If you’ve lived through winter in Minnesota, you already know that cold weather can hurt nearly everything. In fact, you’ve probably been spending the last several weeks preparing for that weather. Winter is just as hard on our utility infrastructures and homes as it can be on us. Unfortunately, even your electrical system is no exception.
Winter cold, wind, and ice could impede or otherwise damage your electrical system in several different ways. Some of these problems happen to your system, while others could affect the power supply to your whole neighborhood. Here are a few of the most common ways winter weather can (and has!) affected power in Minnesota:
When it’s cold outside, you tend to use electrical fixtures more frequently–especially your heater. Your heater needs to maintain a livable room temperature constantly, which means it leans on your electrical system far harder than usual. Your furnace isn’t the only fixture working overtime, either. The earlier the sun sets, the longer you use your lights. In fact, you’ll likely use nearly every electrical fixture you keep at home more often during winter.
All that strain can result in higher electrical bills, surges, brownouts, or even damage–especially if your electrical system wasn’t operating at 100% in the first place. If you start experiencing power problems in winter, then it’s possible your power system has been inefficient for awhile. You may not have noticed simply because you didn’t need your electrical system to function at 100% while you were using it less.
We mean “ice damage” in a couple of different ways here. First, there’s the damage that can result from ice forming where it shouldn’t. If electrical equipment isn’t properly insulated and it’s exposed to freezing temperatures, ice could form in them. That ice could damage internal circuitry, break the wiring, or inflict all kinds of other damage. Ice damage is particularly likely if electrical components were already damaged. Check for icing outside on your HVAC, power meter, and service mast and wires.
Of course, the way ice usually damages electrical components is less direct. When ice collects and hangs off of structures, it could put those structures under too much strain. Ice could build up on service wires or tree branches near service wires. When the wires themselves break or the branch falls onto the wires and breaks them, you suddenly lose power. Sudden ice-related damage is one of the most common ways power outages happen during winter.
Last winter, fierce blizzard winds snapped hundreds of power poles in southern Minnesota. More than 38,000 people lost power for days, including the entire town of Lyle, Minnesota. Not only are strong winds more common in Minnesota during the winter, but our electrical system is also more vulnerable to them. Ice and snow pile up on power poles and wires, putting them under a lot of strain. When strong winds add to that strain the way they did last year, it quickly becomes too much for the wires and poles to handle.
Most wind-based power damage occurs when winds blow debris onto power lines or other electrical infrastructure. Again, this could happen to your home specifically or to distribution power lines supplying electricity to your whole neighborhood. In 2011, 40 mph winds blew trees onto power lines and knocked out the power to 3,289 Minnesota resident’s homes. Strong winds also commonly detach the service wires held up by service masts, which will knock out power across your home.
Think about it: you aren’t the only person coped up inside using more power than usual this winter. Pretty much everybody else is, too. When everyone uses much more power than usual, the same thing that happens to your electrical system when its overworked could happen to an entire county’s. A major Twin Cities utility has had to cut off gas service to customers twice this year when their system was overtaxed. Though it’s less common, the same thing can happen with electricity.
When everyone on a power grid suddenly demands more power than usual, that power grid can come under strain. Power systems are generally set up to be able to handle the maximum amount of power possible, but as systems age, their maximum capacities tend to drop. Eventually, your power grid may not be able to handle everyone’s demands. In fact, it could even break down in the attempt! When that happens, the utility company will have to repair the electrical infrastructure near you.
Cold and cold-related electrical damage is, unfortunately, an unavoidable truth of living this far north. Our winters are so brutal that even our electricity struggles with them sometimes. Electrical problems are another aspect of Minnesota winter, and just like every other troublesome aspect of Minnesota winter, we’ll struggle against it together. Early Bird is here to help make that struggle a little easier.
Whether you have an electrical problem you need help with right now or you just have questions about weatherproofing your home’s electrical system this winter, give Early Bird a call. Our experts live and work in the Twin Cities, and we know how to take care of Minnesota’s winter electricity problems.