December 30, 2009

Ring in the New Year with Solutions for Your Resolutions

Attend Pinellas County Extension’s January Classes

Pinellas County Extension offers residents a wide variety of classes to help them make sustainable decisions.

Be sure to check out our lunch break on-line classes, Solutions in 30. Each week this month you will learn about or rediscover green jobs in Pinellas County, financial incentives available from geothermal energy for your home or business, getting in good financial shape for the New Year and what it takes to grow a successful vegetable garden.

Solutions in 30:
January 6, 2010 - Introduction to Vegetable Gardening
January 13, 2010 - Getting in Good Financial Shape for the New Year
January 20, 2010 - Green Jobs
January 27, 2010 - Geothermal Energy

Commercial (Pesticide/FNGLA/ISA) CEUs:
January 14, 2010 - Roundup License Training - LCLM
January 21, 2010 - Best Management Practices
January 29, 2010 - I. D. Cardholder

Lawn & Garden:
January 9, 2010 - Common Lawn & Garden Problems
January 16, 2010 - It Starts with Soil
January 19, 2010 - Florida-Friendly Landscaping Design & Maintenance
January 23, 2010 - Planting, Setting & Growing
January 26, 2010 - Water-Wise
January 30, 2010 - Pests and Harvesting

Sustainable Living:
January 29, 2010 - The Basics of Climate Change

Pathways Adventure Series:
January 23, 2010 - Vegetable Gardening Fun

You can register for classes on-line at Please look for the “Online Class Registration” button on the right hand side near the top of the page.

December 28, 2009

Easy Resolutions to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

By James Stevenson, Extension Specialist, Urban Sustainability, Pinellas County Extension

Part I: HVAC Systems

Are you looking forward to saving money in 2010? Are you ready to finally make those changes that will make your home more energy efficient? UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension would like to help. In 2010 we will be offering classes and workshops on energy efficiency, alternative energy and the incentives that are available to help you achieve your goal. In the mean time, here are some easy and affordable steps you can take to begin streamlining your home into an energy-efficient one.

According to the University of Florida, the average home devotes 40% or more of its monthly energy towards the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system. In Pinellas, this figure may be slightly higher, as many of our homes are older and less energy-efficient than homes built in the 1980s and later. As for the remaining 60% of your bill, approximately 20% goes to lighting, 15% for heating water, and about 10% is attributed to refrigeration. That leaves 15% for other appliances, TVs, computers, and energy you don’t even get to use. This is “phantom energy” and a great target for savings; but more on this later.

As the biggest energy consumer, it is important to make sure the HVAC system is running as smoothly and efficiently as possible. The cheapest and easiest way to reduce the HVAC system’s power-draw is to adjust the thermostat. Setting the thermostat to 76ºF in summer and 68ºF in winter will show significant savings, and by using ceiling fans in summer, the indoor temperature will feel like 72ºF. It is important to note, however, that ceiling fans only make a difference if you are in the room with the fan. It is the breeze we feel on our skin that keeps us cooler; therefore it is not recommended to run ceiling fans when the home is unoccupied. Set fans to run clockwise in winter, to draw heated air back down into the room, and counter-clockwise in summer for that cooling breeze.

Making sure the air filter is kept clean is another easy way to keep the HVAC system running smoothly. Make a note on your calendar to check them once a month, and be sure to replace them as needed.

A low-cost modification that can help you achieve savings is in the form of a programmable thermostat. These devices are easy to install, and allow you to set the times and temperatures in your home. Make sure to compare several models, choose an EnergyStar® rated model, and be sure to select a thermostat that will be easy for you to use. There are three basic types of these thermostats, the 7-day model that allows for the greatest flexibility (good for families with children with all sorts of schedules,) a 5 + 2 model that uses one set schedule for the week and one for the weekend (good for people who work away from home during the week,) and a 5+1+1 model that allows for one schedule during the week and a flexible schedule on the weekend. Enlist the help of a qualified HVAC contractor to install this device if you are uncomfortable with the small amount of wiring that is involved. Here is the EnergyStar® recommended setting:

Programmable Thermostat Setpoint Times & Temperatures
SettingTimeSetpoint Temperature (Heat)Setpoint Temperature (Cool)
Wake6:00 a.m.≤ 70° F

≥ 78° F


8:00 a.m.

