Troubleshooting Electrical Problems

Common Electrical Problems

Power Disturbances

There are many different sources of power disturbances - some you can prevent and solve yourself and some you cannot. This page outlines the most common disturbances and offers solutions.

The surprising nature of many electrical disturbances. According to a study by the Electric Power Research Institute, as many as 80% of all power disturbances originate inside the home or business. While lightning, ice storms, high winds, trees falling on power lines, car-pole crashes, normal electric circuit operations - even birds and squirrels - cause their share of power disruptions, most disturbances are caused by the day-to-day operation of ordinary household equipment and appliances. Among the biggest culprits are electrical devices with motors and/or compressors that cycle on and off throughout the day. These include heating and air conditioning systems, refrigerators, washing machines, pumps, fans and the like. Household appliances like vacuum cleaners and blenders, and power tools like saws, sanders and drills are another common cause of electrical disturbances.

What electrical disturbances can do to modern electronic equipment. Depending on the type of disturbance and the equipment involved, the effect of power disturbances may range from instant breakdown to more gradual deterioration over time. Either way, electrical disturbances can eventually put your valuable equipment out of commission as surely as any lightning bolt. Electronic devices don't even need to be in use to be vulnerable to damage. Many have built-in timers, internal clocks, remote controls or other systems that are always running, even when the item itself is turned off.

Disturbances and Possible Solutions

Spikes and Surges

Spikes are brief bursts of too much voltage. Surges are also bursts of additional voltage but last a bit longer. Both can be caused externally by events like storms and accidents, or internally by things like air conditioners, power tools, coffee makers or microwave ovens being turned off, either automatically or by hand. Spikes and surges can destroy electronics instantly or over time. Among the things most susceptible to spikes and surges are TVs, VCRs, home computers, stereo systems, microwave ovens, electronic video games and telephone answering machines. Security systems, digital thermostats, refrigerators and many other common home appliances can be damaged by them as well. Many devices designed to suppress spikes and surges are available commercially but all are subject to wear over time.

Solution: Plug-In Surge Protectors shield individual pieces of electronics in your home from spikes, surges and electrical noise that originate inside the home, and offer measure of protection from outside disturbances.

Sags, dips and outages

Sags and dips are brief periods of low voltage. Outages (or blackouts) are periods when there is no electric power. These can last from less than a second to minutes or even longer. While sags and dips can be caused when an electrical device draws power as it is turned on, outages are usually caused by severe weather, accidental damage to your power company equipment or electrical short circuits created inside your home. Sags, dips and outages can cause data loss or physical damage to computers and other devices that use memory, like VCRs, microwaves, faxes and answering machines.

Solution: To protect equipment against these disturbances, as well as most other types, Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) Units can be useful in saving both equipment and work. Mainly for use with computers and related equipment, these operate "online" to filter out all types of power problems and provide disturbance-free electricity during normal operating conditions. In case of a power outage, the UPS special battery back-up systems supply 15 to 20 minutes of reserve power (depending on the protected load and assuming all sizing instructions have been followed), allowing you time to save your data and shut down your equipment safely.

Other common problems

Static interference and harmonic distortion are electrical disturbances caused, for example, by air conditioners, vacuum cleaners, hair dryers and cordless phones. A leading cause of electrical trouble for home computers, they can also create serious problems for stereo, radio, security and phone systems. TVs, VCRs, digital thermostats and refrigerators can also have their performance hurt by these power disturbances.

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