Monthly Archives: August 2010

Residential Electricity

Knowing the residential electricity in your house well is really useful, though it may appear complicated at first: the power centers, water supply, electric service, the gas system. You never know when a problem occurs and knowing your way around could help you.

What Do I Need To Know About the Residential Electricity In My Home?

Residential Electricity

Residential Electricity

Before investigating your home’s residential electricity you should be careful how you do it. Don’t touch the panel if standing water is in the room and don’t use both hands at once in your investigation. By touching the panel with both hands you become an open circuit, meaning that current gone astray will pass through you.

The residential electricity control central for the electric current powering everything in your home, switches, light sockets, receptacles is called an electric service panel. In an old house the electrical controls will be found in a metal box containing fuses and this is the electric service panel. Fuses look like tubes or glass-topped plugs. More recently built houses have toggle switches in that metal box, which are called circuit breakers. These are devices meant to stop the electricity flow in a circuit if safe operation is affected by too much current. Though both fuses and toggle switches are actually circuit breakers there is a difference between the two: the toggle-switch type move to “off” automatically when in an overload while with fuses the metal strip inside them melts due to the overload, hence breaking the circuit. This metal strip will have to be replaced after such an event with a same size and type one. The large insulated wires coming into your house are connected to the panel and they come from the electric meter outside, which in turn is connected to the company’s power grid.

To find the residential electricity main control which allows you to turn the electric current for the house on and off, look at the top of the service panel if you have toggle switch circuit breakers. That is where you will usually find it, above all the other switches, though it is not a strict rule. It may be that the main switch is behind a small access door that you will have to open to reach it. If you have fuses, what you will look for is the main fuse, also at the top of the box. The main control usually has a number on it indicating the type of service you are receiving, measured in amps: 100, 150 or 200. Sometimes the main toggle is not to be found in the electric service panel but in a different metal box, maybe even in a different location. Calling an electrician might be the solution to find it in such cases.

Creating a circuit map will help you when, due to a current overload, the lights in the house will turn off. This means labeling each switch or fuse with the rooms, switches, receptacles or appliances that it controls.

Electrical Upgrades

Our modern lifestyles now include many new technologically advanced products that challenge old electrical services and call for electrical upgrades.

Why Are Electrical Upgrades So Important In My Home?

Electrical Upgrades

Electrical Upgrades

If you’re remodeling an older home, odds are your local building department will require you to make electrical upgrades to 100 amps. Why? It’s to ensure that there’s enough power in the home for all the modern electrical needs without causing a fire. Older homes didn’t need to support so many appliances.

When doing electrical upgrades  and rewiring for a remodeled kitchen, a new spa, or other home improvement project, you should think beyond your immediate needs and anticipate other features that you or a future owner may want. Spending a little more now on electrical upgrades may save a lot of time and money in the long run.

Most standard home electrical circuits are on a 120-volt line. To run major appliances and heavy electrical equipment, you need 220-volt current in the house. And unless your clothes dryer runs on gas, it will require a 220-volt outlet to operate, so it’s necessary make electrical upgrades to 220 to handle this kind of appliance.

Here are some other things to consider:

1. Appliances: With the wide variety of kitchen appliances such as food processors, blenders, coffee grinders, cappuccino makers and bread machines, there needs to be plenty of electrical outlets in a modern kitchen.

2. Cable/Satellite TV: Where might you want to watch TV? Consider adding cable to an upstairs bedroom or guest room or perhaps downstairs for a family recreation room.

3. Computers: Which rooms might someone want to plug in a computer and modem? A guest room could double as a home office. Consider adding additional electrical outlets or a phone or modem line.

4. Ceiling fans : Additional wiring will allow you to control the lights and fans separately from the wall switch, to adjust the fan speed, and to turn off the light while leaving the fan on.

5. Central control stations: A variety of new devices allow you to operate many different lights and equipment circuits from a single location. Multiple-station controls can be preset for entertaining so that, with a single touch, they provide candle-like atmosphere in the dining room, tranquil lighting in the living room and activity lighting in the kitchen.

