Like many hackers, [Matthias Wandel] has a penchant for measuring the world around him, and quantifying the goings-on in his home is a bit of a hobby. And so when it came time to sense the current flowing in the wires of his house, he did what any of us would do: he built his own current sensing system.
What’s that you say? Any sane hacker would buy something like a Kill-a-Watt meter, or even perhaps use commercially available current transformers? Perhaps, but then one wouldn’t exactly be hacking, would one? [Matthias] opted to roll his own sensors for quite practical reasons: commercial meters don’t quite have the response time to catch the start-up spikes he was interested in seeing, and clamp-on current transformers require splitting the jacket on the nonmetallic cabling used in most residential wiring — doing so tends to run afoul of building codes. So his sensors were simply coils of wire shaped to fit the outside of the NM cable, with a bit of filtering to provide a cleaner signal in the high-noise environment of a lot of switch-mode power supplies.
Fed through an ADC board into a Raspberry Pi, [Matthias]’ sensor system did a surprisingly good job of catching the start-up surge of some tools around the shop. That led to the entertaining “Circuit Breaker Challenge” part of the video below, wherein we learn just what it really takes to pop the breaker on a 15-Amp branch circuit. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot.
Speaking of staying safe with mains current, we’ve covered a little bit about how circuit protection works before. If you need a deeper dive into circuit breakers, we’ve got that too.
Continue reading “Using Homebrew Coils To Measure Mains Current, And Taking The Circuit Breaker Challenge”
If you connect a generator to your home’s main electrical panel when the power goes out, you need to make sure the main breaker is shut off. Otherwise, when the power comes back on, you (or the linemen) are going to have a bad time. There are commercial interlock plates which physically prevent the generator and main breakers from being switched on at the same time, but since they tend to be expensive, [HowToLou] decided to make one himself.
The hardest part of this project is designing the template. It needs to be carefully shaped so its resting position prevents the generator’s breaker from being switched on under normal circumstances, but once the main is turned off and out of the way, you should be able to lift it up and have the clearance to flip the lower breaker. Spending some quality time at the breaker box with tape and a few pieces of cardboard is going to be the easiest way of finding the proper shape.
Continue reading “How To Design A Custom Generator Interlock Plate”
Even if you aren’t an electronics person, you probably have a working knowledge of circuit breakers. When the lights go out, you find the circuit breaker and flip it back to the on position. Most people understand, too, that the breaker will trip if you overload the circuit with too many things plugged in or with an accidental short circuit. But how does this common device actually work? Keep in mind, circuit breakers need to be super reliable and have been around long enough that you can imagine they are pretty low tech. [Learn Engineering] has a very clear video about what goes on inside a circuit breaker that’s worth the eight minutes to watch. You can see the video below.
The handle is a mechanical engineering marvel, using two springs and a special design so that even a tiny force will cause it to snap to the off position. That takes care of a human tripping it. However, you have two other cases where you want to turn it off: overload and short circuit.
Continue reading “How Does A Circuit Breaker Break?”
Arc-fault circuit breakers are a boon for household electrical safety. The garden-variety home electrical fire is usually started by the heat coming from a faulty wire arcing over. But as any radio enthusiast knows, sparks also give off broadband radio noise. Arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCI) are special circuit breakers that listen for this noise in the power line and trip when they hear it. The problem is that they can be so sensitive that they cut out needlessly. Check out the amusing video below the break.
Our friend [Martin] moved into a new house, and discovered that he could flip the breakers by transmitting on the 20-meter band. “All the lights in the place went out and my rig switched over to battery. I thought it was strange as I was certainly drawing less than 20 A. I reset the breakers and keyed up again. I reset the breakers again and did a [expletive] Google search.” Continue reading “Ham Radio Trips Circuit Breakers”
Many tools can be used either for good or for evil — it just depends on the person flipping the switch. (And their current level of mischievousness.) We’re giving [Callan] the benefit of the doubt here and assuming that he built his remote-controlled Residual Current Device (RDC) tripper for the purpose of testing the safety of the wiring in his own home. On the other hand, he does mention using it to shut off all the power in his house during an “unrelated countdown at a party”. See? Good and evil.
An RCD (or GFCI in the States) is a kind of circuit breaker that trips when the amount of current in the hot and neutral mains power lines aren’t equal and opposite, which would suggest that the juice was leaking out somewhere, hopefully not through someone. They only take a few milliamps of imbalance to blow so that nobody gets hurt. Making a device to test an RCD is easy; a resistor between hot and the protective ground circuit would do.
[Callan] over-engineers. He used a 50 W resistor where 30 W would do under the worst circumstances. A stealthy solid-state relay switches the resistor in, driven by an Uno and a Bluetooth module, so he can trip his circuit breakers from his smartphone, naturally.
Continue reading “Awesome Prank Or Circuit-Breaker Tester?”
My introduction to circuit protection came at the tender age of eight. Being a curious lad with an inventive – and apparently self-destructive – bent, I decided to make my mother a lamp. I put a hose clamp around the base of a small light bulb, stripped the insulation off an old extension cord, and jammed both ends of the wires under the clamp. When I plugged my invention into an outlet in the den, I saw the insulation flash off the cord just before the whole house went dark. Somehow the circuit breaker on the branch circuit failed and I tripped the main breaker on a 200 amp panel. My mother has never been anywhere near as impressed with this feat as I was, especially now that I know a little bit more about how electricity works and how close to I came to being a Darwin Award laureate.
To help you avoid a similar fate, I’d like to take you on a trip (tee-hee!) through the typical household power panel and look at some of the devices that stand at the ready every day, waiting for a chance to save us from ourselves. As a North American, I’ll be focusing on the residential power system standards most common around here. And although there is a lot of technology that’s designed to keep you safe as a last resort, the electricity in your wall can still kill you. Don’t become casual with mains current!
Continue reading “Tripping Out: A Field Guide To Circuit Protection”
High voltage is not something we usually tinker with at home. In fact, most of us are more comfortable working with non-lethal, low current, low voltage DC signals. When we do venture into the world of high voltage, we prefer to do it vicariously thru someone with more safety training and/or experience.
[Mike] shows us the inner workings of a 240VAC circuit breaker and explains how the different safety features in the device work. In proper MikesElectricStuff form, [Mike] finds out what it takes to destroy the device. Or in this case multiple devices, [Mike] uses his “Destruct-o-tron” to create catastrophic failure in more than one breaker. You can check out the video embedded after the break to learn a bit about how a circuit breaker works, and of course witness the carnage.
Continue reading “Inside A Circuit Breaker With MikesElectricStuff”