October 24, 2011

Energy Vampires Will Bleed You Dry

Suzanne Grant, APR, Spokesperson/Lead Communications Specialist,  
Progress Energy Florida

Everyone knows a leaky faucet requires immediate attention because a leak wastes water and costs money. Yet lurking undetected in nearly every home, there are other leaks – energy vampires – that constantly drink from your electrical outlets, wasting energy and running up your power bill. These tiny gremlins with the glowing green eyes that peek out at us in the dark of night from every corner of your house need immediate attention, too.

Vampire loads, also called phantom loads or standby power, refer to the electric power consumed by electronic appliances while they are switched off or in a standby mode.

Here’s a scary thought: U.S. households spend rough $100 per year to power home electronics like clock displays and remote controls left in standby mode. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), vampire loads are ghoulishly responsible for approximately five percent of the energy consumed in the United States, costing more than $3 billion each year.

“Energy vampires haunt every room in your house,” said Malcolm Barnes, energy efficiency manager for Progress Energy Florida. “Unlike fictional vampires, they don’t sleep during the day. They draw power 24 hours a day, which quickly adds dollars to your power bill.”

Vampire loads on electronic equipment generally fall into three categories:
  • Clocks and other always-on components. Devices that use internal clocks or other modules that remain operational even in off mode. For example, a desktop computer keeps a clock and other functions operating even when it’s off. 
  • Direct-current (DC) power: Pick your poison here; laptop and cell phone chargers, cordless phones, electric toothbrushes, etc., all rely on DC power and draws electricity all the time. If you leave your cell phone charger plugged in, it will still draw power even if fully charged or the phone is disconnected from the charger. 
  • Electronic Controls: Appliances with remote controls or electronic power switches require a sensor to remain alert all the time – ready for someone to hit the on button. 
Vampires are everywhere: microwaves; wireless power tools; coffee makers; DVR, DVD, and VCR players; cable and satellite boxes; MP3 players; digital TV converters and video game consoles. The DOE reports that in a typical U.S. home, eliminating energy vampires could save you two percent on your electric bill each month.

“There are a few tricks to kill energy vampires,” said Barnes. “The easiest way is to plug electronics into a power strip; then turn the strip off when not in use. Smart power strips do the work for you by automatically cutting off power when devices are not in use.”

Other ways to reduce phantom load include:
  • Turning off the computer monitor when it is not in use for more than 20 minutes, and turning off both the CPU and monitor if the computer will not be used for more than 2 hours. 
  • Looking for the ENERGY STAR® label when purchasing new appliances. ENERGY STAR® appliances use less energy, sometimes half as much, to perform their normal duties. 
  • Keeping it simple—avoid buying products that include ―bells and whistles‖ you don’t need. Some of these extra features might waste energy. 
  • Watching out for the cube shaped- transformers that plug into the wall. These vampires are 60-80% inefficient when plugged in, so it is especially important that these are on power strips. 
You can use an energy monitor to detect which devices are consuming this phantom energy in your home.  Your local library may have these devices to check-out.  Join Pinellas County Extension for classes on how to use these monitors, and borrow a monitor that day.  We will be in libraries throughout the county in the coming months.

For a more thorough assessment, contact Progress Energy Florida for a no-cost Home Energy Check. Through the Progress Energy service – which can be performed online, over the phone or in person – a highly-trained Energy Advisor will provide customized, energy-saving advice and determine your eligibility for company rebates toward energy-efficient home improvements. A Home Energy Check is a prerequisite to all Progress Energy rebates for energy-efficient home improvements.
To sign up for a no-cost Home Energy Check or to learn more than 100 energy-saving tips, visit or call 1.877.364.9003.

Progress Energy Florida, a subsidiary of Progress Energy (NYSE: PGN), provides electricity and related services to more than 1.6 million customers in Florida. The company is headquartered in St. Petersburg, Fla., and serves a territory encompassing more than 20,000 square miles including the cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater, as well as the Central Florida area surrounding Orlando. Progress Energy Florida is pursuing a balanced approach to meeting the future energy needs of the region. That balance includes increased energy-efficiency programs, investments in renewable energy technologies and a state-of-the-art electricity system. Click here for more information about Progress Energy.

October 19, 2011

Fruits and Vegetables: Handle with Care

Nan Jensen, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, Pinellas County Extension

In the last couple of months, there have been 2 recalls on fruits and vegetables. The first is for cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Colorado and most recently bags of shredded lettuce. The Food and Drug Administration informed Giant Eagle of the presence of listeria monocytogenes in a routine random sample test of Giant Eagle Farmer's Market 8-ounce package of Shredded Iceberg Lettuce, produced by River Ranch Fresh Foods LLC, of Salinas, Calif., with a use-by date of October 14, 2011.

