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# DV101 Blog: Dec 11 - Electricity 101

By Jay Holben PART I Id like to talk a little about electricity. When youre shooting, chances are youre going to be using electricity, whether for cameras or sound gear or, more than likely, lights. If youre running your own lighting or equipment, its important to understand electricity. I have, in the past, literally taught entire weekends dedicated to just electricity and power distribution on set, but we can keep it to one basic concept here. Im going to throw some math at you (algebra, to be exact) but bear with me on that, too Its not hard, I promise you. One of the most important aspects of electricity that you (as a DV Shooter) should understand is how to determine amperage draw and if/when youre going to overload a circuit. SCIENCE/TECHNICAL CRAP: Electromotive force, or voltage or current (in short, electricity itself) is generated when electrons are dislodged from adjacent atoms and pushed into others. This creates a difference in polarity and a flow of electrons (like water flowing in a river). A by-product of this flow is heat. Heat, as we all know, in high concentrations can lead to fire. Fire, next to electrocution, is the largest danger when dealing with electricity. There are two main types of protection for overloading a circuit: The fuse and the breaker. They are both, basically, the same thing; a breaker is just a resettable fuse. When a fuse blows (reaches an amperage draw above the rating) it breaks the circuit (thus stopping the flow of electricity and preventing fire) and must be replaced (the blown fuse is thrown away and is useless). When a breaker blows it can be reset and reused (after the problem that caused the blow is corrected). Breakers and fuses (and wires/cables) are rated in amperage. Amperage, otherwise known as Intensity, is a measurement of ions traveling past a given point in a given period of time. Mathematically, Amperage is the result of wattage divided by voltage. Most everyone knows the term watt as in 100 Watt light bulb. Wattage is always a constant for any given object to be powered. It is the measure of work done. A 100 watt light bulb will always be 100 watts. Voltage is, for all intents and purposes, also a given constant. In the United States we have typical household voltage of 120 volts. This is a round figure because voltage does, in reality, fluctuate. You may see 110 V or 115V or 125V they are all the same thing, in essence. 240V, 220V are very different (but we dont need to get into that now). For now assume anything between 100 and 130 volts is the same thing. In fact, we can assume that all household voltage (and standard wall outlets in industrial buildings) in the US is 100 volts (it is safest and easiest to do so). SO! Where the hell am I going with this? PRATICAL STUFF: When you get to a location and youre going to be using a lot of electricity say you'll be plugging in a number of lights you need to know a few things to make sure youre being safe. First off, you need to know the amperage rating of the fuses or breakers at that location. In the US, most houses/apartments have 15 amp breakers. Most industrial buildings have 20 amp breakers. The rating on the breaker is the

