61.

By lowering the temperature, you might save a bit on your utility bills. Most of us don’t even need their water to reach 140 degrees!

However, there are a few dangers to keeping the temperature this low. This includes:

  • A greater risk of bacterial infections
  • Increased risk of respiratory issues

A water temperature that is lower than 140 degrees will do a poor job in killing bacteria in hot water heater. This might lead to bacteria growth inside your water heater.

Even if you know how to flush a tankless water heater, this won’t do much help with bacteria. This method is mostly used for lime scale and other buildup removal.

The only way to make sure your water heater is free from harmful bacteria is to make sure it is heated to 135 – 140 degrees. This temperature will kill most bacteria, including the harmful legionella.

However, if you increase the temperature by too much, you are risking scalding and burns.

Not just that, but there is no reason to keep your water heater as warm when you’re not home. While vacation mode is recommended, you can simply set lower water temperatures. This alone will reduce energy consumption.

Once you come home and want to use the heater again, turn the temperature up and wait a bit. This should kill all the bacteria.

Which One Is Better?

Now that you know what each of these modes does individually, it’s easier to decide which one is better, water heater vacation mode vs pilot mode. The answer seems to be pretty obvious.

If you’re on a vacation, you don’t want to keep the pilot light on. Sure, it is safe, but it won’t do well for your utility bills.

While a pilot mode might sound like you’re setting your heater to some automatic mode, this isn’t exactly the case. Quite the opposite – it means you’re constantly burning gas in your heater.

On the other hand, vacation mode helps you make sure the water doesn’t freeze, while also making sure it isn’t too cold to be warmed up again.

In general, pilot mode is an excellent choice if you’re using your water heater regularly, but maybe not in this exact moment. Vacation mode is a better choice if you’re going to stay away from home and it isn’t necessary to have hot water at all times.

Keep in mind that standard pilot mode exists only on gas water heaters, while both gas and electric heaters might have a vacation mode.

Is Vacation Mode Necessary?

Vacation, or sleep mode, is present on most of modern water heaters. However, it isn’t necessary per say.

Sure, there are several benefits to the vacation mode. However, there are ways to thaw your pipes, even if they are underground. You don’t need vacation mode for that

Still, if you allow the pipes to freeze, you might end up using more energy trying to thaw them than if you would use for an entire week on vacation mode!

Turning your heater off probably sounds tempting, especially if you live in areas where freezing isn’t a danger. Despite this, your heater will still use lots of energy to heat the water back up, especially if it wasn’t working for days.

Still, the decision on whether you’ll use vacation mode or not is up to you. If your home is in a really warm area, your water might stay at fairly high temperatures even while you’re away! On such occasions, vacation mode would just eat away your energy.

Read Also: Tall vs Short Water Heater

Final Word

So, water heater vacation mode vs pilot mode – can this comparison even be made?

Vacation and pilot mode are not the same – at least not in most gas heaters. Some electric heaters might use these terms interchangeably.

Pilot mode ensures your pilot light is always on, burning the gas inside your heater. Vacation mode ensures the water heater is turned on just enough to keep the water from freezing and helping you heat the water more quickly later.

As such, it’s challenging to declare a clear winner.

In general, a vacation mode is a better choice if you’re going to be away from home for a while. A pilot mode is better if you’re not going anywhere, but are seldom using your water heater.

Think about what you want from your heater, and start from there.