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Energy Myths

Here are some common misconceptions people have about power lines, courtesy of the Powerline Safety Authority in Canada.

Powerline myths and dangers

Here are some common misconceptions people have about power lines, courtesy of the Powerline Safety Authority in Canada.

Myth: Birds land on wires, so the lines must be safe to touch.
Reality: Birds don't get electrocuted when they land on wires because they're not grounded. That is, there is no path for the electricity to travel through the birds and to the ground. So there's no way for the electricty to go anywhere other than back into the wire. It's easier for the current to stay in the wire and continue on its way.

Myth: Power lines are insulated, so they're safe to touch
Reality: Power lines are usually only insulated enough to prevent damage when they touch trees. They are not designed to prevent injury to people.

Myth: As long as my ladder isn't metal, I can prop it against a power line.
Reality: Metal ladders are a hazard around overhead power lines. But a ladder that's wet can be a hazard no matter what it's made of. And most ladders contain metal parts as well.

Myth: As long as my ladder isn't touching the line, I'm safe.
Reality: That depends on how far away you and your ladder are from the line. Electricity can jump or arc, and it often does so when a potential conductor like a metal ladder comes within a certain proximity. The rule of thumb is stay at least 10 ft away from overhead power lines.

Myth: I'm just trimming tree limbs, to keep them clear of the power lines. I won't be using a ladder so I don't need to worry.
Reality: Electricity doesn't need metal. The moisture in the tree and in you will do the trick. If you push or pull a limb into contact with the line, the electricity might find a direct path to ground through the tree, your pruning tool, and you.

Myth: I'm just digging a couple inches into the ground. I don't need to worry about power lines.
Reality: Do you know how long ago those lines were laid and how the ground has shifted since then? Is it possible you might push your shovel deeper than you intended? It's best to call the power company, and maybe the gas company, before digging.

Myth: What is that mysterious big green metal box behind the hedge on the corner?
Reality: It likely contains electrical equipment installed by the utility to help deliver electricity to your home from the high voltage lines near your neighborhood. They should be marked with yellow labels as an electrical hazard and should be left alone.

Myth: But if the utility company put it in the middle of a residential neighborhood, it must be safe.
Reality: And they are generally safe. However, if it has been damaged by vandals, careless landscapers, or others, a potential hazard may exist.

How NOT to save gas

Pour in the additive: According to the EPA, fuel additives are a waste of money that don't contribute anything to mileage.

Change that dirty air filter: Changing your air filter might make your engine last longer, but it won't help gas mileage, according to a test done by Consumer Reports. It seems computerized fuel controls take a clogged air filter into account so that it doesn't cut into fuel consumption.

Fill up when it's cold outside because gasoline is denser: The gas is stored underground in huge tanks and the outside temperature has little effect on it.

Pump up those tires: Under inflation means less (4% less) mileage, so overinflating must add mileage, right? Nope. Not only does it not improve mileage, it can lead to accidents as overinflated tires have less grip. There's a reason it's called the “recommended” inflation pressure.

If you're only going to wait a minute or two, keep the engine running: Drivers once firmly believed that it took much more gas to start an engine than to keep it idling. And it might've been true. But fuel injected engines do not do not waste gas when starting. Idling can use up about a half gallon per hour, something to keep in mind during traffic jams.

To really save gas: Stop driving like a jerk: Not surprisingly, studies show that jack-rabbit starts, accelerating up to stop signs and red lights, tailgating, and serial lane changing can cut fuel mileage by up to 50%.

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