maximum you can put on that circuit. Fuses and breakers are labeled on the individual fuse/breaker as to the amperage rating. Next, you have to know the wattage of the lamps youre going to be using. Lets say you have a light kit with three 1K Fresnels and two 500Watt open-face fixtures. (1K means 1,000 watts (K meaning kilo, metric for 1,000). Its important to note that, in lighting, the fixture itself doesnt determine the wattage. The bulb being used in the fixture does. You may have a fixture that can take different types of bulbs. For instance, standard household lamps can have many different types of bulbs in them. Two identical lamps might have a 60 watt bulb in one and a 200 watt bulb in the other. Make sure you know what bulbs are in the lamps and what wattage those bulbs are. You arrive in an office building and look at the breaker box to see you have 20 amp circuits that are clearly labeled as to which office is on which breaker (rare, but cool when it happens). Each office has its own breaker (not very common, but stick with me). You want to light a scene in one office using all the lights. MATH CRAP: Remember what I said earlier? (MATH ALERT!!!) Amperage is the result of wattage divided by voltage. This can be represented by the West VirginiA law (Watts=Volts x Amps): W=VA So we have a 1K light were in California, in the US, so we assume 100 volts and we need to see how many amps were running. 1000 (for the 1K light) = 100 (volts) x (a) 1000 = 100 (a) 10 = a SO! Each 1K light is 10 amps. If 1K is 10 amps then 500Watts is 5 amps (500 = 100 (a) ). You cant just go and plug in two 1Ks into a 20amp circuit, though, because in reality, youre rarely if ever dealing with totally clean circuits. Theres probably a computer or clock or coffee pot somewhere running on that circuit (which is drawing amperage) so you should never push any circuit to its limit if you can avoid it. In this case, youd be better off plugging one 1K and one 500W into one circuit and running extensions to other circuits for the another 1K and 500w and a final circuit for the final 1K. This means to run all your lights you need power from three offices in this building or three SEPARATE circuits (its important to understand that just because you plug the light into a different wall outlet, it may still be on the same circuit). All in all in this scenario youre running a total of 4500 watts (1K + 1K + 1K + 500 + 500), which is a total of 45 amps so you know youll need to utilize three 20 amp circuits to power your lights (the amperage rating is the MOST you can put on that circuit you can put whatever minimum you want. You COULD run every light to its own circuit, but there is no need). MORE MATH!!: You see why we assume 100 volts in the US? First off because it makes the math easy, second if youre working ahead of me if we use 120 volts, then a 1K fixture (1000 = 120 (a) ) is actually 8.33 amps. When we use 100 volts not only does it make the math easier, but it means were OVERESTIMATING the amperage draw and building in a little extra safety factor (by assuming 10 amps per 1000watts instead of 8.33 amps)

Watts = volts x amps = West VirginiA (W=VA) This applies to anything electrical you need to run. If you look on the bottom of anything electrical there will be a sticker telling you the voltage necessary to run the device and the wattage of the device. For example, a Sony PD-150 camera (sitting next to me) has the following information on the power pack: AC IN: ~ 100-240V 50/60Hz 23W This means this camera can run on voltages from 100V to 240V (but remember the voltage for the particular area of the world is relatively constant (in areas of Europe the standard is 220-240 as opposed to the US at 100-120) at 50/60 Hz (this is the cycles of electricity per second US=60Hz, Europe=50Hz not necessary to know for this info) and most important 23W. The PD-150, when plugged in, is 23Watts. 23 = 100 (a) The PD150 draws .23 amps. (not even of an amp). You DO need to consider everything electrical youre plugging in: lights, cameras, sound, props, food service, make-up/hair, etc in your calculations. Things that generate heat (coffee pots, hair dryers, lights) tend to have higher wattages than things that dont (cameras, sound gear, monitors, etc) Remember the by-product of electricity is heat. Without fuses and breakers in place, if you were able to run 60 amps on a 20 amp circuit, you would literally overheat the circuit, melt insulation on wires and, very possibly, cause a fire. To be safest, remember the West VirginiA law (W=VA) or even easier every 100 watts is 1 amp and youll keep the location owners much happier and have a safer and more efficient shoot.

were out in full light for safety experts to see and, suddenly, the cat was out of the bag for film and video. In the late 80s, the National Electric Code, publication 70 from the National Fire Prevention Association, which is the basis for state and federal safety laws, began to govern the film and video industry. NFPA70 NEC chapter 520 deals specifically with motion picture and similar installations. A lot of leeway is still given to the film and video business because whatever we do, it's only for temporary installation. The codes are much stricter on cables and hardware that are sealed permanently behind walls and in ceilings and floors than they are on temporary uses. Although the chances are very good that your adherence to the NEC Chapter 520 will never be called into question, it does establish a bare-minimum safety guideline that everyone should follow. One of the things that is governed by the NEC is the amount of amperage you can put through an individual conductor. Wire sizes are measured in gauges. In the US, our system is the AWG or American Wire Gauge system. Gauges are even numbers with the lower the number, the larger the cable and the higher the ampacity it can handle.

The chart above is a visual representation of wire sizes, gauges and the ampacities for each gauge. Ampacities differ depending on what source youre looking at and what usage for the cable, but these ampacities are those listed in the NEC with regard to the maximum overcurrent rating for a circuit (meaning this is the maximum safe load for these gauges). How do you know what gauge you're working with? Good question! Well, luckily, all cables and wires are identified. On every cable is a series of numbers and letters giving you all sorts of information about that cable.

