Monday, July 1, 2013

Thunderstruck from the Cloud

So there we were enjoying this weeks Family Movie of "Fiddler on the Roof" when all-of-a-sudden a lightning bolt stuck so loud it shook dishes in the house and all our UPS devices cried themselves awake from their year long slumber.     Power was restored after a few seconds, our Roku TV suddenly stopped, I could smell a faint smell of smoke, and thus began our new life without internet.

Needless to say there was a brief moment of panic at the smell of smoke, but years of electrical  experiments led me to recognize the distinct smell of "magic" electrical smoke and calmed everyone down saying that it was probably just a component blown in an electronic device.

I started to take mental inventory of what I thought could go wrong and what was indeed wrong.   I have installed many home automation / av systems spanning almost 15 years and learned long ago to install a whole house Surge Suppressor  everywhere I go.   Other than the a temporary (I thought) knock-out of the Roku nothing else seemed awry.

I assumed we would survive the experience unscathed, but the lingering smell of burnt capacitors was telling me otherwise.  I headed to my AV closet where I then saw my Ubuntu Server Monitor with a "disconnected icon" on the tray indicating something terrible has happened with my wired network.  I glanced at my primary gigabit switch and found the link lights pulsating with weird levels of intensity that I had never seen before indicating this one has seen its last days.  Following the path I looked at the Asus RTN-16 router no longer indicated any ethernet link lights.   Going a little further noticed the Timer Warner Ubee modem was completely dark without a single glowing indicator of life and a faint trail of smoke rising from its vent.  Overall, I was surprised to see that the surge could travel from the Coax into and across my CAT5 network destroying everything in its path.

With the knowledge now that lightning had entered my house via the Coax cable carrying my internet signal, I was still puzzled as to how it got around ground block located in the service box.  Well the next morning I found the answer to that question real quick.   The cable running from the service box into the house was obviously added (not to code) by the previous home owners as it ran along the edge of the house, behind a gutter, and into a crawlspace vent.   Upon inspection of this coax wire I found that were it had touched the gutter it was a fusion of exploded metal and charred plastic.  Evidently the lightning must have struck the gutters / water in them and decided to make the leap into my Coax to get to ground.  
I re-ran a new RG6 line from the service panel into my electrical closet, bought a new cable modem, replaced the switches and router, however, the signal strength isnt good enough to link up now.  This is indicating to me that something may have happened beyond the service box on my house.   Feeling defeated I called TW for a service appointment which by now is already booked out till Sunday evening.

It made me realize just how much of our life was on the cloud now: No Internet, No VoIP home phone, No Streaming TV service, No Movies, No Music, and No online gaming.   At least our board and card games still work ;)

1 comment:

  1. Never assume that previous owners of your house, or even the builders of a new house, knew what they were doing when it comes to the electrical system and communications wiring. I live in a late-1950s tract house. When I opened up the walls some years ago to stuff fiberglass insulation batts into the stud cavities (yes, the house was built with NO insulation in the walls), I found the electrical service panel ground wire lying in one of the cavities, along with a brass clamp, near the water pipe to which it was supposed to connect. Maybe the lunch whistle blew just when the electrician was supposed to hook the wire up, or they paid the building inspector off with a fifth of Jack Daniels' finest. The situation was corrected by driving a 10-foot ground rod outside near the panel and running the grounding wire directly to the rod, instead of hoping and praying that the plumbing system was adequately connected to earth. I also encountered a situation where I was unable to get an expensive GFI circuit breaker to work on the bathroom circuit. Later, while opening another wall, I found the cause: Either the builder or some later "weekend warrior" homeowner had tied the neutral line of the bathroom outlets into the neutral line to the kitchen outlets, so every time the refrigerator compressor came on, it caused a ground fault.