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We have a 3 bedroom home with split system a/c in each bedroom in the Caribbean (110v/220v). The units are robust and cool quickly but they devour electricity and added to that the rates have increased substantially just recently. We have found that no matter how much we gently remind our guests about conservation, they run the units with doors and windows wide open; and throughout the day when no-one is occupying the house. Our electric bill is nearing $2000/month, especially during the summer months, when the rental rates are the lowest, and more likely to be discounted. We would like to keep our rates steady in this economy, but may not be able to, unless we can come up with a solution. Does anybody know of a workable timer switch; motion sensor switch; or door and window contact switch for A/C that would cut the A/C off either after a certain period of time; if there is no movement in the room; or if a door or window is ajar? I have been told by local electricians that such switches exist but that so far (as of 9/2011) they were unreliable.
I feel your pain as I am in exactly the same situation at my VR. We have tried discreet signs by the a/c units, a green guide and verbal reminders to the guests when they arrive, all with limited success. Once we were actually on island but not staying in our house and stopped by while the guests were out (saw them leave for the day and we didn't go into the house) and noticed the windows were open and the a/c on.
Would it help to actually show them a power bill or at least tell them that your bill is far more than what they can imagine it to be? Most guests are probably thinking, "I paid $2000 per week for this rental and so I can use as much of everything as I want." If they can see that your expenses couldn't be met by your off season rate, they might get the idea. Or they might not care.
The switches you mention are still unreliable. One idea we had was to alert the guests ahead of time that there would be a surcharge if their electric usage is over a certain amount but gave them a generous allotment. This does require someone to read the meter before and after. It worked with our water consumption problems as that is also a big expense -- we have cisterns and if they go dry water must be purchased.
I had the same problem in New Orleans. I guess it is part of "vacation mentality" that people feel the need to freeze their socks off...guaranteed they wouldn't pay for this much A/C at home! My A/C man suggested a programmable thermostat, which allows you to pre-set the hours of use and the temperatures. The thermostat is covered and locked by the owner. Guests were not crazy about it, but they had to admit they were quite comfortable, and it kept me from going broke - and I was not forced to raise my rental fees. I did also provide good fans for each bedroom.
Thanks to both responders! We are also on St. John. Frankly, I have had the discussion with potential renters about electricity costs and I can kind of hear their proverbial eyes glaze over, even as they are requesting huge discounts. St John Villa, your idea of an energy surcharge is an intriguing one, since it is fair, but brings the renter in as a partner in paying attention to excessive costs. If they choose to air condition the outside, then they can pay the extra to do so. I am curious though, have you ever invoked it? Just how do you document usage and how do you figure on what is a fair usage for the week? Does WAPA have guidelines? Is it a per person rate or did you do some experimenting on your own? We rent between 2 and 6 people and so the usage varies. Certainly, it would be a lot less expensive for us to have a maintenance person come by and take a meter reading at the end of each week, but then how do you verify that with the guests? Many of us have experienced the one guest who is likely to be the most consumptive, but who is also likely to be the most challenging in terms of paying any extra fees.
I have been thinking about how to answer, so sorry for the delay. To tell the truth, we have not actually done this, but do tell the guests in their contract and verbally that the electric usage will be monitored. The main thing is for them to know that they should not have the a/c on when they are out of the house. It doesn't take long for the house to cool once they return from the beach or whatever so it doesn't need to be on all the time. We also tell them that virtually all the electric power is generated by burning oil and that usually gets through to them explaining why electricity costs are so high, in fact the highest in the US.
As you know, electric appliances, including timers, are not reliable on St. John due to the crazy surges and other variations in electric service. We were there recently and one of our newer a/c units was dead along with our spa heater, blower motor and water filtration device so some surge or abnormal event had happened to fry them. WAPA will have no useful suggestions for you. However, to figure out a reasonable allowance study your bills and take an average of the kilowatts used when the house has been rented ( 2 or 4 or 6 guests) or when you stay there yourself, then add a percentage above that and it should work out to be about right.