Setback at least 8° F

Setup at least 7° F


6:00 p.m.

≤ 70° F

≥ 78° F


10:00 p.m.

Setback at least 8° F

Setup at least 4° F

(Source: Note: The national standard of a 78ºF may show the most savings, but studies have shown that mold may begin to grow at temperatures above 76ºF. See Mold Happens and Basic Mold Prevention for more information.

It would be good to mention here, the program run by our local energy provider, Progress Energy Florida, called the Home Energy Check. This is a free service offered by Progress, and can be completed online, over the phone or as a visit paid to your home by a qualified inspector. Essentially, this head-to-toe evaluation of your home’s energy efficiency will give you a clear idea of where changes will be most effective. After completing a Home Energy Check, you will qualify for Progress Energy’s many financial incentives for increasing your home’s energy efficiency. We will discuss incentives, including local, state and federal more in-depth in a future article.

Finally, the ultimate investment towards an efficient HVAC system is an upgrade to a newer, more efficient, EnergyStar® model. If you have had a Home Energy Check, Progress will pay up to $150 to replace a less-efficient heat pump and up to $350 to replace strip heat in your home. In addition, if you install an efficient heat pump AND participate in other Progress programs (the Duct Check Program or the Insulation Check Program) you will receive an additional credit on your electric bill.

We look forward to bringing you more on energy efficiency, incentives and the latest information on alternative energy in 2010. On February 20 we will be hosting Doug Gregory, UF/IFAS Faculty from Monroe County, who will be discussing the technicalities of installing solar power in the home. Join us for Solar Power in the Sunshine State from 10:00-12:00. Register online from our home page.

Energy Efficient Homes: Easy Steps to Improving Your Home’s Energy Efficiency -

Energy Efficient Homes: Air Conditioning -

EnergyStar®’s Heat and Cool Efficiently -

Progress Energy’s Home Energy Check -

December 22, 2009

Be Aware of Water Use

Wilma J. Holley, Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Program Educator, Pinellas County Extension

Most of us take water for granted. Water is piped into our homes and landscapes; we turn on the faucet or irrigation system and there it is. Water conservation goes way beyond watering efficiently, which is the second principle of the nine major principles emphasized by Florida Yards & Neighborhoods. Naturally, checking our irrigation systems for leaks and misdirected or broken heads, making repairs, and calibrating the system to apply ¾” per application are all good practices.

We can do more, including following local water restrictions. The Tampa Bay area has been in a four year drought. While we have had some recent rains the drought is not over. We can still see the effects of it in our lakes, rivers, and groundwater. Recently the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) eased water restrictions from Phase III to Phase II. We are still limited to one day a week watering before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. and will need above normal rainfall this winter to bring our levels up enough to lift restrictions further.

Another thing SWFWMD is asking homeowners to do is “Skip a Week” of irrigation during the winter. If you have an automatic system, simply turn your irrigation timer off the week you are skipping and then back on the week you are watering. Also watch the weather, and if we receive ½” or more of rain on the week you are scheduled to water – don’t!

Plants and grass do not require as much water in the winter. The weather is cooler, there is less evaporation, and most plants are not actively growing. Therefore skipping a week of irrigation is the best thing you can do for your yard.
“Overwatering does more than deplete the water supply; it also makes plants more prone to disease and pests. By choosing and operating a watering system correctly, you can reduce water bills, decrease plant problems, and lower maintenance requirements. For example, the more you water your lawn, the faster it grows and the more it needs to be mowed. It’s also more likely to develop fungal problems that require treatment with fungicides.” The Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Handbook A Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Publication

Average American families use 100-175 gallons of water a day, delivered to them. In some parts of the world an average family uses only 5 gallons of water a day and they have to walk miles for it. To fully appreciate our own water sometimes it helps to understand what others go through. I have included this website for that reason: .

We can’t solve the world water crisis by ourselves; yet, we should be willing to contribute by following carefully considered water restrictions, keeping our irrigation systems in proper working order, and skipping a week of irrigation. That is an insignificant price to pay to have water readily available. We can’t ignore the water shortage and pretend it will simply go away – we should make water conservation a part of our every day lives.

