Heating & Cooling

Cooling Your Home the Natural Way

Landscaping is a very cost effective way to cool your home naturally, plus it offers environmental benefits. Studies indicate that in shaded neighborhoods, temperatures can be reduced 3 to 6 degrees during the summer months.

Just think, a few carefully placed trees, bushes, or vines can prevent excess sunlight from penetrating your home. For more on planting the right tree in the right place, check out the Arbor Day website.

When designing your landscape, use plants native to Florida and position them wisely. You may consider planting deciduous trees on the southwestern corner of your home. Due to the angle of the sun, this will provide more shade during the summer months. Keep in mind the expected size of the tree after many growing seasons and place trees accordingly. Vines, shrubs, grasses, and hedges are also effective. This method doesn’t pay off immediately; however, with careful planning and work, you’ll reap the benefits in time.

Before planting a tree, the state of Florida requires that you call ahead to get the utility lines clearly marked prior to digging. You do not want to damage any underground utility lines while planting, and as the tree matures, its root system may grow into your utility lines (electric, water, sewage, or cable) with the possibility of disrupting the service. Remember to dial 8-1-1 before you dig – it may take up to 48 hours for markings to be placed on your property.

Window Treatments

Available in a variety of different styles and materials, louvers, shutters, awnings, and interior shades offer a good means of preventing direct sunlight from entering through your windows and doors. Also, consider installing reflective films or solar screens to cover the south- and west-facing windows.

Choose the Right Color

It’s not just for aesthetics; color is an important scientific factor to consider when purchasing any home improvement items, such as new roofing materials, paint, window shades, blinds, etc. Lighter-colored surfaces reflect heat and darker- colored surfaces absorb heat by way of conduction.

Other Tips

  • For economy and the best humidity control, set your fan to “auto” when operating your air conditioner.
  • Use a ceiling or portable fan when operating your air conditioner, and raise your thermostat setting 3 degrees or more. You’ll feel just as comfortable for less cost.
  • Turn off your computer, printer, and other electronic devices when not in use.
  • Unplug cell phone, camera, and other battery chargers after charging is complete.
  • Turn off all lights when you leave the room.
    Keep your fireplace damper closed if not in use and install tempered glass doors. Although aesthetically appealing, your fireplace is one of the more inefficient heat sources in the home.
  • Dress for the weather. Wear lightweight cotton clothing to stay cooler and wear sweaters in the winter to stay warm.


Reduced temperature and moisture control are the two major concerns for providing proper attic ventilation. Excessive heat that builds up in the attic results in higher energy cooling costs during the summer months. Plus, excess moisture may cause insulation and construction material damage.

A properly weatherized home, with a well-insulated ceiling, will help prevent moisture from seeping into the attic. Moisture buildup from showering, laundry, cooking, dishwashing, and even plant and animal life are common causes for an increased level of humidity. The use of bathroom or kitchen exhaust fans will help reduce humidity levels, thus improving your comfort level. Ensure all exhaust fans are vented to the exterior of the home.

A well-ventilated attic, with proper air flow, reduces attic temperature considerably and promotes a cooler, drier attic. This will help stop moisture from becoming trapped in insulation, thus preventing materials from rotting and insulation from becoming moldy.

Cooling & Heating Your Home

From a comfort standpoint, most Floridians prefer to be relatively cool in summer and warm in winter. Space conditioning is probably the largest energy user in your home, and it offers the most potential for energy savings. In fact, during the summer, air conditioning accounts for a significant portion of your monthly utility bills. Humidity also plays an important part in our year-round comfort. If we operate a dehumidifier in summer and, to a lesser degree, a humidifier in winter, this contributes to our household energy consumption.

Ideal Thermostat Settings

Thermostat settings make a big difference in your cooling and heating costs. Recommended thermostat settings are between 78 and 80 degrees in summer and 68 and 70 degrees or below in winter.

  • There can be an annual cooling cost savings of 6% to 8% for each degree higher you set the thermostat during the summer.
  • You’ll save 3% to 5% of your annual heating costs for each degree lower you set the thermostat in winter.
  • When you’re away for an extended period of time, set the thermostat up to 82 degrees in summer, or down to 55 degrees in winter. For additional savings, you can turn the unit off completely, but it may take several hours to regain a comfortable temperature when you return. If freezing or mildew is a problem, keep the unit on and adjust the thermostat accordingly.

Heat Pumps… Ideal for Florida

Today, heat pumps are installed in most new Florida homes. Because they are ideal for the hot summers and the mild winters, many existing homes are equipped with an air-to-air type of heat pump.

What Is a Heat Pump?

Heat pumps use energy to transfer and intensify heat that is already available in the surrounding environment. There are several types of heat pumps; however, the type most commonly used in Florida is the air-to-air (airsource) heat pump. In the winter, the heat is transferred from the outside to the inside, and in the summer, the heat is transferred from the inside to the outside.