In the examples above you can see the identification information on three different cables and, below that, a sample of information you'll find on cables. The "UL" stands for Underwriter's Laboratories, which is a listing facility that denotes this piece of electrical hardware has passed rigid safety testing. The "12/3" tells you the AWG (sometimes it lists AWG before it), which in this case is 12, and the number of conductors in that cable. "/3" means that there are three wires in that cable. Most likely a hot, neutral and a ground. Each wire is individually insulated and then wrapped together in an outer insulation. The SJOW is the cable type. Each letter means something. It's not really important what the letters mean, but it is important to understand the types of cables that are "approved" for use in film and video: G, S, SC, SCE, SCT, SE, SEO, SEOO, SO, SOO, ST, STO, STOO, PPE & W. Notice that "SJ" is NOT in the list above, although you see it in the example photo. The "J" in SJ is a designation for light jacket, or light insulation. These are, typically, the orange extension cords you buy at the hardware store. Officially speaking, these are not approved for use in film in video as we're much too harsh and demanding on our equipment. That doesn't mean that you'll be arrested if you use the orange SJ extensions, but it does mean that you should avoid them if you can. Following the letter designation is a temperature rating this is the highest environmental temperature that the cable can safely operate in. Generally this is designated in degrees Celsius. Finally, sometimes there is an alternate cable type designation. All the information you need about that cable is right there on the outer insulation. Be sure you're working with cables and extensions that are of a sufficient gauge to handle your total ampacities. Remember the West VirginiA law (Watts = Volts x Amps) for calculating the total number of amps you're pushing through a single cable. Obviously the cable or extension that runs from one lamp or device to an outlet is only drawing the amperage for that light, but if you have things plugged into a multitap or a powerstrip, you need to calculate everything plugged into that tap or strip to calculate the amperage draw on that cable. Make sense? So now that we've covered the elements of electricity, calculating loads, understanding how to read cable ampacities and limitations let's delve even further! Woo-hoo!

PART III We're going to discuss the components of standard single-phase electricity (what makes up more than 90% of the electrical situations that you'll find yourself in). To get into this, we need to understand how a circuit works and how direct current (DC, batteries) differs from alternating current (AC, standard wall power). Without delving into a huge history lesson, as electricity was being considered on a large scale to power homes and cites, a battle raged between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison over which was better: direct current or alternating current. In short, Edison won, and alternating current is our means of commercial and residential electrical power while direct current is used in batteries. Let's take a quick step back to high school science class and discuss how electricity works. All matter consists of atoms and inside the atoms is a nucleus, which has protons (positively charged ions) in it. Orbiting the atom are electrons (negatively charged ions). Together the protons and electrons cancel each other out so that the atoms have a neutral polarity; neither positive nor negative. The electrons orbiting the atom do so in fixed orbits and in all material that can conduct electricity, there is always a "free" electron that is an electron all by its lonesome in the outermost orbit. This lonely electron can be easily dislodged, which then affects the polarity of the atom, making it positive. The atom doesn't like this state of imbalance so it grabs a free electron from its closest neighbor. Now the neighbor is imbalanced and that atom grabs an electron from its neighbor and so on down the line. This transference of electrons is called Electromotive Force - otherwise known as current or voltage. A byproduct of all these dislodged electrons is heat. Now all conductors have this free electron to facilitate electromotive force; that's what makes them conductors. The best conductors are metals: gold, silver, copper and aluminum (in that order). Insulators those materials that do not have a free electron and thereby resist electromotive force are: dry air, ceramics, wood, rubber and plastic (in that order). It's lucky for us that dry air is the best resistor to the flow of electricity or we'd all be dead! Not all elements that have free electrons (and are therefore good conductors) are metals. Hydrogen has only one proton and one electron and that electron is easily dislodged. Of course two parts Hydrogen, one part oxygen is water which is why water is a pretty good conductor of electricity. Water is also what makes up 80% of the human body, which, unfortunately, makes the human body a pretty good conductor of electricity. The key to avoiding using your body as a conductor is to avoid completing a circuit with your body. We'll get into how that works now. In direct current, which is primarily used in batteries now, you have one cell which is positively charged (+) and one cell which is negatively charged (-). When the two are connected, it creates a flow of electrons from one to the other. The device situated between these cells, allowing the flow of electricity through it, will be powered by that flow of electrons. If it's a lightbulb, the flow of electrons through the filament will create heat and light from heat. Direct current is a closed system. You must have direct contact with both the positive cell and negative cell for a circuit to be complete. The voltage in a direct current circuit will remain consistent, but in the case of batteries, it will diminish over time and usage until there aren't enough free electrons to move from one cell to another to power the device. Alternating current is another story. In alternating current the flow of electricity in a single conductor alternates from positive to negative many times a second. In the United States, this happens 60 times a second (60Hz or Hertz or cycles). It is a smooth transfer from positive to negative in a sinusoidal pattern:

