Dirty Power

Boyd

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Here's an odd one.... returned from a walk, heard the fans roaring on my two big UPS units and wondered what was causing a power outage on a nice day. Then I realized the power was still on, but both units refused to go off battery power. Turned them on and off a few times with no difference. Finally had to Google it, and the units will stay on battery power if they aren't satisfied with the quality of the line power (they actually measure the shape of the sine wave, not just voltage).

But there's a cryptic setting for input power sensitivity that you get by holding the power button down for 6 seconds. I set it down a notch and both units are back on wall power now. Weird. No indication that there's a problem with anything else in the house.
 

Boyd

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Well it depends on how "dirty" it is. If it's bad enough, it can fry various things in your house. I'm sure a lot of things could introduce noise into a powerline, like a construction site with some big motors going on and off or arc welders. The UPS expects a smooth sine wave, and the sensitivity setting adjusts how "jagged" it can be without going on to battery power. It all makes sense, but it would just be nice if there was a normal menu to set this, not some weird thing of holding the power button for 6 seconds to see a cryptic bar graph.

But this solved a mystery from a couple months ago. Came home and the UPS on my media server was completely dead but the power was fine everywhere else. Could not get it to power back on and the battery wouldn't recharge. It was old, so I replaced the battery and that fixed it. But this same thing must have happened, it switched to battery power until it died, totally killing the old battery.
 
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c1nj

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Maybe it has to do with the powerline replacement across the Great Egg Harbor River.
 
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Boyd

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c1nj

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Actually, I was thinking about the powerline that runs through Beesley's Point.
 

c1nj

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Maybe the power for the BP line is being detoured through your lines causing a disturbance.
 
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old jersey girl

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Well it depends on how "dirty" it is. If it's bad enough, it can fry various things in your house. I'm sure a lot of things could introduce noise into a powerline, like a construction site with some big motors going on and off or arc welders. The UPS expects a smooth sine wave, and the sensitivity setting adjusts how "jagged" it can be without going on to battery power. It all makes sense, but it would just be nice if there was a normal menu to set this, not some weird thing of holding the power button for 6 seconds to see a cryptic bar graph.

But this solved a mystery from a couple months ago. Came home and the UPS on my media server was completely dead but the power was fine everywhere else. Could not get it to power back on and the battery wouldn't recharge. It was old, so I replaced the battery and that fixed it. But this same thing must have happened, it switched to battery power until it died, totally killing the old battery.
Boyd, can you give me a link to a description of utility variations in power supplied to residential customers? I am considering getting a whole house surge protector installed at the main panel for the house. If there is a voltage surge, as often happens in summer, would the surge protection shut off power to the house? Implying the need for timed restart?
Is the "dirty power" issue primarily a voltage variation, or is there also an amperage change?
My understanding of this is minimal, although I know it can be represnted graphically as a wave form.
Any web reference would be useful.
Thanks.
 

Boyd

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Sorry, I don't have any links. But I'm an "old-school" electrician, starting as a kid with my father who was an engineer and had a basement workshop full of electronic gear. Then as a teenager, I was an apprentice electrician at a big summer camp where the old guy quickly decided it was better for me to go out an fix everything while he hung around the shop, LOL. This continued over the years as I worked as a theatrical electrician, messed with computers and rewired several old houses.

By the time the web came along, I really wasn't looking for any kind of instruction. ;) Are you really having problems with power surges? I've never had an issue with those anywhere I've lived and never had a whole house surge protector. Just be sure that you really need something like that before spending a lot of money. It's my understanding that the utility company is liable for appliance damage if what they provide doesn't meet some kind of spec. I'd guess their website has some info on that.

I don't know exactly what you consider a "surge protector", but the ones I know about constantly monitor voltage and can clip it off in a fraction of a second when that happens. I don't think this causes anything to "shut down", although there might be a "blip" where the lights flicker. In some situations a circuit breaker might trip that would require manual reset. But like I said, I really don't know, have never seen such a system.

