Posts filed under ‘Be Green’

Air Conditioning Affects Gas Mileage

By Chad Upton | Editor

In most cars, the air conditioner’s compressor is powered by a drive belt on the engine. When the air conditioner is activated, the compressor adds resistance to your engine. That extra resistance means your engine requires more fuel to turn at the same speed.

In other words, using your air conditioner burns more gas than not using it. Modern cars have very efficient air conditioners, but this truth still stands.

On a hot summer day, you have to keep cool. Does that mean it’s more fuel efficient to drive with your windows down?

Yes and no.

The Society of Automotive Engineers performed a study that examined this question in detail. They performed wind tunnel and track experiments comparing a car and an SUV. With the windows down, the car was half as efficient at 50 mph (80 km/h) than the SUV’s at 30 mph (50 km/h). It’s clear that driving the car with windows down has a dramatic effect on fuel economy, but it affected the SUV even more, especially when a 10 mph (16 km/h) crosswind was added in the wind tunnel.

Consumer Reports found that below 40 mph (65 km/h), drivers are better off with their windows down and air conditioner off.

Jason Toews from GasBuddy.com found at speeds above 45 mph (70 km/h), “wind drag becomes an issue.” He says, “Drive at speeds over 55 mph with windows down and you’ll decrease fuel economy by up to 20 percent or greater.”

Myth Busters has also looked at this issue on a couple occasions. The first time around, their methodology was flawed, so they tried it a second time. The second time, they came to the same conclusion as Consumer Reports and GasBuddy, that windows down are more efficient than running the air conditioner at speeds less than 45-55 mph (70-90 km/h) and the drag at higher speeds makes the air conditioner the more efficient option.

Of course, results vary by vehicle.

There are many factors other than windows and air conditioning that affect fuel economy: drive train, power-train, body aerodynamics and tire rolling resistance. If you want to know exactly how it affects your car, you might try experimenting for yourself. Some cars have a driver information center that displays fuel economy, otherwise you could order an after market product, such as CarChip Pro ($75-$85), which may help you get that data. If you’re interested, some of these are explored in more detail in another post, The Ideal Vehicle Speed for Best Fuel Economy.

If it’s hot outside, you should probably start with your windows down anyway. This gives your air conditioner a bit of a break by clearing the extremely hot air out of the car first.

Do prefer windows down or the air conditioner on?

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Sources: SAE (PDF), MythBusters (Ep 22, Ep 38), Edmunds, Bankrate, Consumer Reports, Missouri Gov

Photo: Tomás Fano (cc)

August 10, 2010 at 5:00 am 12 comments

Lights Use More Energy While Turning On

By Chad Upton | Editor

There is a belief that it takes more energy to turn a light bulb on than it does to leave it running. That is true.

But, in some cases it’s still more energy efficient to turn the lights off when you leave the room.

That’s because the spike of additional electricity that is used to turn on a light bulb, is very short lived. That extra energy varies depending on the type of light bulb.

For most bulb types, the extra energy is equivalent to less than one second of energy that is consumed while the light is on. That means, you’d have to leave the room and return within one second to save energy by leaving the light turned on.

The one exception is fluorescent tubes (not compact fluorescents), they require a lot more energy to turn on than they consume while running normally.

Depending on the source of the information, fluorescents use energy equivalent to 5 to 24 seconds of regular use, just to power up. Therefore, if you use fluorescent tubes, there would be times when it would be more efficient to leave them on than turn them off.

If you have a large room that is lit with fluorescent tubes and you were going to leave the room for a few minutes or less, it would be more efficient to leave them on instead of turning them off and then back on when you return. But, if you’re leaving for more than that, you should shut them off.

That said, turning lights on and off does cause wear and tear on the bulbs. LED “bulbs”, which are now available at most hardware stores, are most resilient to this type of wear and tear.

