Shedding light on brownouts

Power outages can be a minor inconvenience if you're downloading a song - or writing an article - but it's the brownouts that are the real problem. Those little glitches can cause hefty bills.

Power outages can be a minor inconvenience if you’re downloading a song – or writing an article – but it’s the brownouts that are the real problem.

Those little glitches can cause hefty bills because most electronics aren’t designed to withstand that kind of instability, and these days everything from coffee-makers to fridges have digital components.

Replacing a burned-out circuit board on an oven, for example, can cost upwards of $500.

And brownouts are hard to defend against.

The average surge protector just isn’t designed for low-voltage fluctuations, so they don’t offer much protection, said Martin Lehner, the owner of Iditarod Designs, an IT company.

“Something like a power bar will protect against surges; an over-voltage situation like a lightning strike,” he said.

Which is why many power bars offer equipment guarentees up to $30,000, Lehner added.

It’s really rare for big surges to get past a power bar.

Small fluctuations in amps and voltage are much more common than a full-blown blackout, which is why Lehner and his company suggest that sensitive electronics be hooked up to both a battery backup and a line-voltage regulator.

“If it’s only a little bit, like five volts, the UPS (battery backup) won’t necessarily notice that and switch over to the battery, so that’s why we always recommend a line-voltage regulator,” he said.

At $100 a piece, those devices really aren’t that expensive when compared to a $1,500 plasma TV or sound system, added Lehner.

Last year there were 106 power outages across the territory. A little more than a quarter of those were planned by the utilities for scheduled maintenance. The rest were caused by everything from snow to squirrels.

But that number doesn’t include brownouts, because no one tracks those numbers.

“A lot of people think that the electrical system is this very sophisticated beast that communicates with us all the time; it does not,” said Laura Carlson, spokesperson for Yukon Electrical. “The way we find out that there’s a brownout or even a power outage, unless it affects one of our buildings directly, we have to wait until a customer calls us.”

Brownouts can be caused by any number of things, she said.

“It could be the frequency of the electricity coming through the system, it could be an interference on the actual line itself, it could be power-quality issues, but that’s really rare,” said Carlson. “It happens everywhere.

“Down south it’s lightning and wind. We don’t get so much of that here – we get the critters and the trees.”

In many cases, it doesn’t actually knock the power out, but it disrupts the flow, she said.

“That’s a phase power outage, so it means one part of the electricity that’s coming into your home is disrupted but the other part of the lower-draw appliances work,” said Carlson. “People would be calling and saying things like, ‘My fridge isn’t working but the lights are still on in my house.’

“The electricity system is a complicated beast.”

Yukon Electrical recommends that homeowners install a surge protector right on their electrical panel.

“They’re not hugely expensive, a couple hundred dollars, but compared to what you’re protecting in your home, it’s a well worthwhile investment,” she said.

Contact Josh Kerr at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

During our recent conversation, John Nicholson showed me snapshots of his time working on the Yukon riverboats 70 years ago. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: Yukon man relives the riverboat days after seven decades

John Nicholson took summer work on Yukon steamers in the 1950s

A city map shows the property at 107 Range Road. The zoning is now in place for developers to proceed with plans for a Dairy Queen drive-thru. If plans proceed on schedule the new restaurant is anticipated to open in October. (Cyrstal Schick/Yukon News)
October opening eyed for Dairy Queen

Will depend on everything going according to plan

NDP candidate Annie Blake, left, and Liberal incumbent Pauline Frost. (Submitted photos)
Official recount confirms tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin riding

Both candidates Pauline Frost and Annie Blake are still standing with 78 votes each

Artist’s rendering of a Dairy Queen drive-thru. At its April 13 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved a zoning change to allow a drive-thru at 107 Range Road. Developers sought the change to build a Dairy Queen there. (Submitted)
Drive-thru approved by Whitehorse city council at 107 Range Road

Rezoning could pave the way for a Dairy Queen


Wyatt’s World for April 14, 2021.… Continue reading

Joel Krahn/ Hikers traverse the Chilkoot Trail in September 2015. Alaska side.
The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer

The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer Parks… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at city council matters for the week of April 12

École Whitehorse Elementary Grade 7 students Yumi Traynor and Oscar Wolosewich participated in the Civix Student Vote in Whitehorse on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Yukon Student Vote chooses Yukon Party government; NDP take popular vote

The initiative is organized by national non-profit CIVIX

Yvonne Clarke is the newly elected Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek Centre. (Submitted/Yukon Party)
Yvonne Clarke elected as first Filipina MLA in the Yukon Legislative Assembly

Clarke beat incumbent Liberal Paolo Gallina in Porter Creek Centre

Emily Tredger at NDP election night headquarters after winning the Whitehorse Centre riding. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Emily Tredger takes Whitehorse Centre for NDP

MLA-elect ready to get to work in new role

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Two new cases of COVID-19 variant identified in territory

“If variants were to get out of control in the Yukon, the impact could be serious.”

Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

Most Read