You know what a sine wave looks like, right? Should be easy to google if not. Ideally, alternating current would have this form, where it switches from plus to minus 60 times a second. But various things could cause that smooth wave to be rough and "jaggy" and those would be variations in the voltage. On the sine wave graph, the X-axis (from left to right) represents time and the Y-axis (up and down) represents voltage. It switches from positive to negative when the wave crosses the X axis. So a "rough" sine wave could create interference on your TV set or noise on a radio, or flickering in your lights. But this is all more complex in the digital age, because all these devices are capable of filtering a lot of that out.

Amperage is the power you are actually using to run your lights, air conditioner, etc. Did you ever learn the "West Virginia Law"? W=VA.... Watts equals Volts times Amperes. So (to simplify), if you are burning a 100 watt light bulb and the power company is providing 100 volts, we can solve that equation as 1 Amp = 100 Watts / 100 Volts. The wattage of the light bulb is constant, that doesn't change. But the voltage you are supplied can vary in a certain range. Now, if they send you 120 volts, then that would be 0.833 amps = 100 watts / 120 volts. Given a constant load (the 100 watt bulb), the amperage changes along with any change in voltage.

Do you have examples of appliances that were damaged by a power surge in your home?
 
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Boyd

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So (to simplify), if you are burning a 100 watt light bulb and the power company is providing 100 volts
Like I said, this was simplified for clarity. As a kid I always learned line power was 110 volts. Then at some later point, 120 volts was more common or even higher. But here's the interesting thing, yesterday I noted that both of my UPS devices said the line power was 141 volts (and I checked several times) - that seemed really high to me. I haven't paid a lot of attention, but IIRC it isn't usually higher than 130 volts here. Like I said, everything seemed to work fine in the house anyway.

But I just checked again today, and the UPS says 124 volts - which is more like what I'd expect. If I really cared ;) then I suspect there's some info on the ACE website that says what an acceptable voltage range is.
 

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If there is a voltage surge, as often happens in summer, would the surge protection shut off power to the house?
I do not have a whole house system; just an APC battery backup & surge protector for the computer stuff and a plain jane surge protection strip for the TV which is left in the off position when not being used, as is the computer overnight. A couple of years ago the computer one was fried from a utility surge, computer stuff and rest of house appliances were unaffected. Utility took responsibility and compensated us for a new APC device.
 
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Boyd

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Modern electronics devices have "intelligent" power supplies that automatically adjust to most power fluctuations. For example, the charger for my phone says it can handle 100 to 240 volts at 50 to 60 Hz (cycles per second). I worked in Argentina for a month and my laptop and other stuff all worked fine on their 240 volt power system, same when I went to Greece recently. All I needed was an adapter to fit their wall plug.

Seems that something like a refrigerator or air conditioner motor might be more sensitive to any power surge, those are usually what I read about getting damaged. I haven't followed the technology, but suspect newer appliances are better protected against this kind of thing.

Of course, appliances in your own house can cause "dirty" power also - like when your lights dim when the air conditioner kicks in. If you were watching the sine wave when that happens, you'd see it go crazy. :D
 

old jersey girl

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Sorry, I don't have any links. But I'm an "old-school" electrician, starting as a kid with my father who was an engineer and had a basement workshop full of electronic gear. Then as a teenager, I was an apprentice electrician at a big summer camp where the old guy quickly decided it was better for me to go out an fix everything while he hung around the shop, LOL. This continued over the years as I worked as a theatrical electrician, messed with computers and rewired several old houses.

By the time the web came along, I really wasn't looking for any kind of instruction. ;) Are you really having problems with power surges? I've never had an issue with those anywhere I've lived and never had a whole house surge protector. Just be sure that you really need something like that before spending a lot of money. It's my understanding that the utility company is liable for appliance damage if what they provide doesn't meet some kind of spec. I'd guess their website has some info on that.