Watering restrictions are set by SWFWMD; however, counties and utilities sometimes impose tighter restrictions, so it is wise to bookmark your utility website and check back periodically to keep up to date with your local water restrictions. Following is a link to the SWFWMD website which has a link to each county and utility within their District:

To learn more about the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Principles mentioned and more things you can do to use less water in your landscape go to:

December 14, 2009

Gift Cards: Tips for Consumers

By Karen Saley, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Gift cards have become and easy and convenient way of gift giving and like many of us you are probably going to be picking up a few during the holiday season. As convenient as gift cards are they do have their drawbacks. Here are a few things you should be aware of before deciding to purchase a gift card.

FEES: Some gift cards may not have fees, but others do charge various types and amounts of fees. Some fees may be paid in cash, but most often fees are simply deducted from the value on the card. These fees may include:
· Purchase Fees that are charged when you buy a gift card. These are in addition to the money you pay in exchange for the value on the card.

· Monthly Fees or other regular charges (such as service fees, administrative fees, or maintenance fees) that are deducted from the gift card balance.

· Inactivity Fees that apply if you do not use the card within a certain time period (for example, a monthly fee that is deducted from the gift card balance if the card’s value has not been used up within 6 months after the card is purchased).

· Transaction Fees for using the card – either for all transactions, for a high number of transactions, or for certain types of transactions (for example, ATM withdrawals).

· Miscellaneous Fees for balance inquiries, replacing a lost or stolen card, or other services related to the card.
EXPIRATION DATES: Check to see if the card has an expiration date. If a gift card expires before you use it, you will most likely loose it. If there is an expiration date, you should find out if a new card can be issued to you and if there are any fees for issuing a new card.

LOST OR STOLEN CARDS: If a card is lost or stolen you will want to know if you can get a replacement card and if there is a fee for doing so. You will also want to find out if someone else uses the card after it is lost or stolen, would that money be credited to the replacement card. Always keep the receipt for the gift card purchase, and record the card number in case you or the person who received the card as a gift needs a replacement card.

WHERE YOU CAN USE THE CARD: A store gift card can only be used at the designated store or sometimes at stores under a parent company. VISA® or MasterCard® gift cards can be used at many locations around the world. Some gift cards can even be used to get cash at an ATM.

TRUST: Remember that a gift card is only as good as the store or institution providing it. You are trusting that the company is financially stable and will honor the card whenever it is presented. Before purchasing a gift card you may want to make sure the company is not be being sold or going into bankruptcy.

PROBLEMS AND COMPLAINTS: If you experience a problem with your gift card you want to know it will be taken care of. Check for a toll-free number to reach a customer service representative that can help you with your problem.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: When giving someone a gift card, be sure to pass along all this information to the recipient so they understand all the conditions that go along with the card.

December 10, 2009

Pinellas County Launches New Green Business Designation

Mary Campbell, Extension Director and Urban Sustainability Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Pinellas County and the University of Florida Extension Service have partnered to launch a new program that offers a green designation for local businesses. The Green Business Partnership designation uses a voluntary assessment of business operations that encourages conservation of natural resources, waste reduction and energy conservation. The good news for local businesses is money saved through going green.

Local businesses have embraced the concept of green practices, recognizing the benefits for cost savings on energy, reduced water use and waste reductions. “Being green” makes good business sense. Businesses can attract customers that appreciate the extra effort to reduce environmental impacts.

To learn more about this new designation, sign up for a Webinar on Tuesday, Dec. 15. Mary Campbell, director of the Pinellas County Extension and Urban Sustainability Agent, will explain the criteria of the program, and provide an easy overview of how to complete the assessment and become a “Green Business Partner” in Pinellas County. Beginning at 12:30 p.m., the hour program is offered on-line, and participants use their own computers. Cost for the program is $15.00. Follow-up for businesses seeking the designation will be provided.

Just what is a “green business”? A green business employs practices to reduce waste, save resources and promote sustainable practices. It often is as simple as having a recycling program, bringing hazardous materials to an approved facility for disposal and reducing water consumption with low flow toilets. Businesses can pick the practices that save the most money and are the most cost effective to implement to customize the program to fit their needs. Extension staff provides guidance and training to help each business reach their goal.

