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Monday, July 26, 2010

Going Green with Your Mortgage

By: Karen Saley, Extension Specialist

Many financial experts feel now may be a good time to purchase a home. There are many properties available at affordable prices, interest rates are very reasonable, and for those that are interested in bringing sustainable practices into their home buying scenario there are now green mortgages available.

Green mortgages, or energy efficient mortgages (EEMs) take into consideration a home's energy costs when determining how much money to lend a borrower. The idea is that if the borrower's energy costs are lower, more money can be put toward the mortgage payment. The result is the ability to borrow more and possibly get a better house without spending more per month than you would with a conventional mortgage.

An energy audit of the home you're interested in purchasing will be performed to determine the monthly savings. Some of the things that are taken into consideration are how much energy is used by the appliances and the heating and cooling systems, how well the home is insulated, how well the roofing material keeps the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The calculated monthly savings on utility bills is added to the borrower's income raising the amount of money that can be borrowed.

Some other features to consider when trying to qualify for a green mortgage are; the size of the home, the use of environmentally sustainable construction materials, energy-efficient windows and doors, water conserving features, renewable energy resources such as solar panels, drought-resistant landscaping, and natural, efficient Insulation. These features do not necessarily have to exist in the home, but could be added after the purchase of the home to still be applicable for a green mortgage.

Keep in mind that green mortgages are not the mainstream, so you may need to do a little searching to find one, but it may be well worth the search to stay true to your sustainable practices and save money too.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

GREENing Your Summer Adventures!

Ramona Madhosingh-Hector, Urban Sustainability Agent

Summer is the time of year when many parents send their kids off to camp – it could be an all day camp, a half day camp or an overnight camp. For some parents, camp might be a day or two at grandma’s house but no matter what type of camp you choose for your child, there are a couple of ways you can enhance your child’s connection and concern for the environment.

Lately, there has been much talk about nature deficit disorder – a phrase used to describe the phenomenon that our kids are not getting enough interaction within the natural environment. The term was proposed by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, and has gained much momentum.

How do you find a natural experience for your child? Well, you can start by reading the NY times article “Growing Up Denatured” and taking a survey that assesses your child’s interaction outdoors. If you find that your child is not getting enough outdoor time, plan to visit a park, nature preserve or take a hike where you can interact with the environment. If your child is going to grandma’s, then you can explore a different park or natural area.

Another great way to enhance the natural connection is to sign your child up for a summer camp that includes a “nature element.” Most of these types of camps occur at an environmental education center and some examples include marine summer camp adventures, nature preserve camps or science center camps. Your local library might also offer some camp opportunities. Whichever one you choose, make sure it is a decision that your child is involved in. In Pinellas, you can visit Weedon Island Preserve, Florida Botanical Gardens or choose your own.

You can also ensure that your child is getting a green experience at the camp by asking the camp directors about recycling efforts at the camp, how camp activities will focus on nature, the kind of food it serves and if they are aware of their environmental footprint. Camps that don’t have answers for these questions may not be providing the natural experience you want for your child.

If you can’t get out to a park, overnight camp or a nature based camp, you can spend time reading a book with your child about the environment. Finding a grade level appropriate book is easily accomplished when you visit the green reading list.

If you missed the opportunity to green your summer adventure, you can always incorporate some of these tips in the fall when the season changes. Even then, you are sure to have a great experience with your child exploring and listening to the music of the natural environment.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Green Jobs- Two Opportunities to Get Some Answers

By Vestina Crayton, Extension Specialist

English novelist Charles Dickens said it best in the Tale of Two Cities ‘It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.’ With unemployment at an all time high, the emerging green job industry has persevered and brings entrepreneurial and employment opportunities"

On July 22nd, the Tampa Branch of the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter U.S. Green Building Council will sponsor a panelist discussion about green jobs. Local business, academia and community leaders will be on-hand to provide information and answer questions about the various training programs and employment opportunities that are available. Students and the general public are encouraged to attend. For details and to register, click here.

If you are unable to attend this event, register for the upcoming Pinellas County Extension’s Green Jobs Webinar Tuesday July 27th, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Calling All Phone Books

It’s Time to Recycle

Summertime is phone book time! Thousands of phone books will be delivered to Pinellas County residents’ doorsteps. Please recycle your old phone books instead of trashing them.

