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How to Keep Humidity in Your Florida Home in Check

How to Keep Humidity in Your Florida Home in Check

This article was originally posted July 22, 2014.

As a Florida resident, you have undoubtedly experienced high home humidity firsthand. With outdoor relative humidity often at 90 percent or higher, how can you expect to keep indoor humidity in check? Before you start making drastic changes, learn more about humidity and the ideal level for home comfort.

Why Is High Humidity Uncomfortable?

Your body keeps you cool by sweating. As the sweat evaporates off your skin, it causes a cooling effect. That’s one reason squirting yourself with a spray bottle and letting your skin air dry helps you cool off.

When the air is quite humid, it’s already saturated with water. It can’t hold much more, so it doesn’t evaporate the water from your skin as quickly. This creates a muggy, hot feeling that makes you feel much warmer than if the room was at a lower relative humidity.

Why Is High Humidity Expensive?

The thought of improving home comfort may compel you to lower the humidity, but you can also save energy. You might set the thermostat to 74 degrees, but if it’s overly humid inside, you could still feel overheated. On the other hand, an ideally humid environment with the thermostat set to 77 degrees may feel perfectly cool and comfortable. This clearly demonstrates the old saying, “It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity.”

In addition, excess moisture can damage drywall, musical instruments and wood fixtures in your home. Replacing these items that have rotted, warped or became moldy in overly moist conditions can be quite expensive.

Schedule an appointment today to get your humidity under control

Why Does High Humidity Degrade Air Quality?

Have you ever seen a cold soda can “sweat” when it’s hot outside? This condensation can occur on various cool surfaces throughout your home if the humidity is too high. Condensation creates a breeding ground for mold. When mold grows indoors, you may begin to exhibit symptoms of mold spore exposure, including sneezing, nasal congestion, coughing, throat irritation and watery eyes. Keeping the humidity level down helps you breathe easier by preventing mold growth.

What Is the Ideal Humidity Level?

With all this talk of improving comfort, lowering energy bills and promoting cleaner indoor air, what humidity level should you aim for? In the summer, home humidity should remain between 40 and 60 percent.

Measuring indoor humidity is easy with a hygrometer. This small, handheld instrument displays the relative humidity in the room. You can carry it around with you to different rooms and accurately measure the relative humidity throughout your home. Hygrometers are available at your local hardware store.

Lowering Home Humidity Levels

To maintain a comfortable interior, you need to keep humidity in check. Use these tips:

  • Increase air movement inside by running ceiling fans. Air circulation helps dry up standing water and creates a cooling wind-chill effect to keep you comfortable.
  • Run the bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans when you shower and cook. These activities produce a lot of humidity that you don’t want building up inside your home.
  • Open windows when outdoor humidity levels are low. This lets in a fresh breeze that can help even out home humidity levels.
  • Keep the windows closed when the humidity level is higher than the ideal 30 to 45 percent. Keep a small weather station on hand to help you track outdoor conditions right where you live.
  • Check for water leaks that could be contributing to higher indoor humidity. Look in easy-to-reach spots such as under the bathroom and kitchen sinks, behind toilets and in unfinished spaces.
  • Run a whole-house dehumidifier. Air conditioners remove some humidity, but Florida’s muggy climate may need an extra boost. A whole-house dehumidifier runs independently of the air conditioner so you can operate it alone on mild days or in conjunction with the A/C to boost the equipment’s moisture-removing abilities. A dehumidifier allows you to program the humidity level you want so the machine runs when it’s needed and turns off when the ideal home humidity is reached.

Choosing a Dehumidifier

While all the other suggestions for keeping home humidity low are sure to help, the best way to see the biggest difference is to install a whole-house dehumidifier. Choose a dehumidifier that’s suited to your home’s size. Then, look for features that improve convenience, such as an on-board hygrometer, quiet operation and drain connection kit.

For more help measuring and controlling home humidity, please contact us at Aqua Plumbing & Air, proudly serving the Sarasota and Bradenton areas since 1974.

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Are Your Ceiling Fans Set for Maximum Cooling Efficiency?

