9 Ways You Can Update Your Home to Protect it from Voltage Drop
Have you noticed your lights dimming when you turn on your washer or dryer? Is your space heater just not getting up to temperature? Or perhaps your hairdryer does not seem to be working at full capacity? Are you finding that you are tripping breakers often, or do your electronic appliances not seem to last as long as they should? This is not normal and means you are experiencing a potentially severe electrical problem, in this case, voltage drop.
What is voltage?
Voltage is the force that pushes electricity through your home. In this case, through the wires, connectors, and contacts that make up your circuits. The greater the voltage, the more electricity can be pushed through.
What causes it to drop?
Over time, your breakers, wiring, outlets, switches, and electrical panel begin to wear from the constant flow of electricity. The older they get, the less able they are to carry electricity well or carry as much as they were. This can also happen in newer electrical systems if they aren’t well insulated or connected well at junctions and behind outlets and switches.
Under these conditions, poor connections create resistance, which reduces electricity flow because there isn’t enough voltage to push the proper amount of electricity through. This resistance also generates heat, which causes these connections to spread further and further apart.
The National Electrical Code (NEC for short) considers a drop of around 5 percent acceptable. Anything past that can be problematic. A drop of 10 percent or more that happens for more than a brief amount of time can be considered a brownout. As anyone who has experienced a brownout can confirm, they can be incredibly annoying. One moment you are watching a movie or playing a game; the next, you have lost connection while you wait for your modem to restart. Worse, this rapid change in electricity is not easily handled by our everyday devices like computers, televisions, heaters, etc. It can cause them to shut off or even permanently damage them.
What Can I Do to Prevent Voltage Drop?
It’s almost impossible to get zero voltage drop, but here is a list of 9 things that you can have done to reduce voltage drop, make your home safer, and save you money by extending the life of your appliances and reducing your utility bills:
1. Repairing corroded or damaged connections
This sort of damage happens over time and is more common in older homes. Corrosion happens when moisture in the air reacts with the surface of the metal in our electrical system. Leaks can be a frequent cause of this corrosion, but merely having too much humidity in the air at home will cause the same issue over time. As the connections become more corroded or damaged, they become more resistant, causing the voltage to drop and the energy supplied to disperse into the corroded connector. This can cause a lot of heat, damaging the connections further and creating a fire hazard.
2. Repairing loose connections
Wires that are not tightly secured to the screw terminals on an outlet end up having a poor connection. This causes more resistance, which in turn causes more heat. Much like a corroded connection, the looser a connection becomes, the more heat it puts out and the greater the chance of causing a fire.
3. Repairing or replacing damaged wiring
Pests, heat, humidity, poor construction; all can cause damage to wiring. As frequently seen in Southern Illinois, older wiring is also often condemned or not up to the current state code because of age and the materials used in manufacture. We have talked before about knob and tube and why you should replace them. Over time, the sheath covering the live wires becomes brittle and damaged, as do the ceramic and iron knobs that the wires wrap around. Blown insulation, in particular, can drastically increase the chance of this damaged wiring leading to a fire hazard.
4. Changing out backstabbed receptacles and switches.
This was a common practice in the 1970s and 80s. With this method, the wire is pushed into a connector that grabs the wire. This practice often leads to loose connections and has the potential to start fires. Today, electricians use screw terminals to connect the wires to the outlet. These terminals are far less likely to become loose and cause a voltage drop.
5. Using the correct gauge of wire
The longer a wire has to run without a junction or sub-panel, the thicker the gauge needed to carry enough power. This is keeping in mind that runs over a certain length should include a sub-panel. The next thing to consider is the size of the circuit. The larger the circuit, the more current running through and the thicker the wire needs to be. This is because a thin wire has higher resistance than a thick wire. Thinner wires generate more heat, and running too much current through them poses a significant fire hazard.
6. Updating or upgrading the main electrical panel
Many older homes in Southern Illinois still use older condemned panels such as those by Pacific Electric. As a result, many older homes still have a much smaller electric service size, often only 60 or 100 amps. Today, most homes should have a minimum service of 200 amps. If your home is much older, it may not even have an electric panel. Some older homes still have fuse boxes. These were used between the late nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth century and are very underpowered by today’s standards. Unlike breakers that trip and can be reset when there is a surge or drop, fuses must be replaced every time, which can be a hassle. They also lack all the other safeties that many modern electrical panels include, such as fire breakers, which can test for potential fire hazards. For these reasons, insurance companies often charge more to insure homes with fuse boxes, so upgrading to a modern, safe electrical panel can save you money in the long run.
7. Using fewer devices on a circuit
If there are too many devices plugged into one circuit, it can overload and cause a voltage drop. Spread your devices out as much as possible across different outlets and circuits. If you do not have enough outlets and find yourself using extension cords everywhere, it might be time to use the next suggestion.
8. Add additional circuits and outlets to the electrical panel
If you already have a large enough electrical service, a licensed electrician can add additional circuits and outlets to your home to even out the electrical load between circuits. This will help to prevent a single circuit from voltage drops.
9. Adding uninterruptible power supplies
The utility company can sometimes cause voltage drops and brownouts. This can either be due to damage to the lines coming in or intentional. Intentional brownouts are created to reduce load during emergencies. An example of this would be a heatwave, which would cause people to use more electricity than the utility provider can produce at one time. To combat this, you could install uninterruptible power supplies (UPS for short). These plug into the outlet, and your devices then plug into them. These are particularly useful for computers because if the power goes out, your pc will stay on until the battery drains. However, the length of time is dependent on the size of the UPS and the power draw of the pc. While these will add a bit of upfront cost, they can save you a lot of money in the long run by protecting your devices and appliances and extending their life span.
Please remember that it is always recommended to get a licensed professional’s help to troubleshoot and repair any electrical issues. It can be very dangerous to attempt to do so on your own. It can also cost you money down the road when trying to sell your home if the work is not up to code.
Here at Service Detectives, our service experts are committed to ensuring quality work that will protect you and your home. Give our friendly office team a call today at 618.993.HELP  or book online using the handy button above.
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