This week’s cold snap could be considered a taste of the winter chill expected to hit the Florida Panhandle. And the chill, in turn, means higher utility bills for most.
Gulf Power spokeswoman Kimberly Blair says their 460,000 customers need to begin preparing for the winter months if they haven’t done so already.
"Stay warm, but also keep your energy bills as low as possible; there’s [sic] things that customers can do that are free, or very low cost,” Blair says. "We know that everyone’s on a budget.”
The free measures — called “seasonal habits” — are stuff you can do like raising the thermostat to 78 degrees in the summer – and 68 degrees in the winter.
“For every degree over 68 that they set their thermostats, they’ll pay 10 percent more on their heating cost,” says Blair. “We know that may not be a comfortable temperature for some people. So, just adjust it down to the lowest point that it’s comfortable for you and your family.’
“It is unusual for us to see these kind of temperatures dipping so low in November, but it’s always good to be ready,” said Nathalie Bowers at Emerald Coast Utilities Authority. Freezing weather can do a number on water pipes, both inside and outside the home. That’s why insulation is key.
“Locate any pipes that are in unheated areas of your house, such as in a garage or crawl space,” Bowers says. “Make sure those get wrapped with insulation materials made especially for this purpose. You can find these materials in most hardware stores and home improvement centers.”
Outdoor garden hoses also need to be disconnected and drained to prevent bursting the hose or the faucet to which it’s connected when sustained temperatures are at or below freezing.
“Then we run a thin trickle of water from the faucet that is furthest from the water line that’s entering the house,” Bowers says. “Allowing the water to circulate through the home’s plumbing helps to keep it from freezing.”
For the most part, any damage to water pipes is the responsibility of the homeowner. ECUA’s responsibility, says Bowers, ends at the water meter.
“The temperature doesn’t really affect the gas lines at all; the gas still flows, it doesn’t slow down or anything of that nature,” says Don Suarez, Director of city-owned Pensacola Energy.
“The one potential risk is if you have a tankless water heater; sometimes those condensate lines will freeze up because I’ve had that happen to my own,” Suarez says. “If it’s dripping water, sometimes that water – over time, overnight when it’s in the low 20s – will freeze up and that tankless water heater won’t work properly.”
Fall is usually the time of year many have their gas systems checked and cleaned out as a precautionary measure.
“Over time, dust will accumulate inside that heat chamber and you’ll get a kind of a burning smell or a nasty smell,” says Suarez. “When you first turn it on it burns that dust off. But it’s good to have it cleaned and have the burner checked [to] make sure it’s burning properly.”
Some other energy-reducing tips – which can also apply to the electric bill – include sealing leaks around doors, windows and other openings where air can escape -- with caulk or weather-stripping. Also take care of floors, walls, ducts, fireplaces, and electric outlets.