Stay Warm this Florida Winter

Staying warm in Florida is usually not a topic of conversation. But the temps have dropped below 50 in Tampa, Conch Republic residents are pulling out their winter flip-flops, and Panhandle residents are practicing the fine art of layering. A few recommendations from the U.S. Environmental Protection agency will help you stay warm, save money and conserve energy this winter.

Keep Air Filters Clean. A dirty air filter can increase your energy costs. Clean or change the air filter in your heating and cooling system monthly. Some filters only need to be changed every three months. Also, have your equipment checked seasonally to make sure it’s operating efficiently. Safety check-ups can identify problems early and prolong the life of your system.

Seal Your Home. Hidden gaps and cracks throughout a home can add as much airflow as an open window. The more heat that escapes, the more cold air enters, causing your system to work harder and use more energy. Sealing the ‘envelop’ (the outer walls, ceiling, windows and floors) can save up to 10 percent in energy costs. Start by sealing air leaks and adding insulation. Pay special attention to your attic and basement, where the biggest gaps and cracks are often found. If replacing windows, choose ENERGY STAR qualified ones.

Seal Air Ducts. Leaky air ducts can reduce your system’s overall efficiency by 20 percent. Sealing your ducts can save money on energy bills and help consistently heat every room.

Test Your Home. ENERGY STAR’s online tools help evaluate your home’s energy performance and provide solutions to increase comfort and energy efficiency. Have your utility bills handy for savings calculations.

Consult a Professional. Hire an experienced, licensed contractor for help with a heating and cooling overhaul.

Cash in on Special Offers. Check with your local utility or visit the rebate finder to find special deals on high efficiency heating equipment. Manufacturer rebates are usually offered in fall and early spring. Ask for ENERGY STAR qualified equipment. While you’re looking, check for rebates on other appliances, insulation, windows or doors you want to replace.

Shop Smart. If your heating equipment has not been properly maintained and is 15 years old or older, it’s probably time for an upgrade. Ask for ENERGY STAR rated equipment when buying warmth for your home.

The average Florida household uses 1,120 kilowatts hours (kWh) of electricity each month, with nearly half of that used for keeping our homes at a reasonably comfortable temperature. Energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment can save as much as 20 percent on annual energy costs. In addition to saving money and helping Floridians stay warm in winter, energy efficiency also conserves water and reduces waste.

January 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm Leave a comment

Making a List

Hundreds of years hence, archaeologists will be digging through our middens to find clues about our culture.

Checking out our trashed magazines, they’ll conclude that ours was a culture obsessed with eating and losing weight (eight of the top ten best selling magazines in the US include recipes, dieting tips, or both). Judging by paper wrappings and bags in the landfill, they’ll assume that fast food restaurants were a primary food source that provided an excellent diet full of nutrients and anti-oxidants since images on our magazine covers indicate robust health.  

In addition to paper, archaeologists will find food scraps, medications, French Roast coffee grounds, bottles and cans. They’ll find plastic. They’ll wonder why we harvested pet by-product and preserved it for all eternity in a plastic bag.

Excavators will uncover baubles and trinkets, chicken bones and shards of clutter that we bought and then discarded with the change in the fashion season.

Future archaeologists will find metals such as aluminum and steel, and wonder why we buried it again after having gone through all the trouble and cost of mining it in the first place. “What were they thinking?” they’ll ask and feature 20th-Century-born humans on their equivalent of History’s Mysteries.

This shopping season, I intend to reduce the clues I leave in our landfills. I won’t buy clutter or items that go directly into the trash can. Garbage can liners have been crossed off my shopping list. Since I haven’t figured out what to do with chicken bones (can’t compost them, can’t feed them to the dog) I won’t buy chicken bones either. I should probably cross spinach off the list as well, since it only detours to the crisper (where it goes quietly brown) on its way to the trash can. My new year’s resolution: make a list and check it twice before I add an item to my shopping cart.

