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Old 08-13-2012, 01:31 AM
tek9 tek9 is online now
 
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Default Customer's power issues

Hi all.
I'd like your input regarding a customer of mine that's having computer problems which I believe is an issue with his home's power.
I've already mentioned this issue in this thread: http://www.technibble.com/forums/showthread.php?t=39570, but now he calls me with some more info that I'd like to share, to see what the experts say about this.
In short: customer first comes to me with a dead onboard NIC, which I replaced with a PCI NIC. This was shortly after a thunderstorm, mind you. A few weeks later, after another thunderstorm, he returns with a dead PSU, which I replaced. I then learned that he wasn't using a surge protector, so I gave him one of mine. A few weeks later, (you guessed it, after another thunderstorm,) he returns saying the new NIC I installed had died, which is the issue disussed in that thread I mentioned. I replaced it, and after having some problems with it not working in his house, even though it worked in shop, it turns out his cable modem was faulty, so he got a new one, and all's well.
Now, this past Friday we had some major storms in the area, and he wasn't home until today, and he calls me now, saying that computer won't turn on, and I'm suspecting another dead PSU. He agreed with me that it sound fishy because of the storm, but he was using the surge protector (I told him it isn't foolproof) etc. etc. Then he asks me if I think there's a problem with his home's power. He says when he bought the house 4 years ago (built in '83) he got a cheapo roofer to fix his roof and the guy removed an "antenna" from the roof... I asked what the antenna was for... He didn't know... I asked him if it might have been a lighting rod... He says "maybe"...
I told him to contact a professional electrician to check out his power, and to let me know.
My question for you is: Would removing a lighting rod be worse that not having one to begin with? And would/could this be the cause of all his problems? If yes, why would it take four years for the problems to show up? (These are the questions I told him to ask the pro, but I wanted to know if any of you would know anything about this.)
(Sorry for the long post... Just wanted you to get the complete picture.)
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  #2  
Old 08-13-2012, 02:53 AM
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A lightning rod only protects a house against a direct lightning hit (EG lightning hitting the house).

He could have poor grounding, or he could be out on the end of a long line that gets hit a good deal/picks up induction from the lightning easily. Keep in mind that I had a client that lost his cable modem, router, and both computer's nics in a thunderstorm, so the fault can come in through the phone line or the cable line.

One of the best options would be to get:
A: a licensed contractor to come out and make sure his house is properly grounded.
B: a UPS, one that converts the electricity to DC, runs it by the battery, then tuns it back to AC again. I forget the name, and they are not cheap, but this would give good clean juice to the computer, router, and all other equipment.
C: Buy a good power strip with cable and phone, one that offers a protection guarantee the equipment plugged into it and run the modem's line through this.
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Old 08-13-2012, 04:17 AM
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Rob is absolutely right about the grounds. Although many homes are grounded, most do not have enough grounds to meet today's electrical codes. Another issue could be that the home's grounding rods are not deep enough into the ground.

I know in West Virginia, all homes must have a minimum of two grounding rods that can't be greater than ten feet apart or less than ten feet in the ground, before an electrical inspector will certify your meter base for safe operation. However, mobile homes require more because of their unique construction.

Electricity will always follow the shortest path to ground, and in your customer's case, it appears to be through his appliances. And yes, as Rob said, it would be wise for him to purchase a UPS until he can get an electrician to fix his problem. He could also make sure all of his appliances were unplugged when not in use lol.
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Old 08-13-2012, 04:53 AM
FremontPC FremontPC is offline
 
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Default I think you're on track...

WRT suggesting an electrician. It's also not uncommon to see grounded outlets that aren't grounded. I tend to keep a tester with me, simple to plug it in to the outlet and see if it's grounded, reverse polarity, etc.
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Old 08-13-2012, 05:47 AM
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I totally agree there's a grounding issue. One thing I find that also gets overlooked is ground feedback. Even if the ground is good it can be weak and you can get ground feedback from a bad household appliance or anything that could be leaking voltage through the ground. The absolute best approach is to isolate the ground. I have had to do this many times and it has worked perfectly each time. Have the electrician put in another ground rod and run another ground wire to the outlet at the PC. Use a good rated UPS (uninterrupted power supply) AKA battery backup. The battery backup will protect you from a power surge and a brownout. A brownout can go right through a surge protector and literally cook your computer with low voltage. This solution will help anytime you have a weird power issue that you can resolve.
p.s. When placing a ground rod, always try to find an area that stays kinda moist. A ground rod will not work in dry soil no matter how deep it is. Placing near a shrub works well.
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Old 08-13-2012, 02:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tek9 View Post
I told him to contact a professional electrician to check out his power, and to let me know.
First understand how protection works. Lightning found a connection to earth via wooden church steeples. Wood is an electrical conductor. But not a very good conductor. Therefore 20,000 amps creates a high voltage. 20,000 amps times a high voltage is high energy. Steeple damaged.

Franklin installed a lightning rod. Did the rod do protection? Of course not. It simply connected lightning to earth on a good electrical conductor. Therefore 20,000 amps creates a near zero voltage. 20,000 amps times a near zero voltage is near zero energy. No damage. Energy harmlessly absorbed in earth. No current through a steeple means no damage.