After completing the self-evaluation checklist available on the Extension website, Pinellas County staff will provide support to implement many green practices and help maximize the ability of businesses to operate in a sustainable way. When all criteria that are applicable are implemented, the Green Business Partnership will be awarded and the business will be eligible to use the Green Business Partnership logo provided. This badge of honor can serve to highlight green business practices to those customers that would choose a green business among competitors.

There are several key areas of focus for the green business designation and these include general business policies, energy conservation, waste reduction and water conservation. The designation requires a business commit to developing practices that promote awareness of green practices within the company through employee training and company policies. Pinellas County Utilities will provide a waste assessment and review of hazardous waste disposal practices. Recycling can reduce waste disposal costs through a net reduction in disposal costs. Recycling saves natural resources, energy and water. Buying in bulk can reduce packaging waste and reduce costs. Green purchasing reduces exposure to harmful chemicals and makes healthier work environments. Savings are also achieved through more efficient inventory control and storage.

As energy costs escalate, businesses are looking for ways to reduce energy consumption. Progress Energy offers a business energy audit as part of the designation and some businesses are able to reduce energy consumption by 20% through the implementation of specific strategy. Lighting and heating and cooling systems can be made more energy efficient, which saves money. Energy Star certified computers and other equipment provide a third party certification for energy efficiency.

As a Green Business Partner, participants will have access to professional advice and training, listing on the Green Business Partner website and special recognition by Pinellas County.

For more information on the Partnership program, visit, and go to the on-line registration to sign up for the Webinar (register before Dec. 14). Call Mary Campbell at 727-582-2100 for more information.

December 8, 2009

Family Strategies to Enjoy the Holidays

By Jean Rogalsky, 4-H Agent, Pinellas County Extension

The holiday season should be a time of joy and creating memories to last a lifetime. Instead it often is a time of stress for parents who try to create the perfect holiday or who worry they can not provide enough to make the holiday memorable for their children.

As families find themselves in the middle of the holiday preparations during tight financial times, financial worries will continue to build. The American Psychological Association's (APA) Stress in America survey finds that Americans cite financial concerns as a leading source of stress.

According to the APA survey, approximately seven in ten Americans report that money is a significant source of stress. In addition, over sixty percent stated they experienced stress from work and the economy. More than half cited family responsibilities as a significant source of stress in their lives. With adults stressing over the economy, their jobs, and their family responsibilities, how can they handle the additional pressures of the holiday season?

Parents may not realize how much their children are in tune to the adults’ feelings or how much stress the children themselves are feeling. Parents should pay attention to the stress their children may experience during the holidays. The APA Stress in America survey found that “children are nearly two times more likely to worry about financial concerns than their parents realize. Specifically, 30 percent of youth say they worry about their family having enough money, while only 18 percent of parents report that this is a source of stress for their child.”

Since our children are reporting stress and concerns about money, parents need to be role models for managing stress. Please take time to consider the following strategies to manage holiday stress and enjoy the season with your family:

~ Plan self-care and personal time into your schedule. Spending some time on yourself can keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

~ Dance with your children (at home, of course) or take time for recreation. Physical activity can help relieve stress.

~ Think about the meaning of life. Ask your children what they think is important. Be sure to pass on family stories when families had to make do with a lot less. Find a favorite holiday story to read; the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder are good choices.

~ Try to take some off. Spending time with family and friends is important. Plan a time for family baking or decoration making and expect to make a mess.

~ What better way to teach your family the meaning of life than to volunteer as a family. Helping others who are less fortunate can put hardships in perspective and can build a stronger family.

~ Holiday traditions are great, but if observing them adds too much stress, create a new tradition. As the saying goes, “If we do it twice, it is a tradition.”

~ Ask the children which observances they like the best. Let each child pick an activity each week.

If holiday stress starts to get you down, remember the 2008 responses of 4-H club members when asked what they enjoyed the most about the holiday season. Over 90% responded that the best times were the times they spent with their families.

Adapted from Fighting the Holiday Blues published by Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida/IFAS:
American Psychological Association:,