Many people are so accustomed to a ceiling fan spinning above their heads that they forget the role fans play in making their home feel cooler. But the fact is, outfitting your rooms with ceiling fans will help you save energy during the hottest months in Florida and allow you to hold off on turning the A/C on during mild weather.

ceiling fansCeiling Fan Cooling

A ceiling fan can’t actually lower the temperature in a room. The moving air creates a cooling effect. Homeowners find that they can raise the temperature on the thermostat a few degrees while fans are operating without causing any discomfort, saving both energy and money. Likewise, during milder weather when home occupants may be tempted to crank the A/C, they can instead turn on the ceiling fan and give the air conditioning a rest.

It’s important to remember that the cooling effect of a ceiling fan is instantaneous, so there’s no reason to leave these fans operating in unoccupied rooms. Without a person to feel it, there’s no cooling effect.

Ceiling Fan Warming

A ceiling fan can also help circulate warm air during cold weather. When you reverse the rotation of the fan blades, the fan pushes warm air that collects near the ceiling outward and then down into the room where people can feel it. However, in our warm Florida climate, many homeowners just leave their ceiling fans set to rotate for cooling purposes. (The switch is usually found on the fan housing.) Cooling mode, with counterclockwise blade rotation, is the default setting for ceiling fans, and many never get switched to clockwise in the cooler months.

When choosing ceiling fans for your home, make sure installation is handled by a trained pro. Depending on the size of the room, the fan will need to be a certain size for optimal results. Proper distance from the floor is important, too.

Learn more about ceiling fans and Aqua Plumbing & Air’s other cooling solutions, or contact our team at 941-306-3715 to schedule an appointment for your home comfort needs.

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Choose the Right Programmable Thermostat and Use It Correctly

programmable thermostatsProgrammable thermostats automate temperature control and indoor comfort. Short of keeping one hand on a manual thermostat at all times and inputting temperature changes 24/7, you can’t do a better job of controlling your indoor environment and energy expenses than a programmable thermostat. Your air conditioner and furnace also benefit from the reduction of on/off cycling due to excessive manual adjustments that impose excess wear and tear on components.

The energy-saving and comfort-enhancing theory behind programmable thermostats is simple. Your house doesn’t need to be the same temperature all the time. Optimal indoor temperature requirements are tied to outdoor temperatures, the number of occupants inside the home at any given time, and the activity level in the house.

Prior to the introduction of the programmable thermostat, that meant making repetitive adjustments to the manual thermostat every time any of those variables changed. It wasn’t exactly convenient: Set the manual thermostat to a high temperature setting so the air conditioner won’t run while you’re at work and come home to an overheated, humid house. Crank the setting down low and run the A/C continuously to flush the premises with chilled air and make it livable, then bump the thermostat up again later before you go to bed. On weekends, just run the system non-stop to cover all possibilities.

It’s the recipe for extreme temperature swings, excessive energy consumption and high operating costs, plus a lot of time spent walking back and forth to the manual thermostat.

Efficiency Expectations

The Department of Energy  (DOE) estimates that the proper use of a programmable thermostat can cut heating and cooling energy expenses by up to 15 percent. Nationwide, heating and cooling represents slightly less than half of the average household’s total energy expenditures. Due to our dependence on air conditioning here in Florida, that number is well over the 50 percent mark in summer. That means potential savings from more efficient operation of your existing system are substantial. It’s estimated that the energy savings in the first year alone will compensate for the purchase price of a basic programmable thermostat.

Choosing a Programmable Thermostat

Most programmable models provide from four to six daily on/off settings to cover even the most varied indoor climate preferences. Units are available with a choice of daily operation schedules that fit your lifestyle. Then, just input the specific temperature settings you want and the exact time you want them and the thermostat executes the selected program for you automatically.

  • 5+2 models give you one schedule for Monday through Friday and another schedule for weekends. This tends to be the most practical model for those with predictable workday and weekend schedules, as well as fewer occupants in the home.
  • 5+1+1 models stick with the single Monday through Friday schedule but offer separate schedules for Saturday and Sunday. Because those two weekend days often impose different activity levels in the house, you have greater temperature flexibility.
  • 7-day models give you the greatest temperature adaptability, allowing you to input different temperatures for each day of the week. It’s great for large families with many occupants coming or going or those who work irregular hours and/or days.

