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Blackout vs Brownout: What’s the Difference?

Sometimes your home’s lights dim, then come back on. Is that considered a brownout or a blackout? Your Wilmer electric company is here to answer this burning question. Read below for the facts concerning the difference between a blackout and a brownout.

An Easy Set of Definitions

Brownout: The voltage delivered to your house via your power company falls below the standard value, which causes all your electrically-controlled appliances to lose a small amount of power. While service is diminished, it is not interrupted.

Blackout: The voltage delivered to your house via your power company is interrupted, turning off all appliances completely. In a blackout, you will have to reset all the digital clocks on your appliances. A blackout doesn’t just involve your home; it is generally over a large swath of land. If you lose power to only your house or only a few houses on your block, that is a power outage.

Rolling blackout: Large swaths of land are told in advance they will lose service and for how long. After a specific amount of time, power is restored and another area loses power. This continues until the power company can reliably allow all customers to receive power.

Is a Brownout Worse Than a Blackout?

Surprisingly, it often can be.

Since electrical appliances are rated for a specific range of voltage, any fluctuation above or below that range may cause damage.

Brownouts may last less than a minute or extend for several hours.

Brownouts can be caused by strain on the power grid. Given the option of reducing power to all consumers or disrupting power to a percentage of consumers, power companies may opt to reduce power.

Brownouts in one home or business point to electrical issues. Much like the choice of the power company with an overloaded power grid, your home’s electrical system gives limited power to all appliances rather than not allowing another appliance to turn on.

Intentional brownouts are last-ditch efforts by your power company to retain at least some power to all consumers or to maintain infrastructure.

What Should I Do During a Brownout?

Unplug all appliances with an electric motor. Electric motors rely on a very small range of voltage to operate smoothly. Below that range, these motors tend to draw more current to make up for the lost voltage, which causes overheating and dramatically shortens the life expectancy of an appliance.

Unplug all electronic components. Low voltage may cause damage after more than an hour, and changes the range of voltage pulses used in operating the control signals.

How Do I Protect My Electronics from Another Brownout?

Purchase an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system to replace your surge protector. With prices beginning near $60, these will keep your electronics at full voltage during a brownout.

Turn off your devices. As long as they are in the “off” position, your devices will not be affected by a brownout. If your device reverts to “standby” mode when not in use, unplug it.

Install a whole-home surge protection system.

Purchase a generator.

Will My Electronics be Damaged During a Blackout?

While a blackout does not damage electronics, once power is restored it may return as a surge, which may overwhelm sensitive electronics.

Power grids aren’t perfect, so blackouts and brownouts are always a possibility. However, a little communication by the electric company can go a long way. Learn about how Wilmer’s electric company can help you through tough energy situations by contacting Pronto Power at 1-844-621-2852.

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