I don't know exactly what you consider a "surge protector", but the ones I know about constantly monitor voltage and can clip it off in a fraction of a second when that happens. I don't think this causes anything to "shut down", although there might be a "blip" where the lights flicker. In some situations a circuit breaker might trip that would require manual reset. But like I said, I really don't know, have never seen such a system.

You know what a sine wave looks like, right? Should be easy to google if not. Ideally, alternating current would have this form, where it switches from plus to minus 60 times a second. But various things could cause that smooth wave to be rough and "jaggy" and those would be variations in the voltage. On the sine wave graph, the X-axis (from left to right) represents time and the Y-axis (up and down) represents voltage. It switches from positive to negative when the wave crosses the X axis. So a "rough" sine wave could create interference on your TV set or noise on a radio, or flickering in your lights. But this is all more complex in the digital age, because all these devices are capable of filtering a lot of that out.

Amperage is the power you are actually using to run your lights, air conditioner, etc. Did you ever learn the "West Virginia Law"? W=VA.... Watts equals Volts times Amperes. So (to simplify), if you are burning a 100 watt light bulb and the power company is providing 100 volts, we can solve that equation as 1 Amp = 100 Watts / 100 Volts. The wattage of the light bulb is constant, that doesn't change. But the voltage you are supplied can vary in a certain range. Now, if they send you 120 volts, then that would be 0.833 amps = 100 watts / 120 volts. Given a constant load (the 100 watt bulb), the amperage changes along with any change in voltage.

Do you have examples of appliances that were damaged by a power surge in your home?
A couple of years ago, before LED and smart television, we had 2 small Sony Bravia sets, with best picture quality ever. That summer there was a thunderstorm with a lightning strike right next to the house; my roommate saw the flash next to her bedroom window. Both window air conditioners survived as the surge protector built into their plugs shut them down, and we routinely unplug the desktop computer and related devices when not in use. Comcast owns the router, we rent, so if that goes its their problem.
Both Sony tv' s were fried, estimate to repair exceeded purchase price. Sayonara Sony.

One of the several reasons besides KISS ("Keep it simple, stupid" as applied to devices/appliances/cars) we have an analog control Speed Queen washer in our basement is that we knew people who had new appliances with digital controls. Their experience was that the circuit boards failed/malfunctioned within a year of purchase. I actually like Atlantic Electric as a company, but we do experience surges and brownouts during peak use in the summer. I like their proactive maintenance policy.

We are considering some basics upgrades to the house wiring which include a surge protector at the panel, and GFCI outlets in the kitchen. The high priced estimate we got was lots of dollars and very little detail: no breakdown of labor and material cost.
After we got the estimate I did some research and concluded that the electrical firm is used to dealing with people who are very much not hands on. I can replace an outlet or basement shoplight myself, will pay the pro to do anything involving the panel or feed to the house.
Thanks for the detailed info about voltage fluctuations as reflected by sine wave. I have a basic understanding of physics, but no electronics background. I know the West Va law but haven't yet learned to read a wiring diagram. When I mentioned this lack years ago to a racing buddy who ran an auto electric business, he said "But what's the problem? All the wires are color coded?"
So, again thanks! I am deeply envious of your hands on upbringing.
 

old jersey girl

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I do not have a whole house system; just an APC battery backup & surge protector for the computer stuff and a plain jane surge protection strip for the TV which is left in the off position when not being used, as is the computer overnight. A couple of years ago the computer one was fried from a utility surge, computer stuff and rest of house appliances were unaffected. Utility took responsibility and compensated us for a new APC device.
Good to know utility will compensate. what documentation was required? Was it Atlantic Electric? We unplug the desktop from the surge protector during thunderstorms; surge protector for all devices turned off when not in use.
 

old jersey girl

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Modern electronics devices have "intelligent" power supplies that automatically adjust to most power fluctuations. For example, the charger for my phone says it can handle 100 to 240 volts at 50 to 60 Hz (cycles per second). I worked in Argentina for a month and my laptop and other stuff all worked fine on their 240 volt power system, same when I went to Greece recently. All I needed was an adapter to fit their wall plug.