Installation Caveats

Take a look at the wires leading to your existing manual thermostat. If there are only two, the DIY process to install a simple programmable thermostat is a matter of following easy manufacturer’s instructions. However, a two-wire installation means the furnace or A/C doesn’t supply power to the thermostat, so you’ll need to select a battery-powered programmable model only. If you opt to purchase a thermostat with additional features that require external power, you’ll have to let a qualified HVAC contractor handle the install and run extra wires to accommodate the model.

Manual thermostats contain a small amount of mercury — a toxic substance that shouldn’t be in landfills or garbage dumps. Contact your local municipal recycling or hazardous materials department for instructions on how to properly dispose of your old thermostat.

Operational Characteristics

Once your new thermostat is up and running, you can “set it and forget it,” subject to certain special circumstances. You’ll get optimum service from programmable thermostats by remembering these basic operational tips:

  • Stick with the manufacturer-recommended durations as much as possible for lengthy time spans, like overnight or during the day when nobody’s at home. Your A/C or furnace runs most efficiently when it’s set to maintain a consistent temperature for at least 8 hours at a time.
  • During winter, the DOE recommends programming the temperature to 68 degrees when you’re home and awake.  During sleeping hours or when you’re out, program to lower the temperature by 10 to 14 degrees.
  • In summer, program the air conditioner to maintain a 78-degree environment during occupied daylight hours. Set a temperature 10 degrees higher (or set the A/C to shut off completely) if you’re out of the house during the day. Program your preferred evening temperature for 20 or 30 minutes before the time you usually arrive back home so the system will cool the house in time for your arrival.
  • If you need to deviate from the programmed schedule to temporarily heat or cool the home, don’t cancel programs. Simply use the “override” function available on programmable thermostats. This one-touch option enables you to temporarily raise or lower the setting manually to fit your immediate needs. The override function self-cancels at the beginning of the next regularly-scheduled program. Keep in mind, however, that frequently overriding programmed temperatures defeats the purpose of programmable thermostats and negates both energy conservation and cost savings.
  • Leaving town for a vacation? Programmable thermostats offer a “vacation hold” setting while you’re gone to maintain the home environment at a consistent temperature. This saves energy while preventing damage to plants, sensitive electronics, plumbing and possessions. Choose a temperature warmer in summer or colder in winter than would normally be comfortable when the home is occupied.

Optional Perks

Programmable thermostats range from the most basic, no-frills models to full-featured systems that integrate with home automation and other technologies. Basic features include:

  • Backlit digital LCD display
  • On-screen touch programming
  • Voice programming
  • Maintenance alerts to remind you to change the system air filter or schedule annual professional maintenance
  • Programmable “fan only” mode also

Advanced technology takes programmable thermostats to higher levels of functionality with options like the following.

  • Cloud connectivity – A WiFi-enabled programmable thermostat incorporates its own server and IP address. Connected to your home network, the thermostat is accessible from any Internet connection in the world via a smartphone, computer or tablet. On a password-protected browser format, you can monitor indoor temperatures, check system status and input programming changes. Some models also integrate with other home automation devices such as smoke alarms and flood alarms.
  • Adaptive recovery – A microprocessor in the thermostat continuously evaluates the results of cooling and heating performance, enabling the thermostat to accurately determine when to start the A/C or furnace to reach the desired setting at the precise programmed time. This saves money by minimizing unnecessary pre-cooling or pre-heating time and also allows the thermostat to automatically compensate for seasonal outdoor temperature changes.
  • Intelligent thermostats – These units incorporate sensors that monitor household activity and “learn” when periods of greatest occupancy and activity occur, allowing the thermostat to anticipate needed temperature changes in advance.

The Zoning Alternative

While a programmable thermostat saves energy and enhances comfort, a zoning system goes even further to customize temperatures to the preferences of occupants or the characteristics of certain parts of the home. For example, naturally rising heat often makes upstairs rooms warmer while some living spaces downstairs may be chilly. Utilizing motorized in-duct dampers operated by a central controller, a zoning system diverts conditioned airflow to suit individual rooms or zones within the home. Integrating a zoning system to individualize heating or cooling to specific areas, as well as dedicated programmable thermostats in each zone to automate the temperature settings, offers the ultimate combination for temperature flexibility and efficiency.

