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Thursday, July 30, 2009

How To: Save Money, Go Green I: Air Conditioning

James Stevenson, Pinellas County Extension Specialist, Urban Sustainability

The summer air is buzzing with the sound of cicadas, signaling that we are well-into the sultry days. The air is also buzzing with the sound of a million air conditioning units, doing their best to keep us cool and collected in our homes and businesses.

It should be no surprise that in Florida air conditioning (AC) consumes more energy than any other electrical appliance. In fact, AC accounts for 40% of your monthly energy bill.

Would you like to see your energy bill shrink? There are three ways to cut costs that are easy, affordable and can make a BIG difference.

Start by making sure your AC unit is working at its utmost efficiency level. An annual inspection and cleaning of both the indoor (air handler) coil and outdoor (condenser) coil. Dirt and debris make these gizmos work harder and draw on more energy.

Check your refrigerant charge. The “blood” of your system has to be maintained at a certain pressure. Higher or lower can cause problems (this requires a professional inspection.)

Reduce the cooling load to the structure by providing shade or drawing blinds on east and west-facing windows.

Don’t invite trouble! Keep doors and windows shut tightly.

Use ceiling fans, but use them wisely. In summer ceiling fans work best when operated in a counter-clockwise rotating position. Ceiling fans work by making inhabitants FEEL cooler. They do not actually COOL a room; only run them when the room is occupied. In fact, ceiling fans can make the room feel 4 degrees F cooler.

Consider upping the setting on your system. 76 degrees F is the “sweet-spot” where the most energy is conserved, comfort is not sacrificed and mold/mildew is not encouraged.

Finally, consider installing a programmable thermostat. These inexpensive devices can save you hundreds of dollars a year. Simple to use, you can control the times of operation with as many settings as you wish (depending on the model.) We recommend using a model that has been certified by Energy Star® as evidenced by carrying its distinctive logo.

OK, here is your list of things-to-do, we will be contacting you in a month’s time to see if you made any of these changes in your home/office. Everyone saving just a little energy will add-up to a huge impact now and for the future. But in the meantime, you might just like those few extra dollars in your pocket!!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Build Stronger Families with 4-H Teening-Up Workshop

Families with teenagers have their own set of unique challenges to deal with on the home front. To help families with youth ages 11 to 17 tackle these issues, Pinellas County Extension 4-H Youth Development is holding a two-day Family Teening-Up Workshop to help build stronger relationships. Parents, caregivers and youth should plan on attending both days of the workshop together.

The workshop is planned for Saturday, Aug. 8, and Saturday, August 15, and will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on both days. It will be held at Pinellas County Extension centrally located at 12520 Ulmerton Road in Largo.

The workshop is a group learning program to help parents, caregivers and teens learn about and understand the normal development of teenagers and improve their family communication. Practical information and resources with hands-on learning activities to enhance family relationships will be shared.

Saturday, Aug. 8, Day One provides practical information and resources with hands-on learning activities that can enhance the family relationship while focusing on the teen brain, transitions in adolescence and positive discipline.

Saturday, Aug. 15, Day Two targets talking with teens about issues that affect their daily lives, understanding teen anger while managing yours and empowering teens to build assets. Families must attend Day One of the workshop to be eligible for this one.

Families receive a Family Resource Binder complete with all program information to take home. The cost for the two-day workshop and materials is $50 per family.

Registration is required for this 4-H Family Teening-Up Workshop. To register, visit, click on the “Online Class Registration” button and then click on the “Family Programs” tab. Citizens may also call (727) 582-2450 to register. Please be sure to register before Saturday, Aug. 1.

Please note that this program is not designed to offer therapy or other services for teens and families with more serious problems. For services available in Pinellas County, please call Tampa Bay Cares at 211 or visit for more in-depth information.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Green Travel Made Easy

James Stevenson, Pinellas County Extension Specialist, Urban Sustainability

Have you had enough yet? Ready to get out of Dodge? If you are “Leaving on a Jet Plane….” this summer, it is possible to “offset” the carbon cost of your journey with the help of some of the largest travel companies.

Ofsetting refers to projects that compensate for emissions by providing for “sinks” that will absorb the equivalent amount of carbon. Many of these projects involve funding re-forestation projects, both domestically and abroad, with the majority in developing countries.

Check out Expedia’s “traveler’s guide to going green” Travelocity has partnered-up with TerraPass who offer bundles that fund clean energy production, methane mitigation strategies for farmers and landfill gas capture. These offsets are only a few dollars and can be added to the price of your ticket with one quick click.

Orbitz has engaged and offers links and information at their microsite, From there, you can purchase offsets for both domestic and international flights (a flat-fee for each.) According to their website, makes it easy and affordable for everyone to offset their carbon footprint with high-quality, 3rd party verified renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation projects.”

Travelocity offers access to GoZero carbon emission offsets through their “travel for good” program. This program not only helps travelers offset carbon emissions, but also offers access to socially-responsible travel options and options that support our domestic economy. Don’t forget, being green is not JUST about the environment!

We’d love to hear about your green travel adventures this summer. Either use the “comment” option below or send us an email to and we’ll post a selection in the coming months. Enjoy your green trip!