6. Garage or Workshop: Can you use a power tool without unplugging the freezer? If not, upgrade the electrical service in your workshop to reduce the chances of overloading your circuits.

7. Home entertainment centers: Televisions, VCRs, stereos, CD and DVD players, surround sound. How about remote speakers to better utilize those purchases by allowing music to play throughout the house?

8. Outdoors: Adding a spa, automatic sprinklers, a misting system on the patio, or outdoor lighting for security or beauty will all require more electricity.

9. Home security system: Will you ever want to install an electronic security system to scare off intruders and alert the police and fire departments?

10. Specialty lighting: Gone are the days when lamps and single overhead light fixtures were our only options for lighting our homes. Now we can hire lighting designers to incorporate special “task lighting” and “accent lighting” to create a pleasing ambiance.

Don’t forget about surge protection! A voltage surge (a momentary rise in voltage) can damage sensitive electronic equipment such as computers, home entertainment centers, treadmills, and other expensive equipment. Surge protection strips protect against small, daily surges to help your equipment last longer and work better.

For large surges, you’ll need to install a whole house surge arrestor at the electrical panel to protect switches/outlets, appliance motors, the circuit breaker box, as well as, all the wiring in the home.

Light Bulbs

Light bulbs! We all need ‘em. We all use ‘em, and we all love ‘em (as long as they work) but how do they work anyway?

What Do I Need To Know About Light Bulbs And How They Work?

Light Bulbs

Light Bulbs

The Power

Okay. Light bulbs (known as incandescent) are really quite simple, and simply brilliant. The bulb has two metal contacts at the bottom of the base where they get their power from. These touch the electrical circuit in the fitting attached to your mains electricity, or any number of batteries, if we’re talking flashlights. The electrical charge used to light the bulb travels through it from one contact to the other in a loop. After hitting one contact the current goes up a wire to a filament, which is held on a supporting glass mount in the light bulbs center, then travels across it, down another wire identical to the first, and on to the other contact.

A Fundamental Filament

This filament is central in importance to the light bulb as well as central in position. It is made out of tungsten, which is a metal with an extremely high melting point, and it certainly needs one. After the light bulb is switched on, the tungsten filament is heated to between an incredible 2,200 and 2,500 degrees Centigrade! As well as its’ own properties, to further stop it burning up; the glass bulb does not contain any oxygen, but instead holds an inert gas called argon or a mixture of argon and nitrogen for all regular bulbs or krypton/xenon instead of the argon for more expensive premium models. (What about halogen bulbs? We’ll get to them later).

The filament is also tremendously long and thin. For example; in a standard 60 watt bulb the tungsten wire is over six feet long, but at the same time, it is less than one-hundredth of an inch in diameter. So how does it fit into such a tiny space? It’s double coiled, that’s how. Wound up tight to produce a first coil, then this coil is re-wound again to make the smaller than an inch filament that can be seen inside the bulb.

Good Vibrations

So the electrical  charge heats up the filament to produce the light. How? The electrons that make up the electricity current rocket along, slamming into the tungsten atoms and causing them to vibrate. This friction produces heat or thermal energy, which is captured and then released by the electrons in the form of photons (light). Most of these are unfortunately in the lower end of the spectrum (known as infrared) and are invisible to humans. But the hotter the filament, the higher wavelength visible photons are emitted which we can see, and the brighter the light bulbs.

Size Matters

Higher wattage light bulbs have longer filaments, so they produce more light from having more atoms to vibrate, and conversely, low watt bulbs have shorter coils so the light is dimmer.

In three-way light bulbs, there are two filaments present with one being larger than the other. When the setting is on low, then only the small filament is used, so the light is dim. If the setting is put to medium, then only the larger filament has current traveling through it, and the smaller one is cut off from the flow. When the setting is on high; both filaments are in use together and the light is therefore very bright. To control this there are three connections (for the three operating modes). One each for both filaments exclusive use, and a third to be shared. A complicated switch controls the delivery of current.

