I’ve been following an interesting discussion on the home exchange hangout Facebook group about setting limits on use of utilities. Some people come home from a house swap to find high electricity (or water, internet, gas) bills. And they are surprised by the excessive usage. This, of course, raises the question of what is excessive. To me this is all about what you need to discuss before an exchange.
Let me start by staying that I think you need to discuss anything that’s important to you. So my list of things to discuss will not be the same as yours. I hope you will not run the water while you sleep, and not run the heat with the windows open. But these seem like things any reasonable person would know. Just like locking the door when you go out. Rules I don’t need to include in my home guide book. If you live somewhere with super expensive utilities you might want to ask your guests to respect some limits that wouldn’t be important to them at home.
I think most home exchangers are very good about respecting hosts rules, as long as these are made clear. But we aren’t mind readers. So we really need hosts to tell us their expectations about utility usage.
I recently stayed in a home on Orcas Island where the water has to be delivered and stored in tanks. Naturally my hosts are very concerned about water use, and so they ask that showers be limited to 3 minutes. And the toilet only be flushed when necessary. I found this very reasonable, and was happy to comply.
This is also relevant if you have a paid TV service. You might not want your guests ordering lots of movies, at your expense. But they might assume the movies are free if you don’t alert them to the charges.
And similarly, most people now have unlimited internet use at home. But for those who still pay by the GB, it’s important to let your guests know this.
I think the key here is to find a nice way to communicate limits. And to set limits that reasonable folks can comply with, without discomfort. It’s not reasonable to me that my hosts expect me to freeze in the house to save money on heat. But it’s very reasonable to ask me to turn down the temperature when I’m not in the house and/or while I’m sleeping. Wear a sweater in the house to stay warm = reasonable. Wear a down jacket, hat and mittens in the house to stay warm = unreasonable.
To be fair, everyone’s idea of reasonable is different. But that’s the great thing about communicating in advance. If you have some requirements of your guests, you can share these in advance. And if your guests think these requirements are unreasonable, they can decide not to stay in your home. It’s ok to set limits. And it’s ok to disagree on what are reasonable limits. The key here is communication in advance. And in this case I think the onus is on the host. If you have specific requirements about the use of any of your utilities, be sure to communicate this with guests. Everyone will be happier in the end!