It's a more clear cut issue with water. For instance, once a group ignored the toilet was running and left for the day. When they returned, there was no water and the maintenance guy arrived to switch cisterns and then heard the toilet running and asked them and they admitted they had heard it but didn't even try jiggling the handle. They got charged $300 for a water delivery.
Anyway, good luck!
Another blogger asked a similar question in
Although friendly reminders may work for some guests, it does not work for all of them and you must protect yourself.
Below are my recommendations:
Hope it works, keep us posted on the results.
I would nicely mat and frame a small photocopy of one of your highest bills and put it in a frame to hang just above your thermostat. Then add your own text just below it: Please conserve electricity by using air conditioning only as needed. Close ALL windows while A/C is on. Thank you for being kind to the environment and helping us keep rates down.
Sometimes you can tell people on the phone and in your rental information, but it goes in one ear and out the other. Put the reminder in front of them--right at the thermostat--and then they have to think twice about their actions (or inaction). BTW, I am not in favor of putting signs, tags and reminder notes all over a vacation rental--I think it looks really cheesy and over-bearing. But this is such an important issue, I think you need to do something that is more front-and-center.
I have done that with a discreet little note at the a/c. Doesn't help. Unless they are being held responsible they will ignore any efforts you make to conserve energy at the expense of them being uncomfortable. I would love to get the programable thermostats but at this point are a bit cost prohibitive to install.
I know, Sophie, but it's worth a try. Definitely if you can use a programmable thermostat or timer switch that's the way to go, but it never hurts to ask.
I recently moved to Knoxville, where I'm now 45 miles from our cabins and I'm there once a week to do maintenance and what-not. In my "check out checklist" I ask our guests to lower the thermostat to 60 in the winter and raise it to 78 in the summer. I am amazed at how many guests are actually lowering our thermostat to 60 when they check out. I would estimate that 8 out of 10 cabin visits, I'm finding the temperature has been lowered to 60 degrees.
I know asking nicely doesn't always get results, but in my case it has worked pretty good.
surprisingly, most people do turn up/down the thermostat at check out like I ask them. It's not 100% but it is in my check out instructions. My concern is more for running the a/c at 55 degrees 24/7 and me getting a $500-$600 electric bill!
If you want to go with the surcharge approach, you may want to check into some of the options below:
For 110V appliances, including plug-in air conditioners, there are a number of monitoring products available. P3 is one of the most well known - for its Kill-a-Watt product line:
Their most well known product is the basic unit, which is often available at online stores for around $20
They also make a sensor based solution that can accumulate usage from multiple plug ins throughout the house:
Unfortunately, all their products require someone to physically look at the meter to record the usage after each guest.
There are some internet based solutions, although I haven't spent much time reviewing them
If you want to go very high-tech, the insteon familiy of products can include a PC-based monitoring that I believe can then upload results to you through the internet. But again, I haven't investigated that claim very deeply.
(There is also the very old X-10 technology - not very reliable, and the emerging but may possibly be orphaned Z-Link technology.)
Just out of curiosity, has anyone here considered a Wi-Fi thermostat? Check them out on amazon.com, looks like you just install it and configure it with your wireless network, and then you have control over the thermostat from anywhere in the world. On most of them, you can even lock the controls so that nobody can fiddle with them if they're set to ridiculous settings, or turn the A/C down if the house is unoccupied.
I have mi casa verde vera light that hooks into my vacation rentals internet. It uses Z Wave technology. I purchased a kwikset Z Wave door lock and a Z Wave thermostat. I now can control both from my smart phone or any computer. As far as the thermostat goes, I can see what the current temp is and what it is set at. I can also change the temp as I like. Basically, I have full control of my heating/cooling system from anywhere. So worth the $.
We tried using a lucite lock box over the thermostat, tenants went ballistic. Claimed they expect ac so they are comfortable. Go define comfortable for lots of different people. One persons comfort might be too warm for another. We found that leaving the thermostat exposed was less irritating to the tenants. Yes this costs us a great deal of money, but we are starting to include it in the rental fee. I don't think it would matter whether I had a regular or remotely controlled thermostat. Tenants expect to be cool in the warm weather inside a vacation home.
