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Phantoms, Ghosts and a Few Goblins

Not unexpectedly a few goblins showed up this week in my neighborhood. Fun to see whether in the visible or the infrared part of the spectrum.

1. A pair of Jack-o-Lanterns can have fun even in the infrared spectrum.

Mr. Jack-o-Lantern is not unlike many of the electrical problems thermographers see.  Fairly cool on the exterior, but like the candle inside, very hot on the unseen interior where the high resistance heating is actually occurring. When we fail to understand this, the goblins will certainly come haunt us and our maintenance programs!

“Phantom loads” are everywhere too, not just around this spooky time of year, but 365 days a year and 24 hours each and every day. The term is used to describe electrical demand from appliances that are in stand-by mode, ready to be used, but not actually being used.

Computers and televisions are the classic examples, but even appliances such as toasters and cell-phone chargers are often phantoms. Estimates suggest that between 6-10% of all residential electrical usage can be attributed to phantom loads.

Computers and televisions are the classic examples of “phantom loads,” using electrical energy and producing unwanted heat even when turned to an “off” position. Phantoms can be found throughout your home or office, including such seemingly innocuous items as a cell phone charger—even when simply plugged in and not charging a phone!

While some argue the problem is minimized by the fact that phantoms simply produce heat that serves a useful function during the heating season. Electric resistance heating, however, is notoriously inefficient. To complicate matters, when buildings are being cooled, as is often the case with commercial buildings, the extra heat load costs doubly due to increased cooling costs! The cost of phantoms probably amounts to about 1% of the total electrical energy use on the grid, a not insignificant amount of energy especially when you consider much of it also contributes to very costly peak loading.

Inventory your home and office for phantoms. Using a fairly narrow span setting, check anything that is plugged in. You will find some items, such as ground-fault interrupter (GFI) outlets and hard-wired smoke alarms, will be warm because they need to be energized at all times to function. But you may just find other phantoms you can scare away. Often this is best accomplished using special power strips that actually cut power and turn the attached appliances off. See how many of the phantoms you can banish from your home.

You have probably seen the infrared images of “ghosts” that show up on television programs this time of year. You too can see “ghosts” in your house as you scan past a window or a picture (covered with glass) hanging on the wall. Since glass is about 20% reflective to longwave infrared radiation, you’ll see a slight, but very clear reflection of yourself—just enough to seem other-worldly.

Whatever Halloween brought you this week, I hope you enjoyed it and had fun seeing what phantoms, ghosts and goblins really look like! I trust you also did your part to unplug some of them.

Thinking Thermally,
John Snell—The Snell Group, a
Fluke Thermal Imaging Blog content partner

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