Check List

  • Check your buying habits. Pass up the Buy One, Get One sales if you don’t need two. Or, Buy One, Give One to someone else who needs a 100-count bottle of aspirin.
  • Check the clutter factor of items before you buy them. Will the item end up in the garage or back of a closet before Spring Cleaning time comes ‘round? Resist the urge to buy another holiday coffee mug set, even if it is marked down 75 percent.
  • Check the expiration date. Don’t buy anything you can’t use before it expires.
  • Check the label. When practical, buy products made with recycled content. Some companies make common kitchen items such as cutting boards and cooking utensils with bamboo (a renewable resource) or recycled plastic.
  • Check the packaging. If a favorite two-ounce jar of hide-the-wrinkles eye cream comes with two pounds of packaging, check to see if the packaging is recyclable.
  • Check the pantry and refrigerator before you grocery shop. Maybe you already have cream of mushroom soup that you impulsively added to your cart at the last Buy One, Get One sale back in September.
  • Check the Web. Find out where to recycle almost anything (old appliances I’m replacing with energy-efficient models, tech toys I’m upgrading, those skinny jeans I’ll never wiggle into again, that stationary bike that hasn’t moved in two years, holiday coffee mug sets) at Earth 911.

December 16, 2010 at 11:13 am Leave a comment

‘Tis the Season

‘Tis the season to be eating, which means more time in the kitchen for cooks and chefs across America.  While you’re shopping for sweet potato pie ingredients, updating the green bean casserole, testing new cranberry sauce recipes or perfecting your turkey roasting skills, don’t forget how easy it is to protect the environment that provides all the ingredients for happy holidays.

Learn easy actions cooks and chefs can take to protect air and water quality, conserve water and reduce waste.

Easy Actions for Cooks and Chefs

November 22, 2010 at 1:26 pm Leave a comment

Conserving Energy Reduces Waste

Currently in the U.S., electricity demand continues to increase even as energy efficiency gains are made.  Since 1970, the use of coal to generate electricity in the U.S. has nearly tripled in response to growing electricity demand.  Almost half of the electricity is presently generated by coal-fueled electric power plants.  The more electricity consumed the more coal that is being used for energy production. Consider that the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that electricity demand will grow by 41% by 2030.  With the burning of coal to produce electricity, ash is produced.  In the process of converting coal into energy, the coal-fueled electric power industry generated approximately 72.4 million tons of coal fly ash (ash that rises to the chimney or stack), 18.4 million tons of bottom ash (ash that does not rise), and 2.0 million tons of boiler slag (molten ash) in 2008. Though some of the coal fly ash, bottom ash, and boiler slag can be used in cement, asphalt and construction projects, 70 – 80 percent of the ash ends up in a landfill.

Small changes in daily routines, such as turning off lights, unplugging appliances not in use, washing clothes in cold water, and maintaining moderate household temperatures reduces the amount of coal needed to produce electricity. So while you’re conserving energy, you’re also reducing waste!

Michell Mason Smith
Engineering Specialist III
Solid Waste Section
Florida Department of Environmental Protection

October 27, 2010 at 9:42 am Leave a comment

Let There Be Energy-efficient Light

Let there be light. And TV and DVD and Wii. Let there be laptops with printers and speakers. Let there be microwaves, refrigerators, cell phone chargers, washers and clothes dryers and hair dryers, water heaters, leaf blowers and circular saws. Let there be fax machines, copiers, and projectors for PowerPoint presentations. And, please, let there be A/C and coffee makers.

We Americans rely on electricity to power our lives. We also like to lower our utility bills. So when we hear “Conserve energy,” we’ve learned to turn off the lights, unplug techno toys when not in use, buy energy-efficient appliances. For most of us, conserving energy means using less electricity. Until I asked some of my DEP collegues, I didn’t know that conserving electricity also conserves water.

The average Florida household uses 1,120 kilowatts hours (kWh) of electricity each month and thermoelectric power plants generate most of it.

Thermoelectric power plants burn coal and natural gas or use nuclear fission to heat water. The steam drives a generator to produce electricity.  The water for generating steam comes from nearby water bodies such as rivers or lakes.  Most of the water is returned to its source, but it has to be cooled before being discharged back into the native ecosystem from whence it came, where fishes and other life forms have an aversion to steam baths. Cooling towers lower the water’s temperature, but some of the water evaporates as it cools. How much? The National Renewable Energy Laboratory reported that as much as 0.47 gallons of water evaporate for each kWh of electricity generated.