Congartulation to all of you. It is very interesting topic to be discused in this community. I am very much glad here to take part in discussion. I would be more than happy to share my viewpoint and experiences on various other topics, as well. I hope all members of this forum will assist me and gain my knowledge and experience.
Thanks a lot.
You might consider looking into Coastal Green Air at their products. They certainly would fix your issues.
I put this in this year, and it works great. http://www.amazon.com/Thermostat-temperature-available-Completely-Tamperproof/dp/B0030V6ULO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1346344719&sr=8-1&keywords=chicago+controls+thermostat CAnt turn the AC down less than 73.
This is a great question! We have several properties and use the Filtrete 3M-50 Wifi Thermostat (www.radiothermostat.com) in each of them - some with multiple units. We found this to be better than the NEST for the price. Each 3m-50 unit is $99 at HomeDepot or Lowes. There is no additional cost for monitoring either. That means a free service and they do at times upgrade the software to add additional features.
We keep our WiFi as an Apple Aiport Extreme connected to a line in a room we keep locked off to guests. We have two networks on the Wifi. One disguised and only for us to use and the other a Guest network. We also added Wifi Locks to the network. These two items facilitate service tremendously especially for a smart phone. We use the iPhone. There are apps for both the iPhone and the Droid.
Wifi Locks enable us to give codes to the cleaning service and our guests separately good for the period they are expected to be there. We get a text alert when they enter. We wrote a routine so if someone uses an acceptable code it also deactivates the alarm system. One less step for us.
The morning of a checkin or a cleaning we turn on the Air Conditioner(s) or heater and make the place comfortable. We also get alerts via e-mail each hour if the temperature goes above or below a certain temperature. We can then adjust the temperature back to an acceptable range. We also have alerts through our security system if a door or window is left open for more than 10 minutes. When that happens despite having labels by doors stating "A/C or Heater will NOT run if Door is left Open" We then turn off the AC or heater. This forces them to go back and manually turn it on indirectly reminding them they did something wrong.
I'm trying to get Fitrete to put software limits on temperature for cooling and heating. Twice now we have had clients who in the middle of the night ran the Air Conditioning down to 68 or 67 degrees. For Arizona this is arctic! It also requires the units to run continuously which can be bad for the units and potentially cause the drain lines to freeze causing substantial damage to condenser coils etc.
Studies show that the average Arizona family runs their home 79 during the day and 77 at night. We ask guests not to run the A/C below 75. With the dry climates of Arizona and by turning on a ceiling fan it is plenty cool for most.
Because of these systems I'm curious if anyone puts in a clause in the lease stating that if the A/C or Heater run below or above respectively a certain temperature then an additional charge will be taken form the security deposit. I'm concerned it might have an adverse effect on marketing and reviews. Any thoughts greatly appreciated.
We have a clause that says if windows/doors are left open with a/c running then the security deposit will be forfeit. That being said we don't have a way to monitor if they are open like you. We can set limits on our thermostat and I have the lowest it can go as 74 (we are in Florida). This seems to be working well as people can still adjust the temperature but saves us from people wanting it freezing cold.Michelle
Please keep in mind that people often visit from other climates where the AZ heat (or CO cold) is very uncomfortable. Our VR is in CO and e often have visitors from hot states. Although I am comfortable leaving my heat at 65 because I am acclimated to it, my guests from warmer states frequently crank the heat to 78, 79, 80. I personally set my AC at night to 70 (stupid hot flashes and night sweats) or I just can't sleep. I am too hot!
So, if you are going to set limits and charge more for electricity, make it very visible in your contract so people like me can move on to the next rental. Why not just charge a bit more for rent and let your guests set their own comfort level? Or check if your local utility company does "averages" billing? I assume your winter bills are much lower, it might work out for you.
And how is that working out for you? Most of our guests would be furious if we charged for AC use set at 74 degrees. We try to encourage our guests to set the AC at 78 and open up at night to the benefit from the cool night breezes and fresh air. We have no humidity where we are, but have found that if someone is used to humidity they do as they please. The concept of - "when in Rome do as the Romans do" - does not exist. We have tried a timer and even a locked cover over the thermostat that worked some of the time, but people wanted the temp lower. We had one couple set the AC to 65 during their stay - sort of like a meat locker - I would freeze!
