Why Do We Use Heating Fuels?

There are a number of heating systems in the world. Typically these systems all need some sort of fuel to be pumped in and burned, whether that’s oil, natural gas, propane, or even a bucket dumping wood pellets. The question is though, why burn these fuels when it could be cheaper and more convenient to use electrical heat instead? An electric system needs no ducts, pipes, or fuel tanks, and it can be set up as a zone-system with individual heating units in each room. Old, Reliable Heat Heating technology is centuries old. Homes in the 18th and 19th century were largely heated with wood stoves and eventually early coal powered central heating systems. Electricity was still a new thing, either used for little magic tricks, lab experiments, or eventually available for lighting in cities. It’s easy to forget just how slowly electricity spread around the world. In the United States, electricity was a rarity until about the 1950s. In 1935, less than ten percent of homes had electricity. In 1951 the number finally reached 80%. Early heating systems had no choice but to use combustible fuels. These systems had to be fully mechanical to operate. Combustion systems were the default heating technology and as a result they were the most affordable and reliable way to heat anything. There had just been so many more advances in purely mechanical heating systems and the new entrant to the market, electricity, was […]

Read More →

High Voltage in AC

Your air conditioner (and whole HVAC system) are a strange mix of parts. On the one side, we have low voltage, DC electronics that couldn’t tickle a fly. On the other, we have high voltage, AC equipment that could turn an ill-prepared reptile or rodent into a charred chunk of bones. How exactly do we mate these two, different systems together safely?   The Safety Issue In all electronics, we strive to separate high voltage and low voltage. We don’t want them to touch each other. In some systems, you have no choice but to put high and low voltage equipment on the same board, in other cases you try to keep them on separate boards altogether. If there’s any sort of electrical short between high voltage and low voltage, the low side is going to get destroyed. That’s your best case scenario. 240 volts or 440 volts blasting into some tiny microprocessors and capacitors, which then explode in a terrifying, but mostly harmless show of pyrotechnics. If the board is really well built, a diode will take the brunt of the failure before anything scary does. Sometimes though, these shorts don’t go like that. Some older equipment or equipment which never passed any reviews like Underwriters’ Laboratories can send high voltage straight to frame components, a button, or other areas where a user could come in contact with it. 220 Volts is not a pleasant experience, let me tell […]

Read More →

Electrical Fire Safety

There are a ton of safety devices that are preventing you from being shocked, from starting fires, and from destroying expensive equipment. The problem is, no matter how many safety devices we put in the building, something is always going to go wrong. When things go wrong, it’s essential to be prepared for the absolute worst.   Causes of Electrical Fires The absolute root cause of electrical fires always comes down to energy. The copper wiring carries electricity, electricity is energy. The movement of electricity always creates heat. More electricity means more heat. When things go wrong, there’s too much electricity or not enough insulation to contain the electricity, or some other fault that allows heat to build up or electrical arcs to occur and start a fire. This can happen any number of ways. There can be an electrical short, perhaps water getting into a non-GFCI bathroom or kitchen outlet. There could be something shoved into a socket that really doesn’t belong there, thanks to an overly curious toddler. There can be corrosion, causing an electrical short. It could even be down to a cheaply made product skipping out on essential internal safeties (this happens more often than most people realize). In all of these cases, there’s going to be a battle on two fronts.   Stopping the Power and the Fire If you’re not quite thinking straight, you might try to extinguish an electrical fire with water. The […]

Read More →

What Causes Electrical Arcing?

Most everyone in the world has seen an electrical arc. Lightning, certain short circuits, and other times when there is literally electricity moving through the air are all Arc Flashes. We’re going to look into the fundamental causes of electrical arcing.   Moving Power Electricity is essentially a charge being conducted through a wire. All electrical charges want to disperse as quickly as possible. They’re like water behind a dam: it always wants to get out. In the case of electricity, the charge wants to disperse, positive to negative. It always wants to get to ground. The problem with this is that we want to actually use the electrical charge, so it can’t go straight to ground. We use insulators to keep the electricity essentially safely inside the wire. Without the insulator, the charge would get out and work it’s way to ground like water out of a burst pipe following gravity. Insulators can be a wide range of things. The rubber casing around wire is it’s insulator. The gigantic, ceramic cones on utility poles are insulators that prevent the charge from trying to discharge into the wooden pole. The air itself is also an insulator. Electricity generally does not want to move through the air. This is why we can have electrical sockets exposed to the open air, but not to water. The air won’t easily conduct an electrical charge but the water will. Water isn’t a great conductor, […]

