Posted in education on April 1, 2016 1:13 pm EDT

Beware Dirty Power

Three key design considerations for the church gear specifier and integrator.











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TAGS: avl design, design, infrastructure, integration,


By Shaun Miller

... when I refer to Dirty Power I am referencing any abnormality with the quality of the inbound power.

Churches today are becoming so much more technologically advanced. I can tell you are shocked by this revelation. Ever growing IT infrastructures, larger stage productions, and digital signage have all become staples in the modern church. As we move further away from the more forgiving analog world, and push the boundaries of digital, power quality is going to become a much larger focus and getting it right on the build is crucial.

I do want to take a moment and say I would find it shocking (see what I did there) if in this article you learned something new or expanded your knowledge of electricity. I would not be so bold as to make the claim that I know more than you do in this area. Instead, my goal is to give you some perspective from the church guy whom you will often be dealing with and who ultimately will use the space.

Just so we’re all on the same page though, I will specify when I refer to Dirty Power I am referencing any abnormality with the quality of the inbound power. Dirty Power can also refer to improper grounding that can cause many issues with audio systems and noise. While the professionals may not include that, I am because the typical church guy will.

Now there is very little you can do as a designer on the quality of power that is given to you to work with. I doubt the First Baptist Church of any town is going to get their own reactor at the plant. As you approach a new church design or a retrofit it is very important to plan for three things, in my book:

1.) Ensure more power than we need today.

This may be common practice for you already or a state code. I don’t know, but what I do know comes from having worked in a variety of church buildings over the years. I have seen good ideas gone wrong and bad ideas go really wrong. In my travels I recently experienced a large church that had designed its building to be used not only for weekend worship but also as a concert hall and pseudo convention space during the week. This was a great outreach to the community except for one minor detail … they didn’t have the power infrastructure to provide for these events. This meant any time a concert came in, the promoter or church had to rent a generator to provide power for the event.

Really dig down and understand where the church wants to go in the future. I know budgets get tight, but build in even the infrastructure so church clients have somewhere to go when they do have the money to expand.

2.) Sell us on isolated power.

A few weeks ago I was helping a church replace its four-week-old projector that was damaged due to a sudden drop in voltage. While we’re still investigating where this came from, I was able to discover some very interesting issues with the brand new building. The first being that their isolated system wasn’t isolated. What was happening was every time the closest HVAC unit kicked, it dropped the voltage to that projector and, over the course of a few weeks, appears to have damaged it. When the power dipped, the projector tried to protect itself but ended up damaging the lamps and a controller board.

3.) Work to help determine a backup plan.

I have seen everything from battery backups purchased at Office Max to instant On natural gas generators. These extremes really do rely on the client’s budget but need to be addressed, especially if there is a history of power issues. A church I was at last year was built across the street from a large city water pump station. Every weekday about 3:45 p.m. the building lights dimmed and the battery backups all chirped, as we figured the after-school rush of water usage probably kicked that plant on. But, with that, we needed to keep our gear protected.

The electrical contractor for the church installed surge protectors at the sub panels that I really liked. I do not trust surge strips bought at IKEA for $5 with a $30,000 soundboard, but a panel surge suppressor in tandem with a decent battery backup—I felt safe.

So, in a perfect world, or at least a perfect United States power grid, that outlet your computer is plugged into should be putting out 120volts at 60hz. But, we do not live in a perfect world, and at times that voltage can wreak havoc on those sensitive electronics we often use in the church. I am asking you as a designer to go that extra step and really sell me, the church guy, on the importance of good clean power. My equipment depends on it.



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