On Saturday night, we did an event in Waikiki, at an outdoor lawn space. Part of the festivities was a couple of balloon bouncers. Now, we do not rent out balloon bounces (just a whole new world of insurance issues there! but that’s another story…), but I have a decent idea of how they work and how they are powered. Simply, a motor-powered air blower is hooked up to a vinyl inflatable of some size and shape. The blower pushes air into the inflatable, causing it to – obviously – inflate. Filled to capacity, the inflatable is now ready for use in jumping, bouncing, or otherwise cushioning some active kids (and adults too, sometimes!).
But if the power is cut, the blower stops blowing, and the inflatable, well, isn’t inflated anymore. That’s what happened tonight. Two blowers were hooked up to the same power source, and at some point in the event, blew out the power (bad pun so definitely intended!). Essentially, it tripped the circuit. Now, some people may groan when a circuit gets tripped, but what they may not realize is that is the best thing that could have happened given the circumstances. A cicruit trips becauase there’s too much power current running through the electrical wires. That’s normally caused by a unit (or units) pulling (or asking for) too much power. Doing this causes more power to course through the lines than the insulation can handle, and the copper wires inside heat up tremendously, burning through the insulation and causing – you guessed it – a fire! The circuit trips because the system recognizes the potential danger and cuts the power instead of allowing it to continue and causing an electrical fire. Bet you’ll be more thankful the next time the power trips off when you plug the toaster in with the hair dryer, huh??
Well, tonight it did trip, and most times, guests are not thankful that a fire wasn’t part of their near-future plans… they are just surprised or upset because they suddenly end up in the dark.
So, to avoid this negative situation, I think most event people (which INCLUDES people who are attending or will be hosting an event), should be at least vaguely familiar with how power works, on a really really basic level. So here we go:
Power courses through insulated wires into your normal outlets. Each outlet is either 15 amps or 20 amps. Amps measure the strength of electricity. They relate to watts, which are the standard unit of measure for light bulbs, blenders, and almost any other electrical device. You can always find the “wattage” of an item on the box or the unit itself.
Now, to convert watts to amps, I normally suggest thinking of it as currency or cash. Think of an amp as $1.00, and a watt as a penny. Simple math does the rest.
So for example, say you have ten lanterns on a string, and each has a single 60-watt light bulb. That means you have about 600 watts (pennies) on the line, or 6 amps (dollars). Furthermore, that means you are only using anywhere between 30-40% of the outlet, depending on if it’s a 15 or 20 amp circuit. Voila! You can now calculate power usage, power needs, and … solve power problems.
In tonight’s case, the venue was worried that by resetting the power, and plugging back ANY of the bouncers, they would blow the power again. They didn’t want to do it just for safety (in case children got trapped in the bouncer). But in the meantime, while we ran an extra generator to save the day, er, night, that meant our client was without a major form of entertainment for their birthday party event. After doing some quick math and problem solving, I figured that the problem was most likely that the bouncer vendor had plugged BOTH bouncers into the same outlet, causing them to eventually trip the circuit. The key word being “eventually”. You see, if it happened immediately, that probably meant that the cord heated up TOO fast, causing a short circuit right away. A huge surge of power. But since it happened almost 2 hours into the event, I surmised that each of the bouncers probably only took up maybe 10-11 amps. Together they probably just barely maxed out the power limit of 20 amps. So, I asked the venue to please consider resetting the power but only plugging in ONE of the bouncers for the time being. That way the client would at least get ONE of the two games going, and the venue would probably not have to worry about blowing the power again.
Bingo. Perfect solution. Everyone was as happy as they could be, given the circumstances. And it was all due to some quick math, and knowing a little about power.
Now that’s some knowledge you can really take to the bank.