Listeriosis, a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, is an important public health problem in the United States. It is linked primarily with meat and animal products, as well as with dairy products such as soft or surface-ripened cheeses such as brie and feta but fruits and vegetables have been implicated as well.

The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems. However, rarely, persons without these risk factors can also be affected. The risk may be reduced by recommendations for safe food preparation, consumption, and storage.

To minimize your risk, follow these guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control when selecting and preparing fruits and vegetables.

Carefully select fresh fruits and vegetables. When shopping, look for produce that is not damaged or bruised and make sure that pre-cut produce is refrigerated or surrounded by ice.

Rinse all fruits and vegetables before eating. This recommendation also applies to produce with rinds or skins that are not eaten. Rinse produce just before preparing or eating to avoid premature spoilage.
  • Clean all surfaces and utensils with soap and hot water, including cutting boards, peelers, counter tops, and knives that will touch fresh produce. Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten, under clean running water and avoid using detergents or bleach.
  • Remove the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage before washing.
  • Produce with firm skin, such as potatoes, may require rubbing with a vegetable brush while rinsing under clean running water to remove all soil.
  • Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean paper towel and prepare, cook, or eat.
  • Packaged produce labeled "ready to eat," "pre-washed," or "triple washed" can be used without further washing.
Keep produce separate from raw foods like meat, poultry, and seafood, in your shopping cart, grocery bags and in your refrigerator. Throw away any produce that will not be cooked if it has touched raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. Do not use the same cutting board without cleaning with hot water and soap before and after preparing fresh fruits and vegetables.

Refrigerate all cut, peeled, or cooked produce within 2 hours. After a certain time, harmful bacteria may grow on produce and increase the risk of foodborne illness.

Follow this general FDA advice for melon safety:
  • Consumers and food preparers should wash their hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling any whole melon, such as cantaloupe, watermelon, or honeydew.
  • Scrub the surface of melons, such as cantaloupes, with a clean produce brush and dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting.
  • Promptly consume cut melon or refrigerate promptly. Keep your cut melon refrigerated at, or less than 40 degrees F (32-34 degrees F is best), for no more than 7 days.
  • Discard cut melons left at room temperature for more than 4 hours.

Click here for more information on listeria, how to reduce your risk from listeria and food recalls.

The FDA-recall alerts can be found here.

October 13, 2011

Keeping Holidays Happy

Jean Rogalsky, 4-H Youth Development Agent

Holidays are a wonderful happy time, but they can also be very stressful for families, especially children, because of the changes; the increase of social events, less time with parents, changes in schedule, and the tons of sweets and holiday treats. As the holiday season approaches, here are some tips on holiday spending and stress to ensure that you and your family have a happy holiday season.

Holiday Spending
Overspending finds you in debt afterwards. During tough economic times it is more important than ever to stick to a budget. You don't have to spend lots of money to have holiday spirit. Many people overspend because they feel trapped by holiday traditions and expectations. So make it your goal this year to not get trapped. Just because you have always done something one way, does not mean you cannot make changes. Have an honest talk with family members that you need to reduce spending this year. Let your children know what the holidays are really about and that gifts are something extra. Consider the following to cut down on holiday costs:
  • Set a limit on an amount to spend on each other and make sure the amount is something all can afford.
  • Draw names so each person only needs to purchase one gift.
  • Exchange gifts of service. Give someone with kids 4 hours of babysitting. A handyman can offer to make a number of repairs. You may have a skill you could pass on to someone else with lessons.
  • Be creative and make something versus buying something. A gift with your personal touch has more meaning.
  • Let children know that they cannot get everything they want, and help them prioritize their wishes.
  • Have potluck holiday parties. Don’t take on all the time and the expense.
Holiday Stress
Prepare yourself and your children for the emotions and stress that come before, during, and after the holiday. We get so busy with all that needs to be done and sometimes forget that our stress causes children’s stress.
  • Limit the number of social gatherings and events. While we hate to disappoint anyone, remember that too much change in a child’s schedule can cause behavioral issues.
  • Have the whole family get involved in preparing for the holidays. Make a list together and delegate tasks. Kids feel a part of the holiday when involved, and it lessens the stress on the parents.
  • Make decorations as a family. A child’s handiwork on display is a great source of pride.
  • Volunteer as a family to help another family in need or visit. Helping others in need puts the holidays in perspective.
  • Traditions are important to kids because it emphasizes the family. Everyone looks forward to traditions because it gives them a sense of security. It is never too late to start a new tradition in your home.
Here is a bit of research to keep in mind as you plan for the holidays. When elementary and middle school students were surveyed about their best holiday memory, the vast majority of the responses had to do with family time rather than gifts.