Nothing Lasts Forever

So the tungsten filament is under tremendous strain, and won’t last. As the light bulbs are used for more and more hours the vibration and white-hot temperatures begin to take their toll. Increasingly the atoms from the coil will shake so much they will start to lose contact with each other and begin splitting away from their brethren.

In old vacuum light bulbs, they would shoot off into the space inside the bulb until they hit the glass. But with the argon or krypton inside them, modern bulbs last longer as many tungsten atoms hit the gas atoms and bounce around randomly, hopefully to reattach themselves to the filament if they get near enough to do so. Krypton atoms have more mass than those of argon and get more hits, but krypton is much rarer, so you have to pay for the benefit.

Though these light bulbs last longer, sooner or later the filament begins to disintegrate as the tell-tale darkening of the glass bulb increases (being caused by the errant tungsten) and your bulb will blow.

Often it might make the sound, ‘plink’, a few times and start flickering first, only to settle down again as if teasing you, so you decide not to change it after all and put the replacement you’ve just rummaged around for back again. Until next time you turn the lights on, that is, when it decides to give out after all.

Despite your suspicions to the contrary, however, the bulb is not getting its’ revenge on you for using it when not absolutely needed, or acting out of spite against humanity in general. It really can’t help it. A weak old bulb is at correct operating temperature when turned on for a while, but can’t reach it uniformly all the way along the filament when first switched on. There is always a surge of electricity drawn by a light bulb being turned on because of there being less electrical resistance in the tungsten when it is cooler. This resistance increases as the bulb heats up, but the weak spots in the filament heat up quicker than the rest (they have less surface area due to the evaporated tungsten atoms) and the funneling effect will cause these weaker areas to melt or snap due to the increased vibration.

So most light bulbs may not last that long, but they are relatively cheap and very plentiful.

Hello to Halogen

A halogen bulb works differently. It still has the same tungsten filament inside it as do the others, but here chemistry is employed in addition to physics to prolong its’ working life.

Inside these light bulbs, there is a halogen gas (almost always iodine) present, mixed in with the argon or krypton. This new gas reacts with the vaporized tungsten that collects on the glass to form chemical compounds called metal halides. These then leave the inner surface of the bulb in a constant recycling process and return to near the filament where the increased heat breaks down the halide into its constituent parts. The tungsten molecules are now given to return to the filament, and the iodine molecules are free again to join up with any more ejected tungsten.

This is known as the halogen cycle. The reaction only works successfully on the glass itself though, rather than the bulb’s inner space, once the tungsten has condensed and will not take place if the glass is not hot enough. Therefore halogen light bulbs have to be smaller (which increases the heat); handmade of a special higher-grade glass known as ‘hard glass’ or of quartz to allow them not to break at this extra high temperature.

Halogen bulbs cost more, but may have a lifetime of up to triple a normal light bulb of the same wattage, and at the same time be anything up to a fifth more efficient at producing light.

Long Lifers and Energy Misers

Long life light bulbs certainly last a very long time, so it might be argued that halogen is a waste of money. This is absolutely not true. A lot of these ‘long lifers’ are actually quite inefficient.

To burn longer they burn cooler, and at lower temperatures; a smaller percentage of energy is given off as light rather than wasted heat by the tungsten.

All light bulbs waste energy by giving off infrared light so the ‘energy misers’ out there on the shelves waiting for your basket to pass by may be considered a worthwhile option. But don’t be too hasty in gathering them up either. For some of these are not as good value as the cheap and cheerful regular guys. It might be claimed that a 55 watt can replace a 60, or a 90 will do for a 100 watt, but this is not necessarily so. Many (not all) of these ‘misers’ are more mean and miserly with light than with energy, and although it may not be noticed, sometimes produce less light by such a percentage factor that actually causes them to use more watts of power for a given unit of light if you chase this down the comparison scale.

Light Bulbs Rule OK?

So that is how they work. Not encyclopedic maybe, but a brief tour of a subject that matters to all; the incandescent electric light bulb. Still going strong after more than 120 years. Fluorescent lighting and LED‘s (Light Emitting Diodes) with their ‘cold light’ technology may be pushing more and more at the margins of their rule, but traditional light  bulbs are still kings in our culture today.