As a new or future resident of Florida, you should know that it can get really hot here, and stay hot for most of the year. As you might imagine, this will have a significant impact on your electric bill. However, there are ways to keep those costs down that we long-time residents can impart.
Know the AC You’re Buying (or Renting)
You don’t need to do this for every home or apartment you look at — chances are good that if you can tell anything about the HVAC system at a glance, that’s a place that’s already disqualified itself anyway. But if you’ve settled on a place you think you’ll be living in for several years, you will want to have the AC system inspected. It’s an added expense, to be sure, but doing this helps you understand what to expect in terms of power bills and repairs. Your power company might be able to send you a detailed report about your power consumption, or a third party site might be able to give you some information. You may not learn anything substantive, but it could unearth information that will either save you money or a few uncomfortably hot days if an old AC unit should happen to break down in the peak of summer.
Two Words: Preventive Maintenance
Make sure you are taking care of your unit as well, maintenance is a key factor on you’re A/C’s performance and efficiency. Fortunately, the bulk of your job is pretty simple: check your unit’s filters, and clean or replace them regularly. Bad, clogged or dirty filters disrupt air-flow where it should be cleaning it. This not only significantly reduces the efficiency of your AC, it will cause components to wear and fail prematurely. Filters are cheap, weakened and broken air conditioners are costly.
Thermostats and Setpoints
The AC and insulation of your home are two of three major factors in your cooling costs. The last one is your the setpoint on the thermostat. Energy.gov suggests that 78 degrees is optimal for summer temperatures, and 68 degrees is optimal for winter temperatures. The effect of each degree plus or minus could be as much as 7% on your energy bill, and I haven’t seen a Florida summer prove any exceptions. If you want to keep a Florida home at 60 degrees in the summer, you had better be ready to shell out an absurd amount of money for that comfort.
Setting your thermostat back by 7-10 degrees while you’re not home can also save you up to 10%. The trick is that you’ll ideally want to dial it back slowly when you got home rather than expect the system to instantly drop the temperature by ten degrees. A healthy, efficient system might be able to fill that order, but you’re putting a lot of strain on the system when you do that. That said, working this into your routine is an easy way to save some money, and with the programmable thermostats that are on the market today, you can fully automate these changes throughout the days and throughout both of Florida’s many seasons.
A Few Words on Exteriors
The outside of your home is just as important in cooling your home as the inside, especially in Florida. First, you’ll want to do some yardwork. Believe it or not, plants and trees actually do help cool your home, by blocking the sun. This might seem to be minor until you remember where all that heat it coming from. This might seem like a lot of work as well, but consider this whenever you are planning on doing any major landscaping projects, and you might be able to achieve two things at once.
For your East- and West-facing windows, consider solar screens or window films. Both are great for diverting up 70% of the sunlight that enters your home. Plus, with the former, you can filter out the sun even with your window open, and it’s great for keeping pests out of your home. It’s an easy and a worthwhile investment. It’s also important to check all seals and weather stripping — the most efficient AC system in the world will still rack up quite a bill if it’s being forced to cool the outside as well as the inside. Visually inspect all doors and windows to see if you’re losing insulation, or if you suspect your home has a deeper issue with thermal insulation, you can have your home thermal-imaged by a technician.