Above is a visual representation of alternating current. The wave pattern represents the alternation between negative (lower end of the horizontal bar) and positive (higher end. Between the two gray vertical lines is the representation of what happens in one cycle (1/60 of a second in the US) where the current makes a full cycle from neutral to positive to neutral to negative and back to neutral. This alternating flow in a single conductor is what makes AC a much more efficient system to transport over long distances. It is also easier to step-up or step-down the voltage in alternating current to quickly compensate for voltage drop over those long distances and be more precise about the voltage delivered to your home or workplace. Since you have both positive and negative current in a single conductor in AC, you only need one more element to complete a circuit: a connection to ground. You need a place for this flow of electricity to go and, the earth, is a great absorber of electricity. Any connection to ground will provide path for the flow of electrons and complete the circuit. We use a "neutral" for this in standard single phase electricity. The neutral is, quite literally, just a wire that is connected back to the earth.

Above is a visual representation of an alternating current circuit. You have the hot line (represented here in the standard wiring color of black) connected to a device (here a simple lightbulb) and your have the neutral (represented in standard wiring color of white) which connects the device to the ground. This completes the circuit and allows the flow of electricity through the bulb, lighting it up!

Now the neutral is not to be confused with a ground wire. The ground and the neutral are, for all intents and purposes, exactly the same thing, but the ground is provided as a safety. Electricity is lazy. It will follow the path of least resistance. Let's say you have a light fixture on a metal stand outside something that often happens in film and video. Now you have your hot leg providing electricity to the fixture and your neutral allowing a path for the electricity back to the earth to complete the circuit. But in AC your hot leg provides both positive and negative flow in a single conductor so any connection to the earth will complete the circuit. Let's say that, inside the fixture, the insulation on the hot wire has worn away and the wire is touching the metal of the fixture. Now the metal of the light fixture will conduct electricity, just like the wire will. You come along and touch the light and, since you're standing on the earth and you (being 80% water) are a fairly good conductor of electricity you form a pathway for the flow of electrons and they will flow right through you. In a best-case scenario this is a painful, uncomfortable experience. In the worst-case scenario, this will kill you. A ground wire is not connected to the circuit at all. The ground is a wire that connects to all the metal parts of the device that you're working with and links it back to the earth (to the same place the neutral goes). Now, if that hot wire comes in contact with the metal of the fixture, the ground wire is actually a better conductor than you are and, as electricity is lazy and will follow the path of least resistance, the electricity will flow down the ground and not through you. A ground is intended to act as a neutral in the event of a failure to avoid electrocution.