So do you actually charge people? Or do you just say that you will charge people?
BTW, my sister lives in Phoenix and leaves the thermostat set at 76 year round. That way she does not have to think about adjusting it when the outside temperatures drop. Drives us nuts when she visits - way too cold for someone that is used to heat year-round. We also set our thermostat at 68 during the winter months.
What do you mean? We don't charge people if they leave the AC at 74º necessarily, only whatever it takes for them to go over the deductible. Someone who's not home often and runs it at 74º only when home may have a lower bill then someone who is there a lot and runs it at 77º. Our policy works great and yes, we charge whatever the overage is. It's not a penalty, it is a deductible. I have said this before in other threads but I guess I need to say it again: When we first started the management company we were using said the policy was to pay for power in the winter and charge them for all the power usage in the summer. We thought that was too strict so adopted this policy and it works great. The average charge is $20-30 additional power/week. Our rates are so low that we gladly give them the option of paying an extra $100/week with unlimited power if they feel more comfortable. Guess which they choose every time?
So, if you are going to set limits and charge more for electricity, make it very visible in your contract so people like me can move on to the next rental. Why not just charge a bit more for rent and let your guests set their own comfort level?
We've never had anyone scoff at this because, though it's in our policy, if they ask we explain what I just said. No one has changed their mind due to this but yes, as I already said it is posted in our listing, in our contract, and on the wall notice above (I doubt many see it in our listing because people rarely read all the details in a listing from my experience). And how is it fair to charge everyone more to make up for those who are extra careless? Why have those with reasonable power usage absorb the costs for those people. This is much more fair in my opinion. And boy, people are much more mindful when they know they are paying for any excess they use. It's like night and day -- same as the difference in how people act when they've already paid for damage insurance vs. having a damage deposit held until check-out.
Out of curiosity, how many of you who seem so "appalled" at this policy charge $400/week like we do in the summer, or even less at just $1400/month??
...didn't think so. We are lucky to break even in the summer at our rates, but it is competitive and off-season so we can't charge more. Next summer we are raising our rates to $450/week and $1500/month, and will raise our allotted power deductible to $5/day, $35/week or $150/month. Only the most liberal or careless users would go over then.
FYI, I am not appalled at you doing this. I personally think it is great! Just trying to figure out how we could do it as well. We just keep raising our rates to cover the abuse. Frankly I don't know how you charge what you do on a weekly basis. Our expenses are so high that there is no way we could charge $400/week. We charge about $2,000 per week for 4 guests, which is not unusually high for our area. We have to drive an hour to 3 hours round-trip for supplies. If something goes wrong and we have to make a repair, we are usually looking at 4 hours minimum to make the repair plus materials. So we just need to figure out how to charge for AC abuse. I do think it would make people think twice. But most of our guests don't care and will spend all the money in the world to make life comfortable for themselves. The money we see wasted on food is unbelievable. So we will give it a try and see. Thanks...
Perhaps another way of doing it would be to refund money if the AC has not been abused. We are thinking about refunding part of the cleaning fee if only one bed is used, so maybe we could do the same if the AC is not abused...just thinking...
That might work as long as you didn't have to raise your rental rate to accommodate that.
I wasn't referring to your post when I said that, but I wish we could charge more Bobbie, but we are in a complex that we have to be competitive with. Yes, we are getting Motel 6 rates for two bed/two bath condos (full living room & kitchen, patios, etc.) in a very nice gated resort community with all amenities and people can't believe it, but unless we want to be booked less in the summer (we are at about 75% now) we can't go higher. We just hope to break even and make our profit the rest of the year. That's why people don't complain about AC usage. We would make more income charging more rent and offering unlimited power usage, so it is not a matter of greed or "nickel-and-diming" for sure.
By the way, a fellow renter who I work closely with was hesitant about adopting our policy and refrained, but just a week ago e-mailed me and said he'd have to. His posted sign for guests to be mindful wasn't doing any good. He was ending up with $600/month power bills!
One thing though, we have to get one condo refinanced -- it is at almost 6.5% interest!