Saturday, October 17, 2009

Watch for random power surges; replace surge protectors periodically


Last night, as I was working on my laptop, plugged in (fortunately, through a surge protector), I heard a loud pop and the lights went out. About half the lights came back on in about two minutes. It was weird, because two of the circuit breakers wouldn’t reset. I called an electrician’s hot line. But this morning, I found that they would reset; except that one master switch for the computer room causes the breaker to flip if used. If I turn on the various switches manually, I can come back up.

I didn’t hear any lightning in this 40 degree Noreaster (threatening October snow), but I suspect there was lightning around anyway – there was is if moist air is lifting, even in snow. The computers and cable TV all work; just one electrical switch does not. I suppose I can wait until Monday so as not to pay emergency rates to an electrician.

I have found cautionary tales on the Web, about replacing surge protectors, which is a bit like replacing smoke detectors. Here's a good domestic canterbury tale, even mentioning a wife. In rare cases, old surge protectors have caused house or apartment fires. Here’s one tale about how a computer went toast to a random residential power spike despite a power strip.

It seems that all power companies have spikes, because there are too many points of potential failure. Newer areas with more work underground may be less susceptible. In downtown Minneapolis, I had almost no power problems. In Arlington VA, in a residential area, there are frequent very short outages. Older cities and older systems have more problem, especially in forested areas with above ground utilities. Utilities are under the same pressure as everybody else to trim costs, and I sometimes wonder about their p.m.

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