Read More →

Common Electrical Safety Devices

How do we stay safe with electrical failures? We’ve covered a bit about how grounding is essential. When there is an excess of electrical power, send it to ground. This is not the end of the problem. If there is a physical fault or a problem with the incoming power supply, we need to cut off power altogether. Surge Protectors These are in many ways, the first line of defense. Surge protectors work mainly to protect equipment. In the event of electrical shorts, they may not protect you. There are numerous protection mechanisms inside. Some surge protectors use resistors, some have gas discharge tubes, others use special diode systems, dump the charge to ground, and more. The important thing to always keep in mind with surge protectors is that many surge protectors are power strips, but not all power strips have surge protection built in. In fact, surge protection exists as a whole corner of the industry all its own. There are large-scale surge protectors that can be built directly into buildings. These devices arrest and mitigate surges before they can cause damage and before a breaker or other safety device would have time to react. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters There should be as much current, as many amps coming back into an AC Outlet, as leave it. If the current coming back into an outlet is significantly less than the outbound current, that energy must have gone somewhere. Running […]

Read More →

Why is my Building Grounded to the Water?

In the US, we commonly have three prongs for our electrical devices. Two of these deliver the AC Current, being both positive and negative over time and a third which goes to Ground. This is a safety thing. Whenever there is an electrical short, a static build up,  or even a lightning strike, we want to divert that somewhere safe. The safest place for these excess charges is straight to the Earth, the ground below us. As big as the Earth is, it basically has an absurdly powerful negative charge. You can disperse power into the ground and it’ll dissipate safely. Getting to Ground It is essential for every electrical and metal component of a building to be grounded. This can be a real nightmare to actually implement. You need something that is going everywhere in the building. On the one hand, you could run additional conductors, miles and miles of additional conductors, or you use the one conductor that’s already there: the water pipes. That’s right, older buildings ran their electrical grounds straight to the plumbing. On the one hand, this does kind of work. The copper pipes in most buildings are excellent conductors. These pipes are going to make contact with the ground at some point. If there’s a well, the pipes are going deep underground. If there’s municpal water, they’re still going to be several feet below the surface before long. For the early days of electrified […]

Read More →

Why Use an Electric Actuator?

In many ways, electric actuators are the holy grail. They are precise, efficient, fast to respond, have low support requirements, can be bought cheaply, can be easily retrofitted into existing environments, and in principal can be configured for absurd output torque. There aren’t a lot of downsides here. We’ve harnessed hydraulic and pneumatic power to move things, but that was always a multi-step procedure. With electronics? Nearly everything is built right into the actuator.   Minimal Install Requirements Facilities using hydraulics and pneumatics need to provide hoses, valves, pumps, compressors, reservoirs, and more. It’s a lot of hardware just to make something move. That’s a lot of money, maintenance time, and space just to have your fully automated, multi-zone heating system. It’s a lot even if you’re automating a brewery or bakery, where the equipment will ultimately save time and money. Facilities using electrical actuators however, need only provide power and control signals. In some cases, multi-phase power is required, but that mostly boils down to some extra electrical panels and service wires. Each actuator is pretty much independent and will operate regardless of what the rest of the facility is doing. That’s less hardware to keep track of, fewer failure points, and overall easier maintenance. In terms of a retrofit in existing facilities, that pretty much means you remove the old actuator, install the new one, and plug it in. In principal, it’ll just plugin and work. It’s hard […]

Read More →

Why Are There So Many Types of Actuators?

Actuators are really complicated. There’s a whole little ecosystem around them, all to provide exactly the right type of movement for every application. In principal, an actuator’s just moving something a few inches or a few degrees, but the way it moves really matters. This has lead to actuators with different types of movement speeds, different levels of precision, different return systems, and a lot of complicated terminology about what you’re actually buying into.   3 Types of Performance One of the key metrics is performance and the price it takes to achieve it. Consider for example, the damper actuator in your air vent. It doesn’t matter too much if it takes a minute or two to fully open as long as it works quietly and within the temperature range of your home. Compare this to an industrial fast-acting actuator on the safety systems in an oil refinery. When the plant alarm goes off that something’s might explode, you want that valve to slam shut with all the force of the hulk hitting the snooze button in the morning. In your home, a little electrical actuator would work just fine. In that refinery however? That needs something special. There, you need a pneumatic system that can throw thousands of pounds of force into a valve near instantly. There’s just no other good way to get the job done in a fast manner. Electrical motors on the rise but, in these […]

Read More →

How Does a Solenoid Work?

At it’s heart, an electric motor is converting a pushing and pulling motion into a rotational motion. The coils on the rotor all pull in opposite directions from opposing sides, which makes things spin. What if we didn’t have opposing sides and we weren’t trying to spin? We’d make the ‘rotor’ pop up and down instead, wouldn’t we? Applications This […]

Read More →