Incandescent bulbs are extremely cheap, so the cost of replacing these bulbs isn’t an important consideration, although the environmental impact may be. But, it is important to consider this wear and tear for more expensive bulbs such as compact fluorescents. It is for this reason that the EPA recommends that compact fluorescent lights are used in areas where they will usually be turned on for at least 15 minutes at a time. This will contribute to bulb lifespan.

Although I used a couple other sources for this post, Mythbusters did some great experiments on this subject and I’ve embedded the video if you’d like to watch it.

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Sources: Mythbusters, EPA, EnergyStar (PDF)

July 30, 2010 at 5:00 am 1 comment

Diesel Fuel Nozzles Don’t Fit in Standard Fuel Cars

Diesel cars are not popular in North America. But, diesel engines are fairly popular in pickup trucks and are becoming more popular in North American cars.

Although they have a limited history in America, foreign car manufacturers sell many diesel models in Europe.

Diesel engines are generally very efficient and that behind their new found demand. As diesel becomes more popular, you will likely see more diesel pumps.

This is good if you have a diesel car, potentially bad if you don’t. Diesel pumps present a slight risk to your standard gasoline vehicle — you do not want to put diesel fuel in a car that uses standard unleaded fuel.

Standard engines use spark plugs to burn the fuel, diesel engines use pressure and heat to cause a reaction in diesel fuel. That means standard engines will not burn diesel fuel. If you inadvertently put diesel in an unleaded car, the engine will stop very quickly. It’s not usually a total loss, the fuel system will have to be cleaned, filters will need to be changed and the whole process can cost as much as $600.

But, there is an easy way to avoid this costly mistake. First, diesel fuel dispensers are usually clearly marked with text and with a special color handle (the color varies by station).

Second, the nozzle on the end of a diesel fuel pump is slightly larger than a standard fuel nozzle. That means it won’t fit in your car’s gas hole, at least not that way you’re used to a pump nozzle fitting. If you notice that the nozzle isn’t going as far in as it usually does, check the pump, you might be holding a diesel trigger.

This same principle was used in the 80s when we transitioned from leaded to unleaded fuel. Leaded fuel nozzles wouldn’t not fit in unleaded gas holes.

Checkout some other gas related Broken Secrets:

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Sources: Answer Bag, WTSP, Dixon Nozzles (PDF)

Photo: teachernz (cc)

June 9, 2010 at 5:00 am 3 comments

How to Make Your Grass Greener

Look outside. Every lawn on your street is a different shade of green. That’s because everybody cuts, waters and fertilizes differently, not to mention the half dozen varieties of common grasses that they may have.

I’ve never been that guy with the greenest lawn, so I asked my lawn specialist friend Mike how to make my lawn greener.

He told me the most important factor was how short I cut it. He said, “the longer you leave it, the better. Set your mower on its highest setting.” I was hesitant because I always cut my grass short and I liked the way that looked.

But, longer grass traps more moisture and reduces the sunlight that gets to the roots, which can burn the grass and dry it out.

Grass reacts to the sun like your skin does. Too much sun without protection will burn it. When you have/had a full head of hair, you don’t put sunscreen on top of your head because your hair protects your skin. The same goes for long grass, it provides shade for the roots and soil.

Long grass also develops a deeper root system which makes the grass more fit for dry and less fertile soil.

I followed Mike’s advice and my grass still looks neatly trimmed, it’s also the greenest grass I’ve ever had. But, there are other reasons why your grass turns brown or yellow. (more…)

June 8, 2010 at 5:00 am 8 comments

The Three Plants That Will Improve Your Home Air

Spring is here and the garden centers are open. It’s time to get some plants, especially for inside your home.

Indoor plants are really important. There are chemicals in and on almost everything you buy. If your air is not replenished with fresh air, it can be mildly toxic. But, with the right mix of plants, your air can be cleaned and oxygenated around the clock.

