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Friday, September 30, 2011

Community Shows Love for the Environment

Libby Carnahan, Sea Grant Extension Agent

What do residents love about Pinellas County? The natural resources! This weekend, residents volunteered their time to show their love for the green and blue spaces that we cherish in Pinellas County. In conjunction with National Public Lands Day and National Estuaries Day, cleanup events were organized on land and sea.

At Weedon Island Preserve, Florida Sea Grant/Pinellas County Extension hosted 18 employees of OSI Restaurant Partners for a land-based cleanup of some hard to reach shorelines on Riviera Bay. On Saturday, 24 community volunteers utilized canoes and kayaks to reach the remote shoreline of Googe Island within the preserve. Together, these groups collected approximately 24 bags of debris. Volunteers recorded every item found, giving us a clear picture of the manufactured items impacting the health of humans, wildlife, and economies.

Farther North in the county, Reef Monitoring Inc., a local non-profit, hosted an underwater cleanup of Clearwater Artificial Reefs. 187 certified divers removed an astounding 1,534 pounds of trash!

  • Artificial Reefs provide habitat for popular sport fish and other marine life and help alleviate fishing pressures on natural habitats.
  • More than 1800 persons in Pinellas County – residents and visitors included – use artificial reefs.
  • Fishermen and divers who use Pinellas County’s 12 artificial reef sites spend more than $79 million in the county annually.
Please do your part to keep our oceans clean. Marine debris poses a threat to marine mammals, sea turtles, sea birds, and decreases the quality of life for human residents. When possible-reuse, reduce, and recycle. Don’t wait for an official day to clean up-make every day a cleanup day!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Add Blue and Yellow: Get Green

Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project

Two key elements to look for when you shop for an energy efficient appliance: the blue ENERGY STAR® logo and the yellow EnergyGuide label.

ENERGY STAR® qualified appliances use 10–50% less energy and/or water than their counterparts. ENERGY STAR® is not a brand name— it is a program of the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy. To earn the ENERGY STAR®, a product must meet or exceed the minimum standards of energy efficiency which assist money savings and environmental protection.

Currently, only the following appliance types have
ENERGY STAR® guidelines:
  • Clothes washers
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Dishwashers
  • Refrigerators and freezers
  • Room air-conditioners
  • Room air cleaners
On the standardized EnergyGuide label, manufacturers of these and many other appliance types must provide potential buyers information regarding products' energy consumption. It helps consumers more easily compare energy efficiency among similar products.

The Federal Trade Commision's Appliance Labeling Rule requires EnergyGuide labels on any new product in these lines:

  • Refrigerators and freezers
  • Dishwashers
  • Clothes washers
  • Air conditioners
  • Water heaters (some types)
  • Heat pumps
  • Furnaces
  • Lighting products
  • Plumbing products
EnergyGuide labels show:
  1. The energy consumption or efficiency rating
  2. A “range of comparability” indicating the highest/lowest energy consumption for similar models
  3. Estimated annual operating cost
Remember, the EnergyGuide labels won't tell you the best appliance to buy, but they provide a lot of information to help your decision making. Make sure you compare similar models with similar capacities.

To learn more about Energy Efficient Appliances, click here to download this pdf fact sheet from theUniversity of Florida / IFAS.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How do You Choose a Home Inspector?

Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project

Improving your home's energy efficiency will save you money. A professional home inspection can identify those needed repairs and/or upgrades. Like anything else, a home inspection is only as good as the inspector doing the work. It is in your best interest to carefully verify the qualifications of any inspector you consider hiring.

First, make sure any home inspector has expertise on the specific subject for inspection—expertise on plumbing is not the same as expertise on energy. Second, verify any business background or licenses held by the home inspector. By Florida law, only State-certified Energy Raters may provide energy-rating services. Certified energy auditors and utility auditorsare not home inspectors. Nor are they Home Energy Raters.

You should request a copy of the home inspector's contract, agreement, or proposal and read the fine print to determine exactly what you will get for your money. Request that the home inspector provide you with a list of current and past customers as well as a list of references. The more residential customers, the better. Check with several references on the list.

A lower price is not always the best way to choose a home inspector. When comparing prices for home inspections, it is very important to compare the actual service and qualifications at the same time.

Inspectors/Raters may have a conflict of interest, if:
  • They also offer to perform any needed repairs or other work
  • They offer to recommend any contractor to perform repairs
  • They have worked for a builder or seller associated with the home prior to the inspection

Also, think twice about hiring a home inspector who worked as a contractor before becoming an inspector. Was their contractor's license revoked or suspended? On the other hand, if the former contractor has simply chosen to shift to a lighter schedule of work, this person may bring some of the best practical experience to the job.

To learn more about Energy Efficiency Home Inspections, click here to download this pdf fact sheet from the University of Florida.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Net Zero Energy Homes

Mary Campbell, Extension Director and Urban Sustainability Agent

What would it be like to have a home that sold as much energy back to the power company as it uses? Think of the money that would be saved! The term used for those homes is net zero energy homes (ZEHs). Net zero energy homes and buildings (ZEBs) are “on-grid” structures (connected to the power company) that produce renewable energy onsite at a value equal to, or greater than, the building’s total annual energy consumption. The “net” portion means the building may use energy from the utility grid (electricity and/or natural gas) during some times of the day (such as at night) but supplies renewable energy back to the grid during other times, in a balance that equals out over the course of a year. It is now possible to make a home so energy efficient that when it also includes a renewable energy source (like solar), the net result is that the home generates as much energy as it uses.