Franklin protected the structure. But a lightning strike to AC wires far down the street is a direct strike incoming to household appliances. Anything inside that can only block, stop, or absorb that surge (not a very good conductor) means voltage increases. High energy dissipates inside.

Informed homeowners earth a 'whole house' protector - a low impedance (ie 'less than 10 foot') connection to earth. Therefore 20,000 amps creates a near zero voltage. Energy harmlessly absorbed in earth. No current inside through appliances means no damage.

Lightning is finding connections to earth destructively via appliances. For example, cable TV can be connected to a best earth ground (as also required by code). That means lightning far down the street is finding the best connection to earth via AC wires, through the NIC, through modem, to earth via the cable. He has all but invited lightning to go hunting inside the building.

Every wire inside every incoming cable must connect to earth where that wire enters a building. Cable would already have that earth ground via a 12 AWG copper wire. Best protection - that wire - is already installed. Telephone would make a connection via a telco 'installed for free' surge protector. But almost nobody has installed a 'whole house' protector.

The most common source of surges is AC electric. A direct lightning strike is incoming to all appliances. But computer appliances are a best outgoing path. So his computer is protecting all other household appliances - destructively.

To be damaged means both an incoming and an outgoing path to earth must exist. Damage is often on the outgoing side. The naive then assume that was the incoming path. Because most everyone forgets how electricity works - the always required incoming and outgoing paths.

More responsible companies sell 'whole house' protectors including Siemens, Square D, Intermatic, General Electric, Leviton, ABB, Ditek, Polyphaser, and Syscom. A Cutler-Hammer solution sold in Lowes and Home Depot for less than $50.

These earthed 'whole house' protectors are the only solution found in every facility that cannot have damage. Even needed to protect undersized power strips that do not even claim to protect from lightning and other typically destructive surges.

His cable and telephone would already have good earthing. (Most satellite dish installer cannot be bothered.) AC electric has no such protection IF a homeowner did not demand and install it.

An electrician can install a 'whole house' protector. But may not understand what is far more important. Earth ground. If a breaker box ground wire goes up over the foundation and down to earth, then protection is compromised. Wire too long, sharp bends over the foundation, and wire too close to other non-grounding wires. Excessive impedance. That wire must go through the wall and down to an earth ground. A lower impedance connection. Not lower resistance. Lower impedance.

Most important. Protection is only as effective as the earth ground - that must both meet and exceed code requirements. Must be better than what most electricians install. Then a surge is not inside hunting for earth destructively via appliances.

Removing an already grounded antenna may have compromised structure protection. But did nothing for appliance protection. Your concern for every customer - what are potential and destructive connections to earth. All customers should have what has been standard for over 100 years in every facility that cannot have damage. Better earthing of a 'whole house' protector. A homeowner who does not earth a 'whole house' protector has all but invited a surge to go hunting for earth destructively via appliances.

Last edited by westom; 08-13-2012 at 02:05 PM.
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Old 08-13-2012, 02:07 PM
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Regardless of the rod, you need to do better than a surge protector for this customer.

Look into a UPS with AVR (automatic voltage regulation, and do NOT get a UPS without this!!!) I personally recommend APC brand to people, but again not the cheaper ones you want to spend around $130 on a decent one with AVR.

Most any UPS will also have a surge port for ethernet, which I would have chained between the cable modem and the nic.
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Old 08-13-2012, 02:21 PM
tek9 tek9 is online now
 
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Thanks everyone for the replies and the info.
I was considering suggesting a UPS for him, but am waiting to hear what happened with the electrician.
I'm still wondering why he didn't have any problems with his computer for the first 4 years...
Anyhow.... I'll keep you posted. Thanks again.
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Old 08-13-2012, 03:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tek9 View Post
I'm still wondering why he didn't have any problems with his computer for the first 4 years...
Due to superior protection already inside all appliances, a destructive surges occurs maybe once even seven years. A number than can vary significantly even within the same town. And a number changed even by recent construction. Even geology and utility wire changes are significant factors.

Meanwhile, read the specification numbers on a UPS. Post numbers that even claim that protection. The only number may be joules. How does it hundreds of joules absorb a surge that is hundreds of thousands of joules? It doesn't. But near zero joules are enough to claim surge protection.

If an incoming surge current is not earthed before entering the building, then nothing will avert a destructive hunt for earth. As in nothing. Protection (or lack of it) is only defined by the current path to earth. Due to superior protection inside appliances, a destructive surge may not happen for many years - or even a decade. But in some venues, due to factors such as geology, surges can be frequent.
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Old 08-13-2012, 03:38 PM
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I find that the vast majority of the time lightning/storm damage occurs not because the house was hit by a bolt, but because something nearby was causing power to go out abruptly and the come back on with a surge - not the massive surge from the lightning itself but the minor surge of power coming back on.

The last time I know for a fact that lightning itself actually caused damage to PCs in an building -- that same bolt also shattered every window in the building. Naturally it also toasted every plugged in appliance in the building as well, microwave, coffee maker, everything. No UPS or surge protector will help in that event, sure
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