The Pinellas County Phone Book Recycling Drive offers many convenient options. Residents of nine cities (Belleair, Clearwater, Dunedin, Indian Rocks Beach, Largo, Oldsmar, Redington Beach, Safety Harbor, and Seminole) may recycle phone books in their curbside bin with “mixed paper”. There are also 43 drop-off locations available around the county. In addition, there are over 300 SP Recycling (fundraising bin) drop-off sites; one may be at your child's school. A complete listing (Phone Book Recycling 2010) is attached, or may be viewed online at

Each year, over 500 million telephone books are distributed nationwide—enough to circle the earth four times! A common myth is that phone books cannot be recycled, but they are 100% recyclable. Your old phone book can be recycled into insulation, cereal boxes, paper towels, or new phone books.

You can cut waste if you are getting more phone books than you need. At home, you probably don’t need multiple sets of books, which is what you will receive if you have more than one phone line. At the office, co-workers can share phone books instead of receiving individual books. Another option is to use online listings instead of a hard copy. You can sign up to stop receiving phone books at Another way to opt out is to not have a land line phone. 25% of American households are already choosing this option.

For more information, contact Pinellas County Utilities at (727) 464-7500 or visit

Be a PEEPer!

The Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project (PEEP) is in full swing with thousands of citizens receiving energy-saving light bulbs and information on how to save energy and money in the home. Our next class will be held at the Clearwater Library Main Branch on Saturday, July 17th from 1:30-2:30 p.m. All of the classes are free and are offered as part of the US Department of Energy’s $3.5 million Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant awarded to Pinellas County late last year. Pinellas County Extension’s application included money to provide education and energy-saving materials to the community at-large.

We are excited to bring the citizens of Pinellas County the tools they need to make significant energy savings in their homes. We have especially been targeting those citizens who would not have ready-access to energy saving information and equipment. The goals of this project include:
  • Providing information and equipment to Pinellas County citizens to help reduce energy consumption in the home.

  • Promoting a significant and quantifiable reduction in energy consumption in Pinellas County

  • Facilitating a significant and quantifiable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in Pinellas County

Participants in this class will become part of a larger project, and will be contacted no more than three times to track the energy-saving measures they have taken.

Click here to register for this class. Remember that space is limited and registration closes 24 hours prior to class. We hope to see you on July 17th!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Preserving Your Harvest

By: Nan Jensen, Family and Consumer Science Agent

Whether you have a green thumb and raise your own fruits and vegetables or want to take advantage of the great buys in the grocery store or farmer’s markets, freezing is a great way to preserve your seasonal picks so you can enjoy the delicious flavor and good nutrition year-round. The extreme cold stops growth of microorganisms and slows down changes that cause spoilage and affect quality and nutritional value of fruits and vegetables.

Here are some general tips for freezing fruits and vegetables.
  1. Select the right kind of container
    a.plastic freezer bags and containers
    b.freezer foil canning/freezing jars
    d.never use containers that you buy yogurt, sour cream or margarine in

  2. Blanch (boiling water for several minutes) vegetables first.

  3. Vegetables should be packed tightly to cut down on the amount of air in the
    container. If the vegetables are packed in freezer bags, press air out of the
    unfilled part of the bag.

  4. Wash and sort fruit according to size. Work with a small amount at a time.
    Pare and remove pits, seeds, and blemishes. Leave whole, slice, or puree.

  5. Anti-darkening agents such as ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can prevent fruits from turning brown.

  6. Fruit can be frozen without sugar, but the color and texture of most fruits is retained best when some sweetening is used. You can use ½ cup of sugar per quart of fruit or make a syrup with 2 to 3 cups of sugar for every 4 cups of water.

  7. Most frozen fruits and vegetables maintain high quality for 8 to 12 months. Vegetables can be frozen up to 18 months at 0° F or lower. Longer storage of fruits and vegetables than those recommended above will not make the food unfit for use, but will decrease its quality.

For specific vegetable blanching times, tray pack freezing instructions, or questions about a particular vegetable or fruit visit:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

It’s Not Where You Go but How You Get There

By: Margaret Deller, Extension Educator

With an oil volcano in the Gulf, Floridians are concerned about the environmental costs of their cars.

One simple, low cost way to reduce those environmental costs is to carpool. The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) is even having a contest for the Coolest Carpool.
Shoot a G-Rated video about why carpooling is fun, good for the environment, saves money, reduces stress, or any other benefit of carpooling you can think of and post it on If you have the coolest carpool you could win a Kindle, GPS system, digital camera, or an iPod Nano.