In Florida, solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal water heating are the most common renewable energy generation sources of choice. However, ZEHs are not the mere addition of onsite renewable energy to a conventional home. True ZEH status (a federal goal by 2020) is currently a rare occurrence. In the reality of 2010, a ZEH needs approximately 50-70% reduction in site energy use through efficiency measures with the remaining 30-50% in energy needs provided by on-site renewable energy. So a home must maximize all the energy efficiency first to work together with renewable energy to create a net zero home.

Progress Energy supports the use of renewable energy. At any time your renewable system produces more energy than required to power your home or building, the excess energy may be applied as a credit to any current and future bills. This process is known as net-metering. Interested in net-metering with Progress Energy Florida? Then download this Net Meter Tariff overview (PDF) to learn more about the rates and other requirements.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Important Transportation Options Survey

It’s your mobility we’re talking about! Take the survey to let your voice be heard!

The Pinellas Alternatives Analysis is a key step in developing an interconnected regional transit system in West Central Florida. The study findings will be a blueprint for transit service connecting major residential, employment, and activity centers within Pinellas County and to Hillsborough County via the Howard Frankland Bridge.

The study team and Project Advisory Committee has narrowed the range of routes to one and the range of transit types to two: fast bus and rail. A survey was developed to give you and other members of the public an opportunity to tell the study team what type of transit you want for Pinellas County. Please take the survey to participate in the conversation and let your voice be heard. Note: the survey closes on Friday, September 23rd, 2011.

To learn more about the project’s history and decision-making process, please visit the project website.
The Pinellas Alternatives Analysis is a study identifying transit options to improve Pinellas County’s and the Tampa Bay Area’s quality of life.

Please take the project survey about the future of Pinellas County’s transportation by Friday, September 23, 2011.

The survey is available here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dishwasher vs. Washing By Hand

Did you know...?
  • Washing dishes with a dishwasher is more efficient than washing them by hand, and an ENERGY STAR qualified dishwasher is even more efficient.
  • Compared with washing dishes by hand, you can save 5,000 gallons of water, $40 in utility costs, and 230 hours of your time annually by using an ENERGY STAR qualified dishwasher.
You can see the lifetime saving of an ENERGY STAR qualified dishwasher by using the calculation tool at the ENERGY STAR website .

Click here to download the Florida Energy Systems Consortium fact sheet (pdf).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Do You Remember Our Bottle Recycling Days?

Ramona Madhosingh-Hector, Urban Sustainability Agent

You know it’s a throwback to days gone by when we start an article with “remember when” but seriously do you remember when we used to return our bottles for deposit? Our modern, throwaway, convenience culture is accustomed to single-serve beverages like water, soda and sports drinks that come packaged in plastic or glass bottles. This contributes to an increasing waste problem.

Beverage bottle recycling plays an important role in a comprehensive recycling approach that allows us to better manage our waste streams. Plastics make up more than 12% of our recycling stream but overall only 7% of it was recycled when compared to 26% recovery for glass (EPA, 2009). Recycling these beverage containers instead of manufacturing new ones reduces the need for new resource material, cuts back on energy usage, and results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Although curbside recycling is available to some of us in the county and indeed, in our state, not all residents have access to curbside recycling programs. What happens to the bottles that we use while we are away from home? They certainly are not going in the curbside collector! How can we ensure that they are properly recycled? One way to do this is to implement laws that promote and incentivize recycling behavior.

A bottle bill, or container deposit law, requires a refundable deposit on beverage containers to ensure that the containers are returned for recycling. This would include beer, soft drink and other beverage containers. States that have implemented bottle bills report higher recycling rates for beverage containers than states without such programs. Bottle bills standardize a program making the refund the same throughout the state instead of wide variances on a local level. States may use the bottle bill funds to support environmental initiatives to reduce littering and promote environmental conservation.

A bottle bill promotes sustainable consumer practices and in so doing will educate and encourage behavioral changes. Use the resources below to learn more and get involved or to check out if your state has a bottle bill.

EPA Municipal Solid Waste Report 2009
Recycling and the bottle bill
EPA facts on recycling glass
The bottle bill
EPA facts on recycling plastic

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

De-coding the Laundry Factor!

Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project

When choosing a clothes washing machine, you need to know just how much energy it uses per cycle. Clothes washer energy consumption is measured in two ways.
  • MEF (Modified Energy Factor) measures the energy used during the washing process, including washing machine energy consumption per cycle, hot water energy consumption, and dryer energy required for the removal of the remaining moisture in the wash load—the higher the MEF, the more energy efficient the clothes washer.
  • WF (Water Factor) measures the gallons of water used per cycle per cubic foot. The lower the WF, the less water the machine uses. As of 2011, ENERGY STAR® qualified washing machines are 59% more efficient than mandated energy standards (U.S. Department of Energy, March 2008).
Clothes dryers are measured by EF (Energy Factor); the number of pounds of clothing a dryer can dry with 1 kilowatt-hour of usage.

See the ENERGY STAR® Web site for a listing of ENERGY STAR® qualified clothes washers and more details on Modified Energy Factors and Water Factors, along with other information that is useful in sorting out your options. The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy requires the industry to thoroughly test and report the energy usage of all appliances.

To learn more about an Energy Efficient Laundry Area, click here to download this pdf fact sheet from the University of Florida / IFAS.