Seems that something like a refrigerator or air conditioner motor might be more sensitive to any power surge, those are usually what I read about getting damaged. I haven't followed the technology, but suspect newer appliances are better protected against this kind of thing.

Of course, appliances in your own house can cause "dirty" power also - like when your lights dim when the air conditioner kicks in. If you were watching the sine wave when that happens, you'd see it go crazy. :D
Newer appliances with more options/digital controls have to be better protected as they are more vulnerable. Our 10 year-old refrigerator is bullet-proof because it is basic. I never connected the icemaker because when I spent a summer working for an independant appliance repair guy, most of the refrigerator calls were about the icemaker jamming, or leaking, or creaking, or producing brown ice cubes. This 2-person household doesn't require one. The cost of a couple of bags of ice per month probably is less than cost of enough summer-rate electricity to make the change-of-state from water to ice.

Boyd, you and I to some extent reflect polar perspectives. I prefer mechanical and simpler systems because of my limited skills (and basic paranoia re security!). Your digital knowledge allows you to function where I'm still barely competent!
Thanks for sharing your expertise.
 
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Boyd

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A couple of years ago, before LED and smart television
You have to go back more than "a couple" years to be before LED televisions. :)

I'm definitely of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mindset. My stove and refrigerator are over 20 years old. Never owned one with an ice-maker, that always seemed pointless to me. I still have the first microwave my ex and I bought, back in the early 1980's (she and my daughter now think this is a riot). Works fine, about the only thing I use it for is popcorn though. :D

My computers are all getting old, from the period 2012-2014. Would have replaced them already, but that gets expensive so I'll wait (will probably replace the Windows 7 machine that I use for mapmaking first).

For cars - I always have a recent model. Worked on my own cars for many years (also learned from my Dad) but I'm not interested in that anymore, and where I live, I need something reliable and low-maintenance since I only have one.
 

old jersey girl

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You have to go back more than "a couple" years to be before LED televisions. :)

I'm definitely of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mindset. My stove and refrigerator are over 20 years old. Never owned one with an ice-maker, that always seemed pointless to me. I still have the first microwave my ex and I bought, back in the early 1980's (she and my daughter now think this is a riot). Works fine, about the only thing I use it for is popcorn though. :D

My computers are all getting old, from the period 2012-2014. Would have replaced them already, but that gets expensive so I'll wait (will probably replace the Windows 7 machine that I use for mapmaking first).

For cars - I always have a recent model. Worked on my own cars for many years (also learned from my Dad) but I'm not interested in that anymore, and where I live, I need something reliable and low-maintenance since I only have one.
Windows 7 ? Really? What flavor desktop? ( I'm ignoring that crack about "a couple years"---- you're not that much younger than me. )
 
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MuckSavage

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Dirty power is real thing. I work in Municipal water & sewer systems. It's often that dirty power causes a pump station to switch to generator power. Stations have Variable speed Drives that can "condition" power to an extent, but will refuse to work if the power is too bad. PSE&G has a division called "Power Quality". They've often had to temporarily install some data-logging equipment to monitor the incoming power. They result of this is always "there's a problem but there's nothing we can do about it"
 

Boyd

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Windows 7 ? Really? What flavor desktop? ( I'm ignoring that crack about "a couple years"---- you're not that much younger than me. )
I have an HP ProDesk 400, dual core i5 CPU with 8gb RAM. May continue with Windows 7 for awhile, I'm not too worried. This machine is only used to run specialized software for making maps, I don't use it for e-mail, movies, online shopping, etc. All my software is also from the Windows 7 era, so that will need upgrading too. All around, it will cost $2000 or more to upgrade. That's a lot, just for making free maps - on top of what I spend to rent the web server.

Samsung started selling LED TV's in 2009. I got my first flat screen LCD TV in 2003 and first plasma screen in 2004. I'm 70. ;)