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Earth Sense: Right bulbs, driving habits can save energy
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Colder weather is here, and we use more energy for lighting and heat. Even the car burns more gas when it has to start up at low temperatures. But it’s also a time when we can realize energy savings. If you’re still using the old-fashioned “Edison” incandescent bulbs, you’re wasting electricity.

Spiral-type compact fluorescents, or CFL bulbs, are an alternative. The light obtained from a standard 60-watt Edison bulb can be had for just 10 watts from a CFL. The disadvantage of CFLs, though, is that their life span is greatly reduced if they are cut on and off frequently. This is true for all fluorescent light bulbs.

And when one of them breaks, harmful gases are set free. The EPA details a complex cleanup procedure (, including the advice to shut off all heating and air for several hours. It looks like CFLs will soon be phased out, because there’s a clean and even more efficient alternative: LED (light emitting diode) bulbs.

Available wherever you buy your lighting, the LEDs have a higher starting price, but it’s made up by a life span of up to 50,000 hours. The LEDs don’t mind cold weather at all, unlike fluorescents. Even specialty items like sodium vapor outdoor lighting can’t compete. When the ballast on a 70-watt fixture burned out, I replaced it with a 263-LED bulb consuming only 20 watts, with virtually the same level of brightness and without the startup delay that’s common to sodium vapor equipment.

LED bulbs come in all shapes, sizes, and even colors and they are clearly the lighting choice of the next few decades.
Unless you have one of the new electric cars, gasoline consumption is high on cold mornings. Warming the car up by letting it idle in the driveway for 10 minutes is a popular but inefficient option. An idling car gets zero miles per gallon.
It’s better to start the engine and drive very gently for a few miles to let the oil reach proper operating temperature. In addition, tire pressures tend to drop in cold weather, increasing rolling resistance. Buy a tire gauge, or better yet, a small air compressor and a tire inflator with built-in gauge. The gas savings will pay for it in time.

And finally, replace the air filter. Letting the engine breathe freely results in the use of more air and less gasoline.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at

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