When Is It Ideal to Use a Heat Pump?

Thermostat settings make a big difference in your cooling and heating costs. Recommended thermostat settings are between 78 and 80 degrees in summer and 68 and 70 degrees or below in winter.

What to Look for When Purchasing a Heat Pump

Get a professional to assist you in making a decision of this magnitude. Here are a number of factors to consider: square footage of your home, window orientation and exposure to light, construction materials, levels of insulation, air infiltration, and lifestyle. Be sure to get at least three bids from various qualified heating/cooling professionals, read your contract carefully, and never pay in full until the work is complete.

It is also necessary that you consider the SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) and the HSPF (Heating System Performance Factor) of your potential purchase. The higher the SEER or HSPF number, the greater the energy savings; however, the initial cost of the unit goes up as well. Depending on what you purchase, your cooling expert should be able to calculate the annual energy savings in your home. Just be sure to compare apples with apples when comparing costs.

Below are tables to help you understand the cost efficiency factor.

Annual Cooling Energy Cost

SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio)

Tons 10 12 13 14 16 18
2 $810 $670 $620 $580 $500 $450
2.5 $1,010 $840 $780 $720 $630 $560
3 $1,210 $1,010 $930 $860 $760 $670
3.5 $1,410 $1,180 $1,090 $1,010 $880 $780
4 $1,610 $1,340 $1,240 $1,150 $1,010 $900
4.5 $1,810 $1,510 $1,400 $1,300 $1,130 $1,010
5 $2,020 $1,680 $1,550 $1,440 $1,260 $1,120

The above calculations are based on 2800 annual cooling hours (average for South Florida), a 3-ton A/C unit, and 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Annual Heating Energy Cost

HSPF (Heating System Performance Factor)

Tons 7.5 8 8.5 9 9.5
1 $101 $95 $89 $83 $77
1.5 $134 $126 $119 $112 $104
2 $168 $158 $149 $139 $130
2.5 $202 $189 $178 $167 $156
3 $214 $205 $193 $181 $168
3.5 $236 $221 $208 $195 $181
4 $269 $253 $238 $223 $208

Average cost savings listed above are based on a number of averaging variables (family size, lifestyle, appliance efficiency, and usage, etc.) which may vary by household.

Leaky Ducts – a Major Cause of High Energy Bills

In the southern United States, it is estimated that 80% of all homes lose more energy through duct leaks than any other means. Here are a few inspection tips for your space conditioning system:

  • Turn the thermostat fan to “on.” Using your hands, feel along the entire length of the duct system for escaping air. Wet hands are more sensitive to air movement.
  • Look for dirty spots on the duct insulation and around the air vents in your home. These can be signs of air leakage.
  • It’s well worth your investment to wrap any uninsulated ducts located in the attic with fiberglass insulation.
  • Be sure to check all the connections to the vents, joints, and heating/cooling unit for a snug fit.

Tuning Up Your Cooling/heating System

  • Have your air conditioner or heating system inspected by a qualified professional annually. Preventative maintenance on your AC unit could save you money and discomfort later in the season.
  • Check filters monthly and change as needed. Clogged filters make the unit work harder and increase operating costs.

Weatherize Your Home

  • Caulk and weather-strip all exterior doors, windows, attic entrances, and baseboards.
  • Seal or caulk any air leaks including duct work, plumbing, electrical outlets, window cooling units, and light fixtures.
  • Check for air leaks in places like fireplace dampers, around ventilation pipes, dryer exhaust vents, drains, door jambs, and recessed lighting.
  • Insulate your interior attic door or hatch cover to the recommended levels for your area of Florida
  • If you live in a manufactured home, inspect the belly of your home and seal any leaks you may find. It is best to have belly wrap in place and insulated skirting around the perimeter of the home to keep out pests, moisture and maintain a comfortable temperature within the home. For more information, visit energy.gov and search for manufactured homes.

Why Insulate?

Inadequate insulation and air leakage are the leading causes of energy waste in most U.S. homes. Not only does extra insulation save money, it also makes for a more comfortable home.

Insulation is rated in terms of thermal resistance called R-value. R-value is a measure of its resistance to heat flow: the higher the R-value, the greater the insulating effectiveness. Installing more insulation in your home will increase your R-value, thus improving the resistance to heat flow.

Here are the recommended R-values for a Florida home (energycodes.gov):

Existing Construction (Range)

Ceilings R30-R38
Walls R13-R19
Floors R13-R19

There are excellent resources available on the internet to help you better understand the intricacies of insulation. Try visiting Oak Ridge National Laboratory to help you determine the ideal R-value for your home.

The amount of insulation needed for your home depends on a number of variables:

  • Type of insulation needed for certain construction
  • Type of heating/cooling being used
  • Where you plan to insulate
  • Climate of the home