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Water Heater Vacation Mode Vs Pilot: An In-depth Comparison

Keeping the water heater in the “turned off” position when not in use can cause freezing of water inside the pipe. This can cause pipe damage and more energy requirements for heating the water. In this case, vacation or pilot mode are better alternatives.

Let’s see a water heater vacation mode vs pilot comparison. The first mode maintains the water temperature above freezing point, whereas the latter one keeps the gas burner on at all times. Thus, the former will require less energy consumption and less effort to set up than the latter one.

In this article, we will provide an in-depth comparison between these two modes of water heater, so you can decide which one is better. So, keep reading.

Table: Differences Between Water Heater Vacation Mode And Pilot

Let’s see several key differences between these two energy-saving modes of a water heater:

ParametersVacation ModePilot Mode
FunctionKeep the water temperature above the freezing pointIgnites the gas of the burner of the water heater and keeps the burner on
Found InGas and electric water heatersGas water heaters
Availability Of WaterTypically, no hot water is available. But in scheduled settings, hot water is readily available after the scheduled periodHot water is only available after igniting the flame
Energy SavingsSave more energy than pilot moodSave less than vacation mode as the gas remains turned on
Ease Of UseThe setting process is straightforwardSetting up the mode is complex
RiskBacterial buildupCarbon monoxide buildup or gas leakages

Water Heater Vacation Mode Vs Pilot

water heater vacation mode vs pilot

Here is an in-depth comparison of their vital differences:


The vacation or away mode of the water heater mainly functions to keep the water at a lower temperature but above the freezing point. Thus, it becomes easier and will require less energy consumption when you heat the water again.

Generally, in most water heaters, manufacturers set the temperature at 50°F. But in some water heaters, you need to set the temperature lower manually.

On the other hand, the pilot or “sleep” mode is generally an ignition source in your water heater. When you are turning the pilot mood, the gas valve will open up the path for gas towards the burner. Then, the pilot flame will ignite the gas.

Found In

You may find the away mode in both electric or gas water heaters because it’s just the method of putting the water temperature at a lower level.

However, in the case of most electric water heaters, there will be an electric ignition system instead of any pilot light. Thus, you may find the pilot light only in gas water heaters.

Availability Of  Hot Water

Normally, this “away mode” will set the water temperature too low to use readily. You need to heat the water to a desirable temperature before using the water.

But nowadays, you will get a scheduled duration feature in your water heater. In this case, you can set the duration till just before your scheduled come back. Thus, after that period, the heater temperature will turn back to a normal level and you will get hot water.

Whereas, in the case of pilot mode, you need to light the pilot light before using it. If the light remains on, you can get the water of your desired temperature whenever you need it.

Energy Savings

The away mode will save more energy than the pilot one. In this away mode, by decreasing each 20° temperature, you can reduce its energy consumption by up to 10%.

But in the case of the sleep mode, it will reduce energy consumption than normal operating conditions. Yet, you will need to spend around $25 per year for keeping the pilot light on. That’s because it will require gas to keep the flame on.

Ease Of Use

The setting method of these two modes will vary depending on the manufacturers and type of water heater. Thus, you must check the user manual first to get an idea of the setting process.

Generally,  for setting the water heater into vacation mode, you may need to go through the menu and select the thermostat option. There you can set the heater to vacation mode or a lower temperature.

Setting up the water heater to pilot mode is slightly more complex than the former settings. Firstly, you must set the gas control valve to the pilot position and push that in slightly.

Then, push the ignition button and the controller multiple times until the ignition occurs. Here is a Youtube video of this process for your better convenience:


In the away mode, as the temperature remains too low, the water can pose a high risk of bacterial load and respiratory issues. On the other hand, in the case of sleep mode, there is a risk of carbon monoxide formation if the flame goes off. This carbon monoxide gas is harmful and can even cause death to you.

Also, gas leakages may occur due to wear in the valve or accidental turning off of the pilot light. Unfortunately, these types of occurrences can cause severe fire accidents.

Should You Turn On The Water Heater Vacation Mood Or Pilot?

In general, when you want a more energy-efficient and easy-to-use method for keeping the water from freezing, the away mode is preferable.

But if you don’t want any bacterial buildup in your water, you need to select the sleep mode. Yet, the latter mode also poses some potential risks which you can avoid with proper caution and maintenance.

Sometimes, when you are leaving the house for a prolonged time, it will be better to set the heater in vacation mode. Because you don’t have to use hot water frequently and you can heat the water when you come back.

On the other hand, if you are not leaving home, but using the heater seldom, set it in pilot mode. In this case, the water will remain hot if the flame is on, so you will get the hot water readily.


In this FAQs section, we will answer several questions about the water heater vacation and pilot.

Q: Can’t I Just Keep My Water Heater Turned Off When I Am Away From Home?

You can if the temperature of your area doesn’t fall below freezing points. Otherwise, the water may get frozen inside the pipe, causing blockage or even bursting of the water pipe.

Q: Why Do Odors Come From Water After Vacation Mode?

If you leave the water heater in vacation mode, the low 50°F temperature can’t kill the bacteria in the water heater. As a result, bad odor will come from the water heater due to bacterial buildup until you clean or change the water heater.

Q: What Can Indicate the Pilot mode Is Burning Sufficiently?

If the pilot flame is blue, it indicates that it’s burning sufficiently. Yet, red, yellow, or flickering flame will indicate insufficient burning due to dirt and incomplete combustion.


Both the away and sleep mode of your water heaters will be more beneficial than keeping them turned off. But as it is tough to decide which one is better, we provided a water heater vacation mode vs pilot comparison. Generally, the latter will save more on your utility bill.

Moreover, setting up the sleep mode is way more troublesome than the first one. Still, the pilot mode is a good option if you are using the water heater often but not regularly. However, vacation mode is better if you stay away from home for several weeks.