With as little as these three plants, you can have this perfect mix:

  • Areca palm – (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
  • Snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue – (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’)
  • Golden pothos or Devil’s ivy – (Scindapsus aures or Epipremnum aureum)

The “Areca Palm” removes CO2 and converts it into oxygen during the day. The “Snake Plant” converts CO2 into oxygen at night. The “Golden pothos” removes formaldehyde and other chemicals from your air.

Using these plants has shown significant oxygen level improvements in real world situations. Having these plants in your home can increase blood oxygen levels by 1% in 10 hours. They can reduce headaches, eye irritation, asthma and other respiratory problems.

These three plants are just a few of the many plants that are considered Air Filtering Plants. NASA has identified a number of similar plants in it’s Clean Air Study — an attempt to understand natural ways to purify air in closed spaces, on earth and beyond.

Read about the other plants or watch Kamal Meattle’s talk at TED for more info.

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Photo: Leto A (cc)

Sources: TED, Air Filtering Plants

June 4, 2010 at 5:00 am 64 comments

Exhaust Fans Help Cool Your Home During Summer

The upper floor of your home is likely the warmest place in your home. It’s not usually a big deal in the winter, but it can be very uncomfortable in the summer. It happens because hot air rises.

The ceiling of your upper floor also has the most insulation of any place in your home. It’s there because hot air rises — in the winter, you don’t want to lose that heat. It’s the same reason you put a hat on your head in the winter.

In the summer, that thick insulation in your attic is doing the same thing it does in the winter, trapping that heat on your upper floor. If you have a central heating/cooling system, it should suck hot air from the upper floor and mix it with cooler air. But, it’s not always running and it can’t always keep up with the hot air that is produced inside your home, from people, electronics and appliances.

A good solution is to run the ceiling exhaust fan in a central bathroom on the upper floor during the hottest hours of the day. To help, you can get an automatic timer control light switch; these can be used to run the fan and have it automatically shutoff after a certain amount of time — this might also be useful after somebody uses the toilet.

In some regions, it is even part of the building code that an on/off switch for the upper floor hallway bathroom fan is placed next to the thermostat on the main floor. It’s there so you can turn on the exhaust fan when you turn on the air conditioner (there is also a switch in the bathroom to control it from there). This is not a widespread building code, but it’s worth having a look beside your thermostat. If you’ve got a light switch there that doesn’t do anything, try it again and listen for the hallway fan.

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Sources: MSU, About.com

June 2, 2010 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

You Can’t Grow Hemp in the US But You Can Import It

Hemp is a plant with a long and interesting history, especially in the United States.

Farmers cannot freely grow hemp in the US, but many companies import hemp products for resale, mostly from Canada and the UK.

The problem is that hemp is from the same plant family (genus) as marijuana. But hemp is not a drug, it is a raw material that is used much like cotton. We all know that cotton is great, we use it for making: t-shirts, socks, denim for blue-jeans, fishnets, coffee filters, paper and many other things. Considering everything we use it for, it’s a miracle plant.

But, cotton has some limitations. It can only be grown in areas that get a lot of sunshine, have consistent rainfall and long frost-free periods. Cotton also requires a lot of pesticides: 50% of the world’s pesticides are sprayed on cotton.

Imagine a plant with all the benefits of cotton, but it has even stronger fibers, could be grown anywhere in the country and doesn’t require pesticides or herbicides.

That plant is called hemp.

At the risk of sounding like a huge hippie, hemp is a perfect plant. Frankly, I am not a hippie — I only own one hemp product: hemp protein powder.

Hemp as a food source is one example of why it’s so perfect. The seeds contain all of the essential fatty acids and essential amino acids required for a human to be healthy. It also contains a lot of fiber, another essential part of the human diet.

When used as a textile, hemp is stronger and more mildew resistant than cotton. For that reason, hemp is an excellent material for making canvas boat sails, and it was used for that exact purpose by Christopher Columbus. (more…)

June 1, 2010 at 5:00 am 11 comments

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