LARGO — It's been two years since the first Home Energy Symposium was held in this county, and a full room of citizens gathered at the Pinellas County Extension office on Saturday to hear an enlightening presentation.
Keynote speaker for the event was Dr. Jennifer Languell, founder and president of Trifecta Construction Solutions. A consultant to government and industry locally and worldwide, she's recognized as a champion of sustainable development and “green building.”
She defined green building as both a noun and a verb; an energy-efficient, environmentally friendly structure and what was done to make it so, as with insulation and conservation features.
Languell referred to the HERS Index, Home Energy Rating System, which she compared to the familiar MPG, miles per gallon, for automobiles. But unlike the latter ratio, a lower HERS number means higher energy efficiency.
When the home rating system began in 1979, the energy rating for Florida housing ran about 225; the current building code mandates a minimum of 80. And an Energy Star categorization requires a rating of 50 to 65, which can be achieved in part by wall, floor and roof insulation, plus the installation of energy-efficient windows and lighting.
The expert stressed the importance of incorporating a “whole house strategy” when creating or retrofitting for a greener building. Consideration should be given not only to the structure, but also to its systems and other features she calls the trim.
“One of the biggest challenges we have with existing homes is we go in and tweak one system and not the other two,” Languell said.
For example: A “sick air syndrome” might result if insulation is added, and cracks and leaks are sealed, without regard for the air-exchange frequency.
But it's not necessary to build to save energy, as even the little things can yield a good return on investment, such as choosing certified Energy Star appliances and light bulbs.
Traditional incandescent lighting produces 90 percent heat and 10 percent light. Replacing such light bulbs with CFLs, compact fluorescent lights, will use a lot less energy to produce the same amount of illumination with far less heat, and will last much longer.
Saving watts, of course, can save dollars.
In Florida, more than half of the total energy usage, not just for electricity, goes to the support of buildings: 20 percent is residential and 34 percent is commercial — primarily for health care and hospitality structures. Transportation consumes another 39 percent.
Energy efficiency involves water as well as electricity. Languell was joined by a panel of industry experts: David Bracciano of Tampa Bay Water; Doris Heitzmann of the extension's Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program; Mikle Gordon of Duke Energy; and Jeremiah Rohr of the Solar Source Institute.
They identified a variety of ways to save resources, which might include installing low-flow toilets and showerheads, faucet aerators, and solar or tankless hot water heaters and water temperature regulators. Simply repairing leaky toilet flappers and dripping showerheads and faucets can save thousands of gallons of potable water per year.
Bracciano also recommended looking for the WaterSense label when purchasing fixtures and related products. Monitoring well-maintained irrigation systems of good design can reduce water waste in the landscape, offered Heitzmann.
Dan Schaefer of Energy Districts at Ygrene Energy Fund, and Paavo Salmi of Planet Green Group joined a question-and-answer panel session to discuss everyday energy savings.
Schaefer expressed optimism about a proposal currently before the county that would implement a clean energy upgrade program for homeowners, which he anticipated might be available next year.
Salmi shared information about his project, Eco Village in Dunedin, a planned community of 25 affordable townhomes capable of producing as much energy as they use.
Rohr reminded that the most cost-effective energy is that which isn't used and suggested from personal experience the use of monitors to determine phantom energy losses, as from idle electronics.
Gordon cited behavior change as the key, in that low-cost solutions are up to each individual, as with getting accustomed to a temperature inside of not less than 78 degrees in the summer and 68 degrees in the winter.
Concluded Languell, “A lot of our problems are us.”
The workshop rewarded attendees not only with food for thought but with refreshments provided by the Bushnell Center for Sustainability. As a bonus, two attendees won rain barrels, two received tote bags full of home energy conservation tools, and every participant received an insulated bag containing a crank-up flashlight and a solar calculator.
Further information on sustainable living is available at www.pinellascountyextension.org.