## So let's look at the components of a single phase electrical circuit:

In the diagram above you have your hot (current carrying) line, which alternates between positive and negative 60 times a second (in the US, 50 times in Europe); you have your neutral, which provides a path for the flow of electricity to ground. Between the hot and the neutral you have a potential (in the US) of 120 volts. Remember that voltage, while being somewhat of a constant, does fluctuate. 110, 115, 120, 125 and 130V are all representations of the same thing. If you look at the diagram, you also have a potential between the hot and the ground of 120V, but the ground is not connected to the hot at all. It is connected to all the metal parts of the fixture/device so that if in the event of a failure or problem the hot comes in contact with any of the metal parts of the device, the ground completes the circuit so that your body doesn't have to. Notice that the potential between the neutral and ground is 0V as neither of them are current-carrying components unless they're completing the circuit with the hot leg. The coloring of the components above is standard: black = hot, white = neutral and green = ground. Hot can also be red or blue. In some situations you can run into a multitude of colored wires that represent hot legs, but black, red and blue are the most common. Ground wires, in addition to being green, can also and have no insulation on them at all and be just bare copper or aluminum wiring. Now that you've survived the last three blogs on electricity 101 on Friday we'll start to put this into practical action and learn how to understand what you're looking at in each location you shoot, how to protect yourself and, the following week, we'll start to cover how to make your own!

PART IV The previous three Blog entries lead us up to the next couple where we get to discuss practical applications of your newfound electrical knowledge and start making some toys. Applying what we've covered thus far, I'd like to take a peek inside the walls of a typical building and show some practical examples of electrical power and distribution.

Above we have a typical small sub panel for a single apartment unit in Los Angeles. At the top you'll see the main hot legs feeding in from the main breaker panel (A). These two red and black wires are slightly larger than the rest as they're a smaller gauge to handle to total ampacity of the box (80 amps) while each of the individual wires for the circuits only need to handle the ampacity of that circuit (20 amps).These connect to the bus bars (B not visible in this photo) which are merely metal bars that conduct the electricity and the breakers connect to them. Each breaker (C) represents a single circuit feeding the outlets, switches, lighting and appliances in the apartment. Each breaker has a single "hot" wire (D notice the colors, black, red, blue) coming out of it feeding the apartment. The electricity travels from the main feeds to the bus bar to the breaker to the "hot" wire to the apartment. The breaker sits between the bus bar and the "hot" wire feeding the apartment and if "tripped" or turned off, the breaker cuts the flow of

electricity between the bus and the wire so that the power is turned off in the apartment downline of that circuit. You can think of it like a river. The main feeds are the big waterfall at the start of the river. Then the bus bar is a length of river that the water flows down freely. Then we put a dam (breaker) into the river with gates in it that open or close to allow or stop the flow of water to the apartment. Off to the side is the neutral (E) and ground bus bar (F). The white wires are the neutrals and the green are the ground. Each breaker (circuit) has its own neutral. In this configuration there is only one common ground. Often each circuit will have its own ground, but that is not the case here. Now each circuit feeds several receptacles, switches, lights and appliances in the apartment. Once you get inside your area, each outlet doesn't have its own special circuit, but rather several outlets are sharing a circuit. What makes it frustrating is that there is no particular standard for how circuits are divided. You could be in one room that is all on the same circuit or one wall of that room could share a circuit with another room and the rest is on a different circuit. How do you know what is wired where? Well, you've got to test. One way to do this is to have one person in the area and one person at the breaker box and have open communication between them. With a simple lamp plugged into an outlet one person watches the lamp while the other starts switching off and on breakers to until the lamp goes off. This is an effective method but it's a brute-force method that can have repercussions: namely every breaker you're shutting off is shutting off anything downline of that breaker which could be clocks, appliances, computers or worse. It's best not to go into a location and start willy-nilly switching off power. So how do you know what circuit is what? With a circuit tester, of course!

