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How do I protect my appliances against power failures or power outages?

In most cases, electrical equipment cannot handle big voltage fluctuations. In case of a power failure or a mains power outage, some devices and appliances will malfunction. Here's an explanation of:

Reliable network

The electric power quality is becoming more and more important as society is growing increasingly dependent on electricity. So it is only natural that (undisrupted) quality energy delivery is paramount.
Belgium’s power grids rank among the most reliable in Europe. Delivering undisrupted, continuous power to your home is the job of your distribution system operator.

But the power quality depends not only on the distribution system operator. Electricity producers and interaction with the connected appliances and devices in consumers’ homes also play a part.

Voltage fluctuations

Most of us are familiar with the odd flickering light in the living room. This flickering is the direct result of voltage fluctuations in the grid.

Generally, these fluctuations do not present any real nuisance because your distribution system operator has specific and multiple safety measures in place. For example, heavy-duty installations will not be connected to the low-voltage grid.

Unplanned and unintended interruptions in the mains power supply are quite rare, although they sadly can never be completely ruled out. Their causes may vary:

  • short circuits: e.g. due to a broken cable that was ripped up during excavation works
  • overload: e.g. as a result of a lightning strike
  • voltage spikes: e.g. as a result of the sudden wide-scale installation of solar panel

Possible voltage fluctuation effects on electrical devices

Your home is connected to the low-voltage grid, which delivers power at a voltage of 230 volts. To prevent electrical appliances from getting damaged or breaking down altogether, standards exist which set limits on the maximum deviation from this mains voltage.

In turn, electrical appliances need to be designed in such a way that they operate properly within these limits. An appliance built to operate at 230 V will serve its maximum lifetime at this voltage.

If the voltage is too low, the amperage increases, which may result in the components melting down or causing the appliance to malfunction. If the voltage is too high, this will cause appliances to run ‘too fast and too high’ which will shorten their service life. Leads, cables, cords and power lines are not at risk.

Voltage and current strength are two different things!

  • voltage (expressed in volts) is required to make your device or appliance work
  • current strength, or amperage (expressed in amperes), depends on the capacity of your appliance; the higher the power consumption of the appliance, the more current it will demand, but the mains voltage is a set value which remains unchanged.

Some appliances are more sensitive to such fluctuations than others. This chiefly applies to appliances which contain (too many) coils (dimmers, motors), or electronics (PCs, TV sets). 

How to prevent potential damage?

The right precautions will help minimise material damage and financial loss:

1. Buy appliances which meet the requirements of quality marks

Make sure the appliance is able to take voltage fluctuations. This is specified in the CE marking. Double check with the supplier if need be.

Lightning strikes often cause very high voltage spikes. Something which household appliances, even those carrying a quality hallmark, are often unable to withstand.

2. Have your indoor installation inspected on a regular basis

From your electricity meter, you are responsible for the household appliances in your home. It is advisable to have your indoor installation (cables and power lines from the meter, including trip switches and main switch) checked at regular intervals.

3. Consider setting up a surge protector

Various products are commonly available in the retail trade which act as a surge protector and, to a limited extent, also provide protection against damage as a result of lightning strikes. An Uninterrupted Power Supply will not only level off the voltage spikes between the grid and your installation but will also continue to give you voltage for a short while after a power outage.

An ideal albeit costly protection for valuable equipment, such as servers and production machinery ...

4. Do you run a business? Or are you at risk if there is a prolonged downtime of equipment?

In that case, get yourself an emergency power system or a back-up generator.

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