Equipment and Irrigation
Spark plug metals Is there an advantage to using high-end spark plugs made out of special metals vs. the standard, less-expensive models?-Texas (via the internet)
You're probably referring to platinum- or gold-tipped spark plugs. You are most likely better off using the standard carbon plugs in your grounds maintenance equipment. Oil inevitably gets into the cylinders of mower and hand-held-equipment engines and contaminates (to some degree) the spark plug's tip. The platinum- and gold-tipped plugs cannot burn off this oil, and soon perform inadequately. Standard, carbon spark plugs readily burn off the small amounts of oil contaminants (specialtyplugs don't do this) in your hand-held equipment and remain an adequate component.
Additionally, split-tipped (called "split-fire") spark plugs are available. These plugs have two sharp points (sharp points attract sparks better) instead of one. It is true that split-tip spark plugs offer a better spark, but they wear down after 40 or 50 hours. After this, you have a single-point spark plug though you probably assumed the split tip would last much longer.
Leaky gaskets On some of my older equipment, oil is seeping through the head gaskets. Can I just tighten the head bolts to put more pressure on the gaskets? It seems like this would help, but it would mean exceeding the manufacturer's specs.-Arkansas (via the internet)
Don't ever over-tighten head bolts. Not only will you worsen the leak, you could stretch or strip the threads on the bolts or break them. Gasket replacement often is your only remedy. If your head bolts have been over-tightened in the past, your equipment may have permanent damage that prevents a new gasket from completely sealing. In this case, leaks will continue. Always maintain your equipment within the manufacturer's recommendations. Failure to do so may damage your equipment and void warranties.
The sweet smell of a freshly mowed lawn-one of the most pleasurable and memorable heralds of spring-contains volatile chemical compounds.
A research study (published last month) analyzed emissions from cut vegetation (red fescue-grown in a lawn in Colorado) and clover (Dutch white-grown under controlled conditions in a greenhouse) in a laboratory, using chemical-ionization mass spectrometry. Oxygenates such as methanol, acetone, butone, hexanal and acetaldehyde were released after cutting and during drying. The researchers conducting this study contend that these compounds (unreactive in the atmosphere boundary layer) can reach the upper troposphere, where they undergo chemical changes.
Acetaldehyde is an important predecessor for the formation of ozone and CH3C(O)O2NO2 (PAN), which are major ingredients of photochemical smog. Relatively long-lived compounds, they provide for long-range transport of pollution.
Dr. Ray Fall, from the University of Colorado (Boulder, Colo.), is one of the researchers. He doubts that the fumes from a freshly mowed lawn, or from the grazing of animals, are toxic to individuals. However, he notes that these chemicals, when given off in larger quantities during mowing (especially in arid areas), significantly impact the atmosphere.
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