For more information on the benefits of programmable thermostats, check out Aqua Plumbing & Air’s cooling and heating solutions, or call 941-306-3715.

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Reduce Cooling Costs the Easy Way With These 8 Simple Tips

The climate in the Sarasota area leaves homeowners facing a long cooling season and big energy bills. The following tips make it easy to reduce cooling costs without sacrificing comfort.

reduce cooling costsAddress Leaky Ductwork

If your homes ducts are in poor condition and uninsulated, as much as 30 percent of the cool air produced by the A/C can leak out before it reaches the registers. Sealing ductwork with metal-backed tape and wrapping ducts with insulation can stop this needless waste.

Strategically Ventilate Humid Areas

Get rid of the steamy warmth produced during daily activities such as cooking and showering by running exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms.

Switch to a Programmable Thermostat

By installing a programmable thermostat and scheduling daily temperature setbacks, you can cut yearly cooling costs by one percent for each single-degree adjustment.

Run Ceiling Fans

The wind chill effect from a ceiling fan’s spinning blades helps perspiration evaporate faster, which makes the body feel cooler. This allows you to comfortably increase the thermostat temperature setting by as much as four degrees and save energy.

Install Insulated Drapes

Energy efficient blinds or shades help keep the interior cooler and reduce energy costs by blocking the intense sunshine and limiting heat gain.

Stop Conditioned Air Losses

Keep cool air indoors by sealing up gaps and leaks around windows, exterior doors and shell penetrations with caulk, weatherstripping and expandable foam. Make sure there’s sufficient insulation on the attic floor, too, and properly seal and insulate the access hatch as well.

Manage Heat-Generating Appliances

Changing a few daily habits can help reduce the air conditioner’s cooling load. Cook on the outdoor grill instead of in the oven, nix the heated-dry cycle on the dishwasher and hang dry the laundry instead of using the clothes dryer.

Replace Inefficient Cooling Equipment

Updating to a new, more efficient air conditioning system can help lower seasonal energy costs by 30 to 50 percent. Opting for an Energy Star-rated model can save even more as they’re 15 percent more efficient than comparable standard units.

Learn other tips to reduce cooling costs from Aqua Plumbing & Air or call us at 941-306-3715 for more expert advice!

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Ceiling Fans Can Help You Save Summer Energy Dollars

ceiling fansIt’s summer! Time for ice cream and lemonade and dips in the ocean. And time for exorbitant energy bills, as you struggle to keep your home cool in the sweltering Sarasota heat. How can you keep those bills under control while still keeping your home comfortable? The answer may surprise you: ceiling fans.

Ceiling fans use far less energy than air conditioners, so the more you use them to supplement your air conditioning, the less you have to pay. You’ll still need your A/C, of course, just not as much of it.

If you use a ceiling fan to supplement the work of your home’s forced-air cooling system, you can reduce your energy bills significantly with no reduction in comfort. Just turn your thermostat up by three or four degrees while you run the fan in an occupied room. The wind-chill factor will keep you just as cool at 80 degrees as the A/C by itself would at 76 degrees – for less money.

Ceiling fans are the most effective type, as their positioning allows them to circulate air throughout the room. But what’s the best type of fan to get, to circulate the air most effectively? It depends on the size of the room. A smaller room – of 225 square feet or less – should have a fan that’s 36 or 44 inches across. A larger room requires a larger fan, of 52 inches. And if your room is more than 18 feet long, you should have at least two fans, one on either side, to circulate the air.

But no matter what size or type of fan you get, be sure it carries the blue Energy Star logo. An Energy Star qualified ceiling fan is an average of 20 percent more efficient than the standard model. It’s certified by the federal Energy Star program to save energy over other, similar models, without sacrificing performance or features. Installing a ceiling fan in your home may be the best investment you make this summer.

For more tips on ceiling fans and saving energy in your Sarasota area home, please contact us at Aqua Plumbing & Air.

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