Hopefully, you have surge protectors set up in your house to protect your electronics from power surges, or voltage spikes, that can fry your devices. Unfortunately, surge protectors won't save you from the evil cousin of a power surge -- a low voltage event, or brownout. Dimming lights in your house are a sign that you're experiencing a brownout, which over time can cause major damage to your appliances.
The problem is that most electronics need a steady stream of electricity to work properly, and fluctuations in voltage can wear down and harm your appliances. Brownouts can also be more insidious than blackouts because when the voltage goes down, the amperage goes up. This could cause appliances with motors, like refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioners to eventually overheat.
What Can I Do?
Brownouts are a more frequent problem in developing countries, but they do occur in the United States and Canada as well. If you notice lights dimming or electronics cycling on and off, unplug any sensitive devices immediately to limit the wear and tear they suffer from sagging voltage. Also, by reducing power consumption you will contribute to ending the brownout, because there will be less stress on the electric grid.
Take Preemptive Measures
Since your air conditioner is one of your most powerful appliances, any brief outage means it takes a lot of electricity to power the unit back up. To combat the problem, Direct Energy and One Hour Air Conditioning & Heating® offer the Comfort Sentry Contactor, a switching device with totally sealed contacts that goes in your AC unit. If voltage goes below a safe point or "flickers," the Contactor will automatically and safely turn the unit off — and then back on once the right amount of power is back. "In multiple dwellings, it will stagger turning power back on, one in 30 seconds, another in 5 minutes, and so on — to avoid using too much electricity all at once. It's protection built right into your home," explains Dave Borowski, spokesperson for Direct Energy. A smart homeowner will recognize this as an "ounce of prevention."
Smart thermostats can also help. These Wi-Fi enabled devices can communicate with utility companies and automatically turn down the AC in your house if the power plant is facing a big spike in demand. If enough households are participating, the thermostats can smooth out power demand until the utility has time to ramp up production, avoiding brownouts before they start.