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Old April 1st, 2007, 12:18 PM   #1
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Household power-how much of can I use?what's a good alternative?

I don't wanna cause one of those infamous "once in a decade" New York blackouts, so I'm nervous to plug any of my lighting equipment into my household outlets. How many professional lights can I "safely" run on household current? Let's say I had a wattage of 3500 to 45000 or more Watts to run. What if it ain't even an option in my case, what is the alternative, especially when I'm out on location? What is the route to go? What generators, batteries, etc., can I get? How much money do these cost? Thank you in advance.
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Old April 1st, 2007, 12:43 PM   #2
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This thread will get you started. There's also a lot of generator discussion, just do a search. http://www.dvinfo.net/conf/showthread.php?t=86850
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Old April 1st, 2007, 01:16 PM   #3
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The discussion that Boyd points to is good.

A few words of caution bear repeating: Just because household and commercial wiring is supposed to be up to code you can NEVER ASSUME that it is. Don't assume that there are "standard" 20 or 15 amp breakers. Find the panel and look and may sure you understand what you are looking at.

In many older homes or buildings you may discover a maze of revisions or add-ons to distribution panels. You can never be completely sure that all the work was done properly esp. in rural areas. You'll see bizzare combinations or fuses and breakers. You will find things like doubled circuits, for example, upstairs and downstairs recepticles wired in the same circuit on the assumption that the upstairs outlets would never be in use at the same time as the downstairs circuits (my house was wired this way, codes are still a relatively new idea in rural PA). You will find grounds wired improperly and sometimes not at all. Older breakers may not live up to their full rating under load (so Amps x Volts may not actually equal the watts you are going to actually be safe with). etc. I have been knocked on my butt more than once by "neutrals" that were hot.

If you have to ask if it's safe it isn't.

Last edited by Peter Wiley; April 1st, 2007 at 01:19 PM. Reason: spelling
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Old April 2nd, 2007, 12:08 PM   #4
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Just in case that 45,000 watt number was not a typo -

Once you get above 6-7K watts, it starts to get impractical to run off of house power. There are always exceptions, of course, but in most locations, it gets hard to find more than 4-5 standard household circuits within easy stinger range of your set. After that, I almost always go to a generator rather than a tie-in. This gives you lots (up to 200,000 watts) of nice clean power for your lights, and it leaves the location power available for the flock of electrical things on set. And, of course, you can always double or triple up your generators if you need more juice.

For your 45K watt shoot, you would want at least a 50K watt generator and three-phase distribution. Figure $450-$500 plus fuel for the generator and another $250-$300 for basic distribution cable and boxes. And don't forget a tow vehicle. A 50K watt genny can be pulled by an average sized SUV or pickup. Those numbers are per day rate, and you can always deal based on length of the week and length of the shoot.

Your milage may vary, void where prohibited by law :-)
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Old April 2nd, 2007, 12:42 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Ralph Keyser View Post
For your 45K watt shoot, you would want at least a 50K watt generator and three-phase distribution. Figure $450-$500 plus fuel for the generator and another $250-$300 for basic distribution cable and boxes. And don't forget a tow vehicle. A 50K watt genny can be pulled by an average sized SUV or pickup. Those numbers are per day rate, and you can always deal based on length of the week and length of the shoot.

Your milage may vary, void where prohibited by law :-)
Thanks for the extra info, Ralph. Although, I was really talking about a 4k to 5k wattage. Perhaps there'll come a day when I actually will need 45K...lol wow!
I don't think I'll be needing more than 5000 Watts any time soon, but I sure know that I can only get is 2000 Watts max, so my dilemma remains unsolved (and maybe insolvable) 'cause the fact is I can't be operating a fume emitting Power Generator inside the apartment. I mean, I live in Uptown Manhattan, for godssake. I really don't know what to do. If the shoot were outdoors, I'd be set with a Honda Generator, but indoors, I'm F#@*d.
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Old April 2nd, 2007, 04:09 PM   #6
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Is that 2000w max off one circuit? That wouldn't be surprising at all and very typical. If it's several instruments adding up to 2000w, did you try spreading around the lights on some other circuits in the house and still reach the 2000w max? Can you partner up with someone else that has a better electrical situation and shoot there?
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Old April 2nd, 2007, 04:27 PM   #7
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"but indoors, I'm F#@*d."

Not necessarily - I'd plug in some small lights in each receptacle in the apartment that you might be able to use - then find the breaker/fuse box (hopefully it's breakers) and switch one breaker off; check to see which lights went off, they are all on the same circuit. Then turn that breaker back on and do the next one - keep notes. Eventually you'll know which breakers control which outlets, as well as what other devices (heaters, toasters, etc) are on those breakers.

If there are no LARGE loads on a breaker (like a toaster, heater, microwave) then you can probably be safe in using at least one 1 kw light on that circuit - but NOT on any OTHER receptacles that use this same breaker.

If your power system is reasonably up to date, it should be safe to run a 1 kw load per breaker - if there are too many OTHER things on that breaker, it should trip the breaker. A small space heater draws typically 1250 to 1500 watts, so if you can get away with using a heater in an outlet then you can substitute a light of equal wattage.

At 120 volts, 10 amps = 1200 watts - so even an un-loaded 120 volt receptacle that's on a separate 20 amp breaker could IDEALLY only supply 2400 watts - in reality, you'll be lucky to get 2000 watts because a breaker, as it ages from use, gets "tired" and will trip at lower currents.

Also consider that you can draw at least TWICE the current a breaker is rated at for a VERY short time (as in, milliseconds) - but as you get closer to the breaker's trip point, less time is required for the breaker to trip because breakers actually trip on HEAT, not current. When there's been enough current flow through the breaker to heat it up to it's trip point, it should trip.

After said lights have been on for a few minutes (check again after an hour) feel around the outlet cover with your fingers (don't touch any bare metal) and if it's getting more than slightly warm to the touch, STOP.

If you have ANY doubt whatsoever about doing this, by all means DON'T - call a licenced electrician instead. Death tends to be fairly permanent... Steve
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Old April 3rd, 2007, 01:48 PM   #8
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How is the building wired? Is it a common breaker panel somewhere or does each apartment have it's own panel? Before you shoot, you need to know where, or who to call, when you trip a breaker. If you do this long enough, you will trip one (or in my case a bunch).

Speaking in broad generalizations, the kitchen is usually on a separate circuit, and most times there is a separate circuit to the bathroom, and then a circuit for the living spaces. To be conservative, I plan no more than 1800 watts per circuit in residential spaces unless I know otherwise. Even so, those 3 circuits should handle just over 5K watts. Just be aware that that's everything, so no refrigerator, no water bed heater, no blow dryer for the makeup folks, and no power to the producer's laptop.

Another option that we've used before is to run cable to the neighbor's apartment. A little cash (like $50 or $100) can work wonders in getting access to additional breakers.
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