Based on first-hand experience of being a Florida resident for the last 17 years, the seasonal utility cycle for most of us looks pretty similar. Right around October 16th - a date prophesied by my late great-grandmother since her arrival to the state in 1965 - every year, temperatures start to cool and our air conditioning usage starts to go down. In between cold fronts some may flick the thermostat back on for an hour or two throughout the day, but they usually end up completely off by Christmas, and stay that way into the new year. By mid-March, we start to quickly be reminded of the summer heat and once you notice it, it's too late. It's now May and, after this year's hottest month on record, we're thinking, "how could it get any hotter?" And then it does, peaking in July and August.
Combating the summer heat can be tricky, whether it be starting your day earlier to take advantage of the morning low of 75°F, bringing an extra shirt or two along with you, or wearing strictly flip-flops for 180 straight days. It is also undeniably expensive with cooling and heating costs making up 35-50% of the average household's yearly energy consumption. Here are a few ways to manage your home's electricity usage to help keep utility bills low in the summer:
LED lighting has become much more frequent and affordable in recent years. Taking a look at the average home, lighting is responsible for 5% of the total annual energy usage. While not as eye-grabbing as the portion dedicated to air conditioning, most people tend to overlook their light usage and end up paying more for it. In addition to lasting 15 times longer than regular incandescent light bulbs, LED bulbs use 75% less energy and produce less heat. These bulbs also tend to shine brighter than their counterparts, though there is a wide assortment of available options based on your lighting preferences and needs. Upgrading light bulbs is a great first place to start when improving the energy efficiency of a home, as it makes for an affordable, quick, and high-impact change.
In the spirit of saving money, it may not make the most sense to go out and immediately replace every light bulb in a home. This transition does not have to be done all at once; begin by swapping the light bulbs that are used most frequently. If any outdoor lights are used for a few hours each night or remain on overnight, start there. Look for fixtures that use more than one light bulb, such as the vanity in the bathroom, chandeliers, or ceiling fans. Think about where light is needed - and used - the most. Lights that are rarely used can be saved for last, as the significance of savings will be based on overall usage behavior.
2. Smart Thermostats
Any form of home-shopping over the last couple of years will have showed you: smart thermostats are in. The data backs up the eye test, with 11% of Americans saying they own a smart thermostat, according to the Shelton Group. Just a few degrees can make a huge difference in energy consumption; it is important to save the coolest temperature settings for only when they are needed. In today's world, convenience matters, and running back and forth to the thermostat throughout the day isn't an effective use of time or focus for most people. Most residential thermostats have some degree of schedule programming, but with limited capabilities and lack of a user-friendly interface, 89% of survey respondents said they rarely or never used the program features in their "dumb" thermostat.
As a solution, smart devices boast features such as remote control of the thermostat from a smartphone, tracking and adapting to cooling/heating behaviors, energy usage reports, and a slick aesthetic that immediately brings a more modern look into a home. Again, heating and cooling generally account for the largest portion of electricity consumption for a household. This affordable upgrade can make an immediate improvement in energy usage if used correctly. Most utility providers provide seasonal thermostat recommendations on their websites which may be useful when setting temperature controls. SmartHomeDB, SmartThings, and SmartHome.com are all valuable resources when looking for the right smart home devices.
3. Entry Doors
This goes hand in hand with air conditioning costs. There are many factors impacting how much energy is used by an HVAC system, one being insulation and airflow. If airflow from the heating or cooling system is being lost throughout the house through walls, windows, and doors, the system then has to work harder and use more energy to keep the home at the set temperature. With that said, insulation and air flow covers a broad array of potential renovations and improvements that can be made on a home across a wide range of prices. The focus here is saving money with little upfront cost, and entry doors are a great first step in ensuring that a home is properly sealed. It may be beneficial to have a professional conduct a home energy audit to show where energy is being lost in your home.
Whereas a window replacement project's cost can run into the tens-of-thousands of dollars, entry doors can be replaced for a fraction of that depending on material and design. In addition to immediate savings on your electricity bill, these "green" improvements are incredibly noticeable and can have a positive impact on home value. It is important to understand that not every home improvement has a guaranteed return on investment in regards to increased home value. Fortunately, these main entry or garage door upgrades have shown to recoup the majority of their value upon sale of the home. This is not always the case with energy-efficiency improvements, as many of them aren't readily visible (i.e insulation, improved duct work, window sealing, etc.). When considering door replacements, pay special attention to material - insulation quality will vary - and weather stripping along the sides.
4. Energy Independence
The best way to manage your electric bills is to take full control of your energy. Green home improvements and smart home technology upgrades will 100% lower your energy consumption, and there should always be a focus on using as little energy as possible. However, the rates you pay for your electricity matter, too. By "renting" electricity from the utility company, homeowners are subject to their rates. On average across the U.S., residential electricity rates have increased by around 13% since 2010, a trend that has been seen right here in my home market of Orlando, FL. This year, Duke Energy was approved for another rate increase to help finance their solar installations. Essentially, in addition to other approved rate increases, Florida Duke Energy customers are already paying for solar-generated electricity, only they're paying for the company's project. This is not unique to Duke Energy or Central Florida, as many homeowners across the state and country are finding themselves in a similar situation. The good news is, Florida-based utility companies also have to pay homeowners for your excess self-generated energy, as of 2016.
After reading the first three recommendations, this one may stand out as a more intimidating project. Though, as previously mentioned, the common denominator is saving on electricity with little up front cost, and a solar home improvement involves $0 down and free installation. Technically, the initial investment for a solar system is actually less than the LED light bulbs. The first solar installment arrives after the system has been installed, activated, and is eliminating or reducing your dependence on a utility provider. Many homeowners see an immediate savings in their electricity costs without any money out of pocket, not to mention the drastic increase in home value. Throughout the year as energy consumption fluctuates, most solar homeowners will expect to see credits back from their utility provider for excess energy in addition to their solar payment being lower and much more stable than their average electric bill. A solar home improvement project, while fruitful, can be difficult to navigate. You can connect with us here to start the process with a trusted solar advisor.
Bonus Tip: Behavior
The most important thing to consider when improving the energy efficiency of a home is the behavior of it's inhabitants. Efficiency upgrades should not be taken as extra cushion to use more electricity (i.e lowering the thermostat temperature after replacing an old HVAC system) if the goal is to save money. The most effective energy improvements begin and end with your own habits. Start paying close attention to what is being used, when it's being used, and why it's being used. You are almost guaranteed to identify small changes that can be made in usage behaviors that will offer the same benefits as upgrading or renovating.