Water heater/plumbing in an empty house?

I'm moving in a month, and my current house will be empty until I sell it in the spring. I'm concerned about two plumbing issues 1) frozen pipes if the furnace should happen to die when I'm not there 2) Hot water heater leaking, and having had that happen to me, I know how much of a mess that can make just overnight. What if it went undetected for a week! I'm probably more concerned about the water heater or random spontaneous leaks than a whole house freeze, since this is a row house in Maryland, so we're not talking sub-zero weather.
So on to my question - if I turn the water off for the house, will that affect the water heater at all, say if it leaked? Would it matter that the the heating element was heating an empty tank? I suppose I could turn off the water heater, but I'm really intimidated by all things gas, and worry about how to relight it. It's a gas water heater, 6 yr old. I am going to be having some work done over the winter (paint, kitchen upgrade etc), so I suppose those people will need some water, even if it isn't hot water. Or can I turn the water off just to the heater, and stick a note on the sink to any repairmen saying they need to turn it on if they want hot water? Am I asking for trouble if I turn the water off to the house too often (like could it somehow break the spigot)?
Sorry, I'm obviously not a do-it-yourselfer around the house, but I'm a great worrier <sigh>. And this probably isn't exactly a repair question.... more how to avoid a repair. I know the water heater isn't that old; it's just the idea that it could leak undetected for a week or more that concerns me. (And on that note, I guess I should turn off the spigots at the washing machine).
Thanks.
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Fuel (electric gas or oil) should be shut off to the water heater. Why would there be a need for water?
If you are really concerned, you can drain the pipes and use RV antifreeze for the drains to freee proof your home.
Extreme temperatures can damage some building components and furniture so you may want to keep the heat on, but if you are careful, including removing caned goods etc. you should be able to turn that off also. I guess it is a trade off of possible problems with the heating system or damage from the cold. Of course turning it off will save energy cost.

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Joseph Meehan

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wrote:

Turn off the water at the street, drain the pipes and tank, use antifreeze in the traps, dont heat it and save money.
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turn off the main water valve, turn the heat control to vacation, and put in a thermostatically controlled low temperature switch that will flash a light if temperature gets too low.
do know that vacant homes tend to have bad things happen:( arson, break ins etc. you might have a security system installed to protect the home and contents like tools etc.
also be aware homeowners doesnt usually cover a long term vacant home, but if you tell your insurer homeowners will sky rocket in price. dont tell them and arson occurs they may not pay.
might be worth it to offer home to friends to live there real cheap till your ready to sell. provides built in security and activity.
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On Fri, 16 Nov 2007 19:12:10 -0800 (PST), " snipped-for-privacy@aol.com"

You probably don't want to let your house go below freezing. 45F is a good setpoint for your thermostat. Go ahead and drain the pipes and put the antifreeze in the traps if you want extra assurance.
Bad things can happen to your house (other than frozen pipes) if you let everything freeze up. Concrete can crack, walls can shift, foundations can become troublesome, and you can have standing water freezing up that you may not even know about. It's just not worth it in a cold climate.
If it were me personally, I would keep the water on inside the house and keep the water heater on but turned down as low as it will go. Relighting the pilot light can be a challenge to someone who hasn't done it before. Shut off (and drain, if possible) your outside bibcocks and your washing machine supply valves.
Finally, if you can't get a neighbor to check the home every day, you might want to get one of those electronic monitors/low temp alerts that work with a phone line.
Beachcomber
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Beachcomber wrote:

I hadn't planned on not heating the house (sorry, I guess it could have been interpreted that way), just turning the heat down. My concern would be if the furnace suddenly died, although even then it "probably" wouldn't get too cold too fast since it's an older brick row house, which seem to keep warmer. (I once lived in an inside row house and barely turned the heat on, because my two neighbors kept their homes so warm). I'm moving about 1/2 hr away and will probably get over there at least once a week, since it's on the way to a class that I take. If we suddenly had a frigid snap, I could get over more often (I'd grumble, but I could get there).
As for neighbors, nah, that's one of the reasons I'm moving. I really don't know anyone here any more. Any info on the electronic monitors (and would one also monitor for water)? I'd have to leave the phone on, but for the peace of mind, that'd be worth it.
BTW re insurance, the insurance co knows I'm moving, because I'm getting the policy on my new house from them. I also have a policy on my parents' house that I inherited; it's been empty for a year and a half (knock on wood, finally settling this week!) and the same company covered that with no questions. With this one, I plan on having renovations done in Jan/Feb and then listing it, so hopefully they won't consider it too vacant.
Thanks to everyone for the suggestions.
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Fuel (electric gas or oil) should be shut off to the water heater. Why would there be a need for water? If you are really concerned, you can drain the pipes and use RV antifreeze for the drains to freee proof your home. Extreme temperatures can damage some building components and furniture so you may want to keep the heat on, but if you are careful, including removing caned goods etc. you should be able to turn that off also. I guess it is a trade off of possible problems with the heating system or damage from the cold. Of course turning it off will save energy cost.
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Removing the canned goods will stave off damage to the building components and furniture...? I'm glad I removed mine then..
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