Brownout VS. Blackout


Everyone in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region is familiar with the term blackout. And you might have even lived through one or more, but do you have the same understanding of a brownout? Unfortunately, most people are unaware of this term and its meaning. It also means that they do not grasp that a brownout holds much more potential for damage than the average blackout.

What Is A Blackout?

A blackout occurs when there is a complete interruption in power supplied by the grid. This power failure can last for a few minutes or even days, depending on the cause, which can include:

  • Damage to a transformer or electrical lines
  • An excessive demand for power that pushes the grid beyond its capacity
  • Lightning striking an electrical pole, wire, or other components
  • Damage or destruction of underground power lines
  • Ice build-up on the power lines resulting in damage

Due to the extreme investment in infrastructure by the power companies, a blackout is a rare event, even during the peak demand times of the summer months. But when it does occur, there is no power, and depending on the cause, you could be without any power for several hours to several days.

What Is A Brownout?

A brownout does not result in a total loss of power. Instead, the electrical grid's capacity is reduced, and the voltage is typically decreased by between 10 and 25%. The cause of a brownout is not random and unknown, as is the cause of a blackout. A brownout is a planned event that is undertaken to prevent a blackout. The utility company decides to enact a brownout when they foresee a sudden increase in the electricity demand. Knowing that the spike in demand would cause a blackout, the company temporarily reduces the amount of available electricity to prevent the outage. In most cases, the brownout is short-term, and the start and end times are known in advance as the utility provider has scheduled the event.

The Potential Hazard Of A Brownout

You might think that a brownout is a smart choice on the part of the utility provider to prevent a complete power failure. However, a brownout can cause more damage than a total power loss. When the power is off, as in a blackout, there is no potential for damage to your electronics and other appliances and devices. But the fluctuation in power, both too high and too low, can significantly damage or destroy electronics and electrical devices.

Electric motors and electronic components are the two types of devices at the greatest risk for damage during a brownout. The lower voltage into a motor can result in overheating and damage. The fluctuation in voltage in an electronic device can result in power pulses that will destroy the item. Turn off and unplug all electronics and other devices when a brownout is scheduled to prevent costly damage.

If you suspect damage to your home's electrical components from a brownout, call 612-236-9052 to schedule a visit from the licensed electricians at Lumberjack Electric to diagnose and repair any issues.

Lumberjack Electric

5720 International Parkway
New Hope, MN 55428