How to avoid tripping a breaker with your lights (Infographic).
Let's get nerdy. It's time to chat about electromagnetics and electronics.
Wait, wondering why we're talking about physics on a filmmaking blog?
Hang in there a sec, it relates—trust us.
Say for example you're filming in a house. You've got 2 lights plugged into a single outlet, and you're about the plug a third in. As you insert the plug, you begin to hold your breathe and "I hope I don't trip a breaker" starts to continually run through your mind.
Well, that sinking feeling of not knowing if you can turn on the lights without taking down a breaker—or blowing a bulb—is related to electromagnetics and electronics.
Now, it's not the sexiest of topics but it's extremely helpful to understand, to to keep your set and shoot running smoothly and safely.
Here are 2 big electromagnetics and electronics concepts that pertain to filmmakers
And be sure to scroll to the bottom to download the sweet infographic.
1. The Basics
Before we dig into whether or not that third light will blow a fuse, we need to first establish a couple of foundational concepts that will affect the outcome.
Properties of electricity
Current is the amount of electricity flowing, measured in amperes (or amps for short). Need an analogy? It's helpful to think of it like the volume of water flowing down a river.
Voltage is the potential difference of that current, measured in volts. This would be how steep the terrain is that the river is flowing down.
Power is the strength of the electricity, measured in watts. Now, how would that river in the first two properties feel to cross?
Now, let's bring them all together into a fun equation.
2. Power Triangle
In the US, the normal voltage of a wall socket in a house is a fixed 120 V.
So, in the example above where you're filming in a house and about to plug in a third light, you already know one of the 3 properties to consider: Voltage. Next, you need to figure out the other 2: Power and Current.
It's time to do a little bit of recon. Look around and consider what outlets are wired together on a circuit. Then, find the circuit breaker.
If you look at a breaker that protects the circuit of the outlets in the room that you're filming in and it says 15 Amps, you now have all of the information you need to determine if you're third light will blow that fuse.
It's time for math—don't worry, it's easy! :)
Here's the formula:
Power = Voltage x Current
So, if you take your Voltage (120 Volts) and multiply it by your Current (15 Amps), you've got our max power the circuit can support.
120 Volts x 15 Amps = 1800 W (or 1.8 KW).
So, are you going to blow that fuse? It depends.
How much power does each of your lights draw?
Light Power Consumption
If you're plugging in three 300 W lights, you're going to be safe as that's only going to pull 900 W, leaving you with 900 W to spare. Assuming nothing is already plugged into that circuit already and is turned on that's drawing significant power.
If you're attempting to plug in three 800 W lights, you're going to be in trouble—regardless of what was already plugged in—as the three lights need more power than the circuit can provide. In other words, you're going to trip that circuit's breaker and be left in the dark.
But, what if all you have are the 800 W lights and you need all three?
Good news: there are often plenty of circuits you can tap into. Most houses have at least 4 distinct circuits in total. And even better, some circuits allow more Current than others.
Not all outlets are created equal
While normal wall outlets in houses are 15 Amps, kitchens and laundry rooms often have a little more Current to handle those power-draining appliances.
For example: a typical kitchen breaker is 30 Amps. That means you've got a lot more juice to work work—3600 W worth!
While you may not be filming in either the kitchen or laundry room, you can make use of the old trusted stinger to get that power to your light.
Not all stingers are created equal
Just remember: stingers have a maximum Current they can support. If you exceed that max Current, the wire will heat up and potentially start a fire. Not good!
Infographic: Be a pro—never trip a breaker again!
We promised this was a bit of a nerdy post, but anytime you're dealing with both the experience for your talent, as well as their—and your crews—safety, it's always good to be in the know as much as possible. And, in this case, you get to be a serious pro by never tripping a breaker again.
To help make it even easier, here's a helpful infographic for you to download.
If you find it helpful, please share with your followers, friends, and filmmaking-family. Bonus high-fives for including @StoryandHeart where possible. We've got a handy-dandy share code below to make it easy to post it to your website and blog too.
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<a href="http://blog.storyandheart.com/blog/2015/7/8/how-to-avoid-tripping-a-breaker-with-your-lights"><img src="http://static1.squarespace.com/static/529cf80ee4b016cdb62ce212/t/55a01159e4b0567a6dd47b92/1436553564608/?format=1000w" alt=“How to Avoid Tripping A Breaker With Your Lights (Infographic)" title="How to Avoid Tripping A Breaker With Your Lights (Infographic)" width=“1000" /></a></p><p><small>Want more filmmaking tips and tricks? Join the <a href="http://www.academyofstorytellers.com">Academy of Storytellers</a> by <a href="http://www.storyandheart/">Story & Heart</a>.</small>