This tester is available from Zircon.com. These inexpensive devices are lifesavers. They're available at most any hardware or electrical supply store. It's a two part system: one part, the locator, plugs into the wall and another part goes with you to the breaker. You adjust the frequency on the finder by turning a knob and touching the finder to the face of the breakers one at a time. When the finder stops on the breaker feeding the circuit that the locator is plugged into it makes a noise. Now you know which breaker feeds that plug. Mark it however you need to identify that circuit, move the locator to another plug and repeat. This is the least invasive method for determining circuit distribution. Now the next biggest piece of information you can get from this box is the size of the breakers, therefore the size of the individual circuits. It's written write on the breaker. In this case, they're 20 amp breakers. That means each circuit can have 20 amps on it, total. Typically you'll find either 15 or 20 amp breakers per circuit in most residential and commercial locations with standard Edison plugs (we'll discuss those on Tuesday). Now you understand the distribution of the circuits better, know how the electricity is working; know the components of it and how to track down the individual circuits. You also know how to calculate your loads so you're not over taxing a circuit (so you don't blow the breakers) and you're in pretty good shape!

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All of these supplies, excluding tools, ran me \$14.71. You'll start by cutting the extension cord's ends off. You want to cut them about 12 inches from the ends so you have the plug and socket in two separate pieces with about a foot of extension still attached.

This will give you one 12 inch length with a male plug and one 12 inch length with a female plug. You can throw away the cable from the middle or save it for use some other time. Notice that inside the main orange insulation of the cable there are three separate wires (green, white, black). Next, you want to cut away the main orange outer insulation ONLY from about 3 inches from the cut end on each side of the cable. This exposes the three wires inside. This is VERY tricky to do without cutting the insulation on the individual wires you ONLY want to cut the orange. Using a razorblade and cutting very carefully helps. I used the wire strippers, but you've got to be very careful. You do not want to cut the green, white or black insulation.

Do this on both orange cables. Now, using the wire strippers, you'll strip away the insulation on each of the three wires about 1 inch to expose bare wire. Do this on all three wires (black, white, green) on both cables.

When you're done with all that you'll have three wires, each stripped 1 inch on both pieces of cable. Next up, take the single-gang EMT box that you bought and pop out one of the punch outs (if you bought the outdoor box, you won't have to do this, the holes will already be there). You'll need to tap it loose with a screwdriver (pushing in like a soda can top) then wiggle it until it breaks off. Some are much harder than others, but it breaks off eventually.

Feed both stripped ends of the wires into the hole. Now one end of each 12 inch wire is in the box and the other is sticking out.

You'll now start connecting wires inside the box. Pay special attention here. Start with the white wires. Put the two white wires (one from each orange cable) together, give them a little twist and then slip them in the wirenut. Twist the wirenut on and make sure it's on snug give it a little tug and make sure it doesn't pull off.

Now the two white wires are connected together, get out your dimmer from the package. Look on the back of the dimmer. IF it has a green wire (some don't), then you'll connect that green wire with the other two green wires (one from each side of the orange cable) twist all three together and twist the wirenut on. If the dimmer doesn't have a green wire (or it could be bare wire, which you should connect in as if it were green), then don't worry just connect the two greens from the orange cables together and put the wirenut on.

Now the dimmer has two black wires coming out of the back of it. Connect ONE black wire to ONE of the black wires from the orange cables (doesn't matter which one). Twist them together and put on the wirenut.

Next do the same thing with the other black wire. Connect the ONE remaining black wire to the ONE remaining black wire from the orange cable (it doesn't matter which black wire on the back of the dimmer is connected to which black wire from the orange cables just so long as each black wire from the back of the dimmer is only connected to ONE of the black wires from the orange cables the other black wire from the back of the dimmer is connected to the other black wire from the orange cable). Each wire from the back of the dimmer is now connected to each of the orange cable lengths. Now you have FOUR connections all greens together (2 or 3 wires in one nut), all whites together (2 wires in one nut), one set of blacks (2 wires in one nut) another set of blacks (the other 2 wires in one nut). Now, tuck the wires inside the box.

Using the two screws that came with the dimmer, screw them into the holes in the EMT box (it will line up perfectly).

Now put the faceplate on and secure it with two screws and push the knob onto the peg.

And you're done! Now you've got a hand squeezer dimmer you can hook up to incandescent lights (not fluorescent) and dim them up and down. This is great for practical lights on a real location. Cheap and handy!