Ask Extension

Recent Articles


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Be Floridian

Mary Campbell, Extension Director and Urban Sustainability Agent 

Dear Yard 911, 
My husband is deathly afraid of bugs. I think it goes back to when he was little and his sister put a cockroach down his shirt. But now he schedules monthly pesticide treatments for our lawn and I can’t let our dogs play outside for days at a time. Are pests really such a problem in Florida? 
 – Insectophobe Gone Wild, Safety Harbor 
This is an excerpt from the website for the new Be Floridian campaign. It is a fun website designed to create awareness about the serious problem of water pollution. It has fun quizzes about proper care of your yard and encourages enjoying the natural Florida. In other words, have fun and don’t worry so much about your landscape – let it be natural. Be Floridian is about loving the beauty and diversity that makes Florida a special place. Pinellas County implemented a summer fertilizer ban starting in 2011 to reduce runoff that is polluting our water bodies. It is a critical issue here in Pinellas where we are surrounded by water and have many areas that are watersheds (drain to one main location). It is much more expensive to try and clean up a polluted water body than to prevent the pollution in the first place. Now is the time to reduce our use of fertilizers and chemicals and enjoy the relaxed natural beauty that is Florida. 

Map Your Yard- You are a Floridian through and through. But does your yard belong in Ohio? Take our quiz to find your yard’s true home state. 

Visit the website at

To find out more about how to make your yard easier to maintain and use less chemicals see the Pinellas County Extension information on Florida Friendly landscapes:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Online Shopping: Tips to Protect Yourself

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

Online shopping can make the craziness of the holidays a bit easier to handle. It can be convenient, save time and possibly money as well. There are some risks though. To protect yourself this season consider these tips from the Federal Trade Commission. 
Know who you're dealing with: Do your homework to make sure a company is legitimate before doing business with it. Identify the company's name, its physical address, including the country where it is based, and an e-mail address or telephone number, so you can contact the company with questions or problems.
Shop around: Use the manufacturer and model number of the item to compare prices among merchants. Consider whether shipping is included. If the item is offered for pick-up at a store, consider the cost of parking or public transportation.

In case you need to return items: Understand the terms and conditions regarding refunds, including who pays the shipping costs, and whether there is a restocking fee. Also, print and save records of your online transactions, including all emails to and from the seller.

Protect your personal information: Don’t give out your credit card or other financial information in exchange for a tech toy, a free gift card, a seasonal job, or a holiday vacation rental. Be wary of companies that ask you to send financial information by email. Legitimate companies don’t ask for your financial information via email or pop-up message.

Use caution when buying on public WiFi: Since some hot spots may not have effective security measures in place, don’t be tempted to send sensitive information like your credit card number over that network.

Look for a Secure Checkout: When you do check out make sure the website starts with https (the "s" stands for secure).

Keep your security software updated: Free screen savers, e-cards, or other seasonal downloads can carry dangerous viruses so keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software and your firewall current.

Watch over your financial accounts: Read your statements regularly and making sure they reflect the charges you authorized.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

You’re in Hot Water Now!

Water heating is often the third largest energy expense in your home, after heating and cooling—it can account for 13–17% of your utility bill. Here are a few tips for more lowering your water heating costs.

If you have an electric water heater, install a timer that allows you to turn the unit off at night when not in use—you'll save an additional 5–12% on energy needed to heat the water.

Install heat traps, one-way valves or loops of pipe, which prevent heated water in a storage tank from mixing with cooled water in pipes. Most new water heater models have factory-installed heat traps. Heat traps can save you $15–30 per year by preventing convective heat losses through the inlet and outlet pipes.

If you have a tank-style water heater, drain about a quart of water from the water tank every 3–6 months. This helps to remove sediment that slows down heat transfer and lowers the efficiency of your water heater. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for your specific unit.

If your water heater is more than 10 years old, it's a good idea to start shopping for a new one now. This will give you a chance to do some research and select the type and model that most appropriately meets your needs. Although most water heaters last 10–15 years, it might be economically smarter to replace your water heater early; the lower utility bills could be worth it. Compare costs: purchase price and lifetime maintenance and operation costs.

To learn more about water heaters, download this pdf fact sheet from the University of Florida.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Seal the Deal with Weather-Stripping

Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project

The greatest source of wasted heating and cooling energy in a home is air leaks. Weather-stripping is an easy do-it-yourself solution. It is a foam or vinyl strip with a self-adhesive backing that is used to seal doors and windows. The principal is similar to the seal on a refrigerator door.

You should choose the type of weather-stripping that can withstand the weathering conditions of its specific location. For doors and windows that are used most frequently, use more permanent types of weather-stripping. Click here for more information on choosing the correct weather-stripping product for your project.

Weather-stripping should be installed on a door jamb so the material creates a seal with the exterior face of the door on the top and both sides.

Weather-stripping on windows is more complicated than on doors, because it has to be placed in the tracks as well as above, below and between the sashes. Metal or plastic v-channel weather-stripping should be used in the tracks of the windows and in between the sashes. This may need nails or staples to secure it permanently. Foam or vinyl self-adhesive weather-stripping can be used between the upper and lower sashes and the frame.

Door sweeps, thresholds, and door shoes are good ways to seal gaps under exterior doors. Caulking is another way to eliminate door and window air leaks.