Another way to reduce those environmental costs is to ride the bus. Unfortunately, this might get more expensive or have some services eliminated. Attend one of the public workshops and learn about the proposed changes, ask questions, and share your ideas. Can’t make it to the workshops or the hearings? Email, please include your name and address in the email for the official record.

Another slightly more expensive way to be more environmentally friendly on the go would be to drive a plug in electric or plug in hybrid electric (PHEV) car. Ramona Madhosingh-Hector, our Urban Sustainability Agent, was able to test drive a few different models during Project Get Ready Tampa Bay. She said, “They handle just like regular cars but they are so quiet.” And it is not just about saving the environment. An all electric car can save you about $1000 a year on fuel costs and a PHEV about $950.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Gray Water Reuse for Florida

By: Mary Campbell, Extension Director and Urban Sustainability Agent

As we try to reduce our carbon footprint water conservation can be an important factor. It takes a lot of energy to treat and move water through our community. The more water we use, the more energy that is used. If you have maximized your water conservation practices like fixing all leaks, filling your dishwasher before using and taking shorter showers; and if you have already installed low flow toilets, low flow shower heads, a water efficient washing machine and micro-irrigation, you may be wondering how you can reduce your water use even further.

Reusing gray water from showers, bath tubs, clothes washing, and some sinks for flushing toilets and irrigating non-edible portions of the landscape is a way to reduce the need for new sources of fresh water and reduce reliance on groundwater resources.

There are several requirements for gray water systems for flushing toilets in Florida. Distribution piping must be clearly identified as containing non-potable water by pipe color or with metal tags. Gray water must be filtered, disinfected, and dyed. Gray water storage reservoirs must be appropriately sized and must have a make-up potable water supply. Storage reservoirs must also have drains and overflow pipes which must be indirectly connected to the sanitary drainage system.

There are four main components of a gray water system for flushing toilets:

• Filter system
• Storage reservoir
• Disinfection unit
• Coloring dye injection unit

Prior to entering the gray water storage reservoir, gray water must be filtered using an approved media, sand, or diatomaceous earth filter . Gray water storage reservoirs must be constructed from durable, non-absorbent, and corrosive-resistant material. Storage reservoirs must be closed, gas-tight, and must have access openings that allow for inspection and cleaning. Storage reservoirs must be equipped with an overflow connection to a sanitary drainage system. Gray water used for flushing of toilets must be disinfected prior to use by an approved method using one or more disinfectants such as chlorine, iodine, or ozone (Florida Building Code, 2007).

While reusing gray water has the potential to substantially reduce the use of fresh water, there are several barriers which may impede the adoption of residential gray water reuse in Florida and elsewhere. These include:

• System cost
• Knowledge and experience of contractors and local officials
• Sufficient and consistent codes and guidelines
• Homeowner acceptance
• Limited permitted uses

It is likely that policy makers will be more receptive to expanding gray water reuse in the future as pressures increase on finite fresh water resources.

UF EDIS Gray Water reuse in Florida
What is Gray Water Reuse?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Green Travel

By: Mary Campbell, Extension Director and Urban Sustainability Director

Taking your green practices on the road may be challenging, but with a little preparation you can be comfortable and green at the same time. Book your next hotel stay with a designated member of the Florida Green Lodging Program. Properties are located throughout the state and range from local bed and breakfast’s to five star resorts with more than 1,000 rooms to suit any traveler’s needs. Designated properties have implemented a variety of environmentally friendly practices, such as: installation of low flow plumbing fixtures, linen and towel reuse programs, installation of ENERGY STAR® appliances and programmable thermostats, recycling in guest and staff areas, bulk and recycled content purchasing, use of green cleaners and use of high efficiency air filters.

Even with high gas prices, you can take a vacation that doesn’t deplete your wallet or the environment by traveling “green”. DEP’s new Green Travel website features an interactive map to locate Green Lodging properties and Florida state parks close to home and lists dozens of tips on being green while enjoying the Florida Summer.
Close-to-home Florida State Parks offer the perfect avenue for family relaxation or recreation. Just outside your door, many state park adventures await within a short car ride. Plan your affordable family getaway by visiting One Tank Adventures.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is encouraging people to travel green while on the road this summer, and choosing hotels that have earned EPA’s Energy Star is a great place to start. Energy Star labeled hotels are independently verified to meet strict energy efficiency performance levels set by EPA. Hotels that have earned the Energy Star perform in the top 25 percent of hotels nationwide, use at least 35 percent less energy and emit at least 35 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than their peers - making an environmentally friendly lodging choice a snap when planning a summer vacation.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Find hotels that have earned the Energy Star: