Energy Efficient Homes: Air Conditioning

Energy Efficient Home: Air Conditioning

Photo by Les Harrison, Wakulla County Extension Director

Welcome to the Florida summer!!! Feeling the heat?  No pool to cool off in?  Running your air conditioner and then feeling blue when the bill arrives?  Let’s review some basics in energy-efficient use of your air conditioner.  Perhaps you and your family could make some small changes that could result in money being saved. Quick Facts:  Did you know that…..

  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) account for more than 40% of your utility bill?
  • For every degree setting below 78˚F, you spend up to 8% more in cooling costs?
  • Upgrading your system can reduce your air conditioning costs by a significant amount.  Is it time to consider doing so?

Short-term solutions to improve the efficiency of your existing system include…..

  • Set your thermostat at 78˚ F or higher.
  • Use bath and kitchen fans sparingly when the air conditioner is operating.
  • Inspect and clean both the indoor and outdoor coils.  The indoor coil in your air conditioner acts as a magnet for dust because it is constantly wetted during the cooling season.  Dirt build-up on the indoor coil is the single most common cause of poor efficiency.  The outdoor coil also must be checked periodically for dirt build-up and cleaned if necessary.
  • Shade east and west windows.
  • Delay heat-generating activities, such as dishwashing and drying clothes in a clothes dryer, until the evening on hot days.
  • During most of the cooling season, keep the house closed tight during the day.
  • Try not to use a dehumidifier at the same time your air conditioner is operating.  It increases the cooling load and forces the air conditioner to work harder.
  • Consider installing ceiling fans to circulate the air more effectively.  The improved circulation will make you feel cooler.
  • Install a programmable thermostat.  You can then schedule the time blocks during which your heating or air-conditioning system operates.  As a result, you can set the equipment to more economical settings—such as lower temperatures in winter while you are asleep or when you are away from home.  Choose one that can store and repeat multiple daily settings, so that you can have both a workday and a weekend heating/cooling timetable.

We have such great resources from our UF/IFAS Specialists available to you.  This article was adapted from Factsheet FCS 3262 Energy Efficient Homes: Air Conditioning  This publication includes information on understanding terms used in the industry, how to purchase a new unit, and questions you should be prepared to ask and answer when working with a HVAC representative.  Contact your County Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent with further questions or for a copy of this factsheet.  For additional factsheets on energy efficiency and other topics, visit

Author:  Shelley Swenson,  Family and Consumer Sciences/EFNEP Agent, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension


Shelley Swenson
UF/IFAS Extension Wakulla County
Family and Consumer Sciences/EFNEP Agent

Totally Tasty Tomatoes

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable in backyard gardens.  With each plant capable of producing 8-10 pounds of fruit or more, good gardeners may have more tomatoes than they can eat.  If you lack a green thumb, tomatoes are easy to find at farmers markets, roadside stands, and even grocery stores.

Botanically, the tomato is a fruit but in 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court declared the tomato a vegetable because of a tariff dispute.  Nutritionally, tomatoes are low in calories and fat and high in vitamin C and potassium.  They are good source of vitamin A in the form of beta carotene.  Tomatoes are also high in the antioxidant, lycopene.  Research has shown that lycopene may reduce the risk of heart disease and several types of cancer.  Lycopene is more easily absorbed from cooked tomato products. Eighty percent of the lycopene in the American diet comes from tomato products.

There is nothing tastier than a freshly picked tomato.  Choose tomatoes that are firm, fragrant, and brightly colored.  Avoid bruised tomatoes that are too soft or too hard.  Store tomatoes at room temperature, and only refrigerate tomatoes to keep them longer.  Fresh tomatoes are good in salads, on sandwiches, or tossed on scrambled eggs, nachos, or in other common dishes like macaroni and cheese.

Tomatoes are easy to preserve by freezing, drying, or canning.


Frozen tomatoes are mushy when thawed but can be used in soups and casseroles. Wash and dip tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen skins.  Core and peel.  Freeze whole or in pieces.  Pack in freezer containers, jars, or packaging, leaving 1- inch headspace.

Cooked Puree. Wash, peel, core, and cut tomatoes. Cook until soft. Press through food mill or sieve. Cool and pack into freezer jars or containers. Concentrate the puree by boiling until amount is reduced in half.

Juice. Wash, core, peel, and cut tomatoes. Simmer about 5 minutes; put through a sieve or food mill. Cool and pack as above.


Small cherry tomatoes or tomatoes with a high solid content, such as Romas, work best for drying. Dried tomatoes are good in soups, stews, sauces, and salads. Tomato leather can be eaten as is, added to soups for flavor, or a little water can be added to the leather to make a savory tomato sauce.  Steam tomatoes for 3 minutes or dip tomatoes in boiling water for 1 minute to loosen skins. Chill in cold water; slip skins off. Cut into sections about 1/2 inch wide or slices; cut small tomatoes in half.  Dry tomatoes in a food dehydrator for approximately10-18 hours (length of time depends on initial moisture content).  Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.


Tomatoes are a low-acid food and must be canned carefully to avoid the risk of botulism. To acidify tomatoes, add 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon citric acid, OR 2 tablespoons vinegar  per pint jar.  For quarts, add 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon citric acid, OR 4 tablespoons vinegar per jar.  The acid can be added directly to each jar before filling with the product.  Add a little sugar to offset any strong acid taste.  Tomatoes can be processed using a boiling water bath or a pressure canner.  Use only tested recipes and current canning recommendations from the National Center for Home Food Preservation (

Whole or halved raw tomatoes packed in water:

Add two tablespoons bottled lemon juice to each clean quart jar and fill with peeled, raw whole or halved tomatoes.  Cover tomatoes in jar with hot water leaving ½ inch headspace.  Wipe off jar rim.  Adjust pretreated lids and screw ring onto jar, finger tight.  Process quarts for 45 minutes in a boiling water bath.  If you use a dial-gauge pressure canner, process for 10 minutes at 11 pounds pressure   With a weighted gauge canner, process 10 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.


Fresh Garden Salsa

The ingredients can be finely diced or use a medium chopped consistency for chunky salsa. Serve with tortilla chips or use as a side dish with grilled meat or anywhere you want a bright, tart, savory accompaniment.

2 large ripe, red slicing tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 small white onion, chopped
1 green onion, top included, chopped
1 to 3 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, minced
Juice of lime
teaspoon salt

1. Using a serrated knife, chop tomatoes. If using plum tomatoes, add 2 tablespoons water.

2. In a medium bowl, toss together the tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cilantro. Squeeze lime juice over the mixture and sprinkle on the salt. Allow to rest 30 minutes before serving to allow salt to draw juice from the tomatoes. Stir again just before serving. Makes about 2 cups.

For more information about growing or preserving tomatoes or other produce, contact the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension office at 850-606-5200, or your local Extension office.

Author:  Kendra Zamojski, County Extension Director and Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, UF/IFAS Leon County Extension

Cool Off with a Cold Glass of Milk

A cold glass of milk on a hot summer day offers more than just cool refreshment. Who knew one eight-ounce glass of milk provides:

  • Calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus for strong bones and teeth.
  • Riboflavin and vitamin B-12 for a healthy nervous system.
  • Niacin for normal enzyme functioning.
  • High-quality protein for lean muscle.
  • Potassium for maintaining normal blood pressure and nerve and muscle functions.
  • Vitamin A for good vision, healthy skin, and a strong immune system.


Dairy foods offer a lot of nutrition in a small package. The Dairy Group includes all liquid milk and products made with milk that retain their calcium after processing; this includes yogurt and cheese. Cream cheese, cream, and butter are not included since processing causes them to lose or reduce their calcium content, and they are high in fat and low in nutrients.

MyPlate ( recommends consuming two to three cups of milk or milk products every day depending on age, sex, and level of physical activity. What counts as “one cup” of dairy foods?  One cup of milk, one cup of yogurt, 1 1/2 ounces ( two slices) of hard cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, parmesan), two ounces (three slices) processed cheese (American), one cup of pudding made with milk, or 1 1/2 cups of ice cream.

Fat-free (skim) or low-fat (one percent) milk has the same nutritional value as whole or reduced-fat milk but without the saturated fat. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:

  • Infants should drink breast milk or iron-fortified formula during their first year of life.
  • Children between 1 and 2 years should drink whole milk. They do not need to limit fat, as it is needed for growth and energy.
  • Children older than 2 years should drink fat-free or low-fat milk.

To add dairy foods to your meals:

  • Use milk to prepare cream soups.
  • Add cheese in salads, pizza, casseroles, soups, and stews.
  • Use milk to prepare hot cereals.
  • Use milk in your hot beverages such as lattes, cappuccinos, and teas.
  • Have yogurt or cheese sticks for a calcium-rich snack.
  • Use yogurt as a dressing for salads, as a topping for a baked potato, or try it mixed with fruit.
  • As desserts, try low-fat ice cream, frozen yogurt, and pudding made with milk.

Lactose-intolerant individuals lack the enzyme, lactase, to digest lactose, or milk sugar. To get the necessary calcium, choose cheese, yogurt, or lactose-free alternatives. These foods also are good sources of calcium:  calcium-fortified beverages, such as orange juice; canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones); soybeans and soy products; and leafy greens such as collard, turnip greens, kale, and bok choy.

Sources:  Claudia Penuela, Healthy Dairy Choices for MyPlate,


Author:  Judy Corbus, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, UF/IFAS Extension – Washington and Holmes Counties


Boosters Are For Big Kids

A booster seat “boosts” a child up for proper placement of the lap and shoulder belt on the lower hips/upper thighs and shoulder/collar bone.

Piper is 7 years old.  She goes to school, plays with dolls, and loves to visit friends.  Piper’s career goal is to take over the world through “flower power”.  When Piper travels, she sits in a booster seat that makes her seat belt fit perfectly.  In a crash, Piper’s seat belt will keep her in the car and distribute crash forces across the strongest parts of her body.  Piper’s mom makes sure she travels safely on every trip, so that Piper can confidently pursue her plans for world dominion.

Unfortunately, Piper and her mom are the exception.  Many children in elementary school need to sit in booster seats but don’t.  Following the law is not enough, especially for children in Florida.  Only in Florida can a 4-year-old child legally use an adult seat belt.

In a crash, poor seat belt fit can lead to serious internal injury or even death.  Children who have outgrown their 5 point harness car seat by weight or height should use a booster seat until they reach approximately 4’9”, typically between the ages of 8-12.  Many parents/caregivers skip this very important step and start using a seat belt much too soon, never realizing the danger in which they’re putting their child.

A booster seat “boosts” a child up for proper placement of the lap and shoulder belt on the lower hips/upper thighs and shoulder/collar bone.  Without a booster, seat belts often cross over a child’s soft stomach and neck, which can lead to debilitating injuries such as a ruptured spleen, torn intestines, internal bleeding, or paralysis.

Booster seats keep children out of the hospital, saving heartache, worry and medical expenses.  A $15 booster seat for a child age 4-7 yields an average savings of $2,500 per child.  “Big kids” like Piper deserve to be kept safe when they travel, and booster seats help make that happen.  Is your child riding safely in the car?

For more information or assistance with child passenger safety please contact Ginny Hinton at the Santa Rosa County UF/IFAS Extension Office: or 850-623-3868.

(NHTSA &  Partners for Child Passenger Safety (PCPS), **(Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (2010 update, ‘Injury Prevention: What works?’  Special Thanks to Tamyne Maxson, Child Passenger Safety Community Coordinator, St. Joseph’s Child Advocacy Center, Tampa, FL

Artistic Summer Snack Attack

School’s out!  One way to get creative with all this extra time and to eat nutritiously is to make and eat healthy snacks.  Like an arts and crafts project, making a snack can be a great summertime activity.  Bonus:  the kids get to eat their artwork and you get to sneak nutritious foods into their day for a healthy diet.

Some works of art need the following elements:

  • Foundation – slices of whole wheat bread, tortillas, English muffins, lettuce leaves, rice cakes, zucchini or cucumber rounds, apple or pineapple slices.
  • Glue – peanut butter, low-fat cream cheese, cheese spread, hummus, refried beans, low-fat yogurt, jam, pizza sauce, or low-fat ranch dressing.
  • Bling – seeds, nuts, grapes, raisins, match stick carrots, olives, beans, low-fat granola, diced fruits and veggies.

Start from the foundation and work up to the bling.  Create faces, animals, or landscapes.  Let the plate be your canvas.  It’s a great way to try a new food or sample a food prepared in a totally different way.Variety of healthy snacks made into artwork

For other works of art, use toothpicks, skewers, popsicle sticks, or edible pretzel rods to make shish kabobs.  Cut out cheese shapes with small cookie cutters and add to the stick alternating with cut-up fruits and vegetables.  Make a beautiful edible bouquet.

Kids also are more likely to enjoy new foods if they are served in fun containers.  Try using mugs, champagne glasses, ice cream cones, or party hats.

Be sure to include nutritious foods from all the food groups as your artists create throughout the summer:  load up on fruits and vegetables, incorporate whole grains, and go lean on the dairy and protein.

No sitting around loading up on unhealthy “junk” foods out of boredom this summer.  The time for healthy edible snack art is now.