Power outages or blackouts can cause major problems at a home and business. Data loss, productivity, security and even profits can all be consequences. But in addition to the related inconvenience, the cause of power interruptions can also put sensitive electrical equipment at risk. And though modern electronics have several safeguards making them less susceptible to damage that may be caused by power outages, surges, spikes, brown outs and electrical interference, there are still risks and precautions that users can and should be aware of, especially if their businesses rely on their continued operation. Below is a list of common electrical problems that contribute to power interruption and what you can to minimize the risks.

Power Outages are a loss of power caused most often by a problem with your power supply or infrastructure (damaged power line, etc). With most modern computers, the problems associated with power loss are typically only associated with data loss. Older computers however were not as stable, and sudden power losses can also result in data corruption and other performance issues, the reason behind very specific power down procedures. In most cases outages will not cause any hardware damage unless accompanied by power surges.

Power Surges are an increase in voltage. Power surges are most often caused by power interruptions and changes in electrical draw including the demands of other equipment sharing the same power supply. When appliances with a heavy draw turn on and off they can cause surges in your system due to fluctuation in demand. It’s the severity and timing however that result in problems.

Voltage Spikes are like power surges but more severe and pose the largest potential problem to computers and electronics. Voltage spikes are typically the byproduct of more drastic electrical events such as lightning strikes, electromagnetic pulses (EMPs), short circuits, tripped breakers, static discharge and other power supply failures. Damage caused by voltage spikes is usually due to the current flow exceeding a materials breakdown voltage, destroying electrical insulators and other sensitive circuitry.

Brownouts or Voltage Slumps are the opposite of power surges.  Unlike surge related issues that can often be monitored and controlled, there is less you can do to manage supply related problems. Symptoms of voltage slumps may be recognized by changes in motor speeds and dimming lights but most often require equipment to detect and diagnose. Voltage slumps are less common in modern homes built to meet modern power demands, but can still occur due to damaged or faulty wiring or even problems within local power grids. The risk of damage caused by inadequate voltage still exists and can cause electronics to crash or freeze. Damage as with outages in these cases is often limited to just data loss, but it can be an inconvenience and cause larger issues in the long run. The best immediate solution if you believe you are experiencing a voltage slump is to turn off and unplug any sensitive equipment that may be affected. Penny Electric is available to assist with both the diagnosis and repair of these issues.

Electrical Noise is the interference cause by other electrical equipment or faulty power supplies. Electrical noise does not pose as severe a risk for damaging electronics but can affect performance and cause intermittent problems such as system freezing. Protection against electrical noise are typically limited to advanced power management equipment and is most commonly avoided by proper design and electrical component selection during initial construction.

Ways to Protect Your Computers & Electronics

  • Disconnect your equipment. If there is an event that you feel is contributing to an inconsistent electrical supply at your home and office such as reoccurring power outages, brown-outs or electrical storms, a good precautionary measure (in the absence of advanced power backup or supply management equipment) is simply to unplug any sensitive electronics or computers.
  • Surge Protectors: Often incorporated into power strips allowing for multiple outlets to be used, surge protectors work by diverting excess electricity to the outlets ground wire. This prevents surges or spikes from entering electronic devices minimizing risk of damage. Surge protectors are often available in several configurations providing various levels of protection. We at Penny Electric advise clients that when selecting a surge protector, you often get what you pay for. We have found that cheap surge protectors typically provide minimal to no actual protection in the event of a significant surge or power outage event, and in some cases are really no more than a multi-outlet power supply with a circuit breaker (continue watching our blog for more details review and recommendations on how to choose a surge protector).
  • UPS Devices: UPS’s (short for uninterrupted power source) are designed as a more complex solution for protecting computers and sensitive electronics against all levels of power surges, slumps, interference, oscillation and other related problems. Like surge protectors, there are several options available depending on the demands of the application. Because of the advanced nature and cost of UPS devices, they typically apply to larger scale and commercial applications but are one of the best options when used in conjunction with battery banks and generators for stabilizing voltage.
  • Data Backup: Because data loss is one of the biggest immediate risks during a power outage, its always good practice to utilize some sort of backup system to prevent information from being lost in the event of a storage drive failure.
  • Battery Powered Devices: Another point of consideration and benefit of battery powered devices such as laptops is the fact that they are exempt them from the risk of damage as the result of relying on local power supply for operation.
  • Cloud Storage Solutions: Several versions of modern software and apps utilize cloud storage. Cloud storage means your data is saved remotely and infinitely accessible by internet. Applications such as One Drive that offer word processing, spreadsheets, etc log changes and backup data real time. This means in the event of a power outage that occurs with no warning, there will be a high probability that a complete or at least backup will be in existence. Vs using software that stores information on your local system, requiring manual saves, this provides a viable solution for protecting information.

Additional and more complex solutions are available and can be tailored to individual needs. If you are operating a business that is dependent on the reliable and continued operation of sensitive electronics, feel free to contact us to discuss how Blue Chip Computers may be able to help enhance the protection and reliability of your hardware investment.