According to a 2006 U.S. Department of Energy report, water usage at thermoelectric power plants accounted for 39 percent of all freshwater use in the U.S. in 2000, almost as much as that used for irrigating our orange groves, strawberry fields, tomatoes, corn and all sorts of other useful agricultural products.

If you think that’s a lot of water to power our amenities, consider the water budget of a typical hydroelectric power plant.  On a national average, hydroelectric power plants use 18 gallons of water to produce a kWh, about 40 times more than is used to generate thermoelectric power.  These losses arise because reservoirs built to produce hydroelectric power create additional surface area where water can evaporate.

According to the NREL report, the 120 largest hydroelectric facilities in the U.S. lose about 9,063 million gallons of water per day to evaporation.   That’s more than we withdraw for public supply in the entire state of Florida each day. 

Though I don’t know how potential energy in water and a chunk of coal magically shows up to power my toaster, I do know that saving energy saves money. And now I also know that simple actions like turning off the lights, switching to energy-efficient appliances and unplugging electronics also conserve water.

Information provided by:
Daniel M. Kuncicky, PhD  
Environmental Manager
Solid Waste Section
Florida Department of Environmental Protection

October 22, 2010 at 12:04 pm 2 comments

This Fall, the leaves are not the only things changing

We are normally accustomed to autumn bringing about cooler temperatures, football games and, although muted by our temperate climate, leaves adjusting their colors. It also appears that fall may be adding other traditional earmarks of the season – “Green” events. The next few months find the Easy As One calendar full of nearly three-dozen environmentally focused events located from the panhandle all the way down to the Florida Keys. Workshops, recycling days, and festivals all dot the calendar with opportunities to become actively involved in learning more about our environment and how important each one of us are to its sustainability. These events also bring about the opportunity for us to possibly change our attitudes and habits – making us even more aware of our impact on the planet. So take a few minutes and see if you can include one or more of these events in your fall schedule. You may be surprised to see how easy change can be.

October 12, 2010 at 8:54 am Leave a comment

An Ounce of Prevention

You have to wonder what Benjamin Franklin was thinking when he decided, “Hey, I think I’ll go fly a kite during a storm.” Still, Franklin contributed much to our culture and our knowledge base. Benjamin Franklin’s observation, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is the underlying principle behind Pollution Prevention.

In addition to being a common sense solution to protecting our health, the principal extends to protecting our environment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines Pollution Prevention (P2) as reducing or eliminating waste at the source by modifying production processes, promoting the use of non-toxic or less-toxic substances, implementing conservation techniques, and re-using materials rather than putting them into the waste stream.

Manufacturers and businesses can prevent pollution on a large scale, but humans outnumber factories and our collective individual actions have a huge impact on the quality of the air we breathe and the quality of the water we use to brew our morning caffeine.

While modifying production processes may be mostly in the realm of manufacturers, we can find ways to modify production processes in our ordinary actions. Conserve energy by chopping veggies by hand for homemade soups and salsa instead of using the food processor. Produce and distribute reports electronically to conserve paper that would have likely ended up in a landfill. What other components of P2 can you incorporate into your daily routine?

Can you use less toxic substances? That’s easy. Use a microfiber cloth to clean instead of harsh chemicals.

Can you conserve water? That’s easy, too. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth. Install a low-flow faucet at the kitchen sink.

Can you conserve energy? Easy as well. Turn off lights and unplug electronics you’re not using. Buy energy-efficient appliances.

Can you re-use materials? Also easy.  Local retailers provide recycling bins for plastic bags. Many cities now provide curbside recycling for paper, glass, metal, and some types of plastic bottles. If you can’t re-use an item, maybe someone else can. Goodwill and local charities can help redistribute household items and clothes that you no longer need. Libraries can put your books into circulation. Many cell phones and electronics can be refurbished and used again.

Eliminating or reducing pollution at its source is a common sense approach to environmental protection and pollution prevention. Something to consider for P2 Week and beyond: For both pollution and prevention, we humans are the source.

Learn more about:

Pollution Prevention

P2 Week Events in Florida

Easy As One

A Bag’s Life

September 22, 2010 at 3:16 pm 1 comment

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