Event Electrical Distribution

Posted 9/16/21

“We just turned on the lights in the tent and they blew out our circuit” or “I turned on the popcorn popper and it and our bounce house don’t work anymore.” We get these calls about every month or so. Clients want to blame the equipment for “shorting out” or some other malfunction. Our first question is: “Is the piece of equipment plugged into it’s own circuit or is it sharing a circuit?” The answer usually indicates that multiple pieces are plugged into different outlets but all the outlets are in the same room or on the same wall outside. Everyone knows what an outlet is: that thing on the wall, usually 2 of them right together that you get electricity from. A circuit is usually a group of outlets in the same general area. When you go down to your electrical panel, if you’re lucky, the circuit breakers will have writing to identify them, something like “2nd Floor hallway” or “Kitchen outlets”. That means that all the outlets on the 2nd floor hallway or in the kitchen are all on the same circuit. So when our instructions say “Needs its own circuit” that means nothing else that will be turned on can be plugged into any of the outlets in the kitchen or on the 2nd floor hallway. Most residential circuits are 15 or 20 amps. Than means if you plug in an operate equipment with a combined load of greater than the breaker, it will “trip” and all of the power on the circuit will be interrupted  until the breaker is reset. Every piece of electrical equipment has a rating as to the number of Amps it requires. Simply add up all the items that will be plugged into the circuit you’re planning to use. If it adds up to greater than the breaker rating, you need to find an additional circuit. Much of the equipment we rent needs 10-12 amps. Things like popcorn poppers, cotton candy machines, frozen margarita machines, coffee pots and bounce house blowers all fall into the category. That means if you have 2 or even more, the total amps required is greater than 1 or even 2 circuits can handle.

Many times we will set up a tent complete with lights, fans and other equipment. We will test the circuit with everything running. We usually let everything run for several minutes. The amps drawn by a piece of equipment will vary as it runs, usually needing more amps at start up than once it gets running. After we’re sure the circuit can handle everything, we leave it to the customer to turn on what is needed when it is needed. That’s when the “lights” blew out the circuit. Everything was working well, including the caterer’s coffee pot, but it was the lights that tripped the breaker. We didn’t know to test the circuit with a coffee pot on it at the same time. The moral of the story is: find out just how many electrical appliances etc need to be running for your event. Then find out which outlets are on the same circuit, how many circuits you have and how far they are from the space you’re using for the event. You may need some long extension cords or possibly a generator for everything to run without interruption.