The Chicago SFPE chapter meeting on January 13, 2014, was held at the William Tell, Holiday Inn Countryside. The speaker was Paul McCoy, a consultant and former Senior Executive with Commonwealth Edison, and IIT graduate in electrical engineering.
Paul gave a fascinating presentation on the types of power surges that can occur in residential distribution systems, as caused by nature or the utility network. There was some discussion of lightning and its effects, but Paul focused mainly on problems with the utility network. There are a whole myriad of possible problems with the network, which may include those caused by switching, maintenance, regulation failures, etc. The most serious are those that involve extended high voltage, such as may result from momentary high voltage line contact with a lower voltage distribution line. Resulting damage can be extensive and include damage to appliance controls, HVAC controls/motors, contactors, exploding light bulbs, destroyed surge protectors, destroyed plug-in timers, sparking outlets, etc. Fires are certainly possible from these events, where light combustibles, e.g. drapes, etc.., are in the immediate area of failed components inside residential facilities. Paul gave some examples of surge damage from his own home town, Western Springs, IL.
Some devices such as a whole house surge protector can prevent damage from some of these events. Point-of-Use surge protectors are useful but are less effective.
A Powerpoint presentation is available here for your convenience in reviewing his entire presentation.
(submitted by K. Mniszewski, 1/20/14)