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  1. #1
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    When a HomePlug network suddenly stops working




    BEST PRACTICES

    When a HomePlug network suddenly stops working

    By Lincoln Spector

    What do you do when your home network suddenly dies? If you're like me, you waste time and money replacing devices that don't need to be replaced.
    But if you're smart, you'll read about my misadventures in network troubleshooting and learn from my mistakes.

    The full text of this column is posted at WindowsSecrets.com/best-practices/when-a-homeplug-network-suddenly-stops-working/ (paid content, opens in a new window/tab).

    Columnists typically cannot reply to comments here, but do incorporate the best tips into future columns.

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    Powerline Adapter shortcommings

    Have Powerline Adapters changed? My previous experience with them was that they will only work on the same AC circuit. That is, on the circuit that shares the same circuit breaker. I've tried several, and they would only work with outlets on the same breaker.

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    That depends. Some homes are zoned, which means that the wiring from one area of the house has absolutely no electrical continuity with the wiring from other areas of the house. My house is not like that. Everything interconnects inside the main electrical box. No discreet zones. So powerline should work throughout the whole house. Also, my house has the old fuses, not breakers, making powerline even more likely to work throughout the whole house.

    Bottom line seems to be, modern breakers and zoned electrical circuits can prevent powerline from being continuous throughout a house. This is especially common in big houses. And some of this depends on local electrical code requirements.

    By the way, if your Powerline signal interferes with a neighbor's signal, or with broadcast TV or radio reception, you are required under FCC rules to modify the network so as to stop interfering, if you are asked to do so. The same goes for longer-range Wireless-N networks which may be interfering with your neighbors' Wi-Fi.

    And appliances (especially microwave ovens) and wireless phones (not cell phones, but the ones with a base station and a wireless handset) can interfere with not just Wi-Fi, but sometimes also with AC powerline ethernet. So can any electrical noise or irregularities, even those originating from outside your house. In my neighborhood, this can even happen when neighbors use power tools, or when contractors are using temporary electrical hookups for teardowns and other construction projects.

    With DSL over phone lines, we had to install filters on every phone outlet to filter out DSL interference with our landline phone service.

    All kinds of issues with these sorts of technologies!
    Last edited by bobprimak; 2013-01-24 at 07:18.
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    I have read somewhere that Christmas tree lights can cause problems, especially the flashing ones.
    Not sure if it was only wifi that they interfere with or Homeplugs as well.

    Considering the timing of your problems, it might be worth looking into.

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    Thanks for the feedback. My house is apparently zoned with seperate breakers. I had problems with an inhome intercom system. It too wouldn't work unless both units were on the same breaker. It used the ac wiring for communications.

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    The Old Ones Are The Best (I don't mean you, Lincoln!)

    Like all good stories, this was a joy to read (even if not new).
    To answer your question "So what can you learn from this?", I learned that it still seems best to do what I did years ago which was to put the Powerlines where they belong - in the trash can - and wire up everything with Ethernet.
    Happy New Year,
    Bill Martin, UK

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    Quote Originally Posted by bobprimak View Post
    That depends. Some homes are zoned, which means that the wiring from one area of the house has absolutely no electrical continuity with the wiring from other areas of the house. My house is not like that. Everything interconnects inside the main electrical box. No discreet zones. So powerline should work throughout the whole house. Also, my house has the old fuses, not breakers, making powerline even more likely to work throughout the whole house.

    Bottom line seems to be, modern breakers and zoned electrical circuits can prevent powerline from being continuous throughout a house. This is especially common in big houses. And some of this depends on local electrical code requirements.
    Bob, you may know the answer to this question. And apologies to all if this is considered a different topic.

    I have a friend who wants to put an extension to his landline phone in the next house. I am considering wireless phone jacks:
    (http://www.ehow.com/how_8746454_inst...ck-phones.html)

    Do wireless phone jacks have to be on the same electrical circuit, or is connectivity established some other way?

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    Are any power supplies within three feet of an adapter? If so, you should know that the specification for radio interference for such supplies is such that they not interfere with other devices that are more than three feet away.

    I recently moved an IP camera. I prefer to use homeplug rather than Wi-Fi simply because all my neighbors now have Wi-Fi and there is at least some interference on every available channel. The camera refused to communicate with the rest of the network. ALL I did was use a short extension cord to move the camera's AC adapter further away from the the homeplug adapter. BINGO! Communication was restored and the camera has been working 24X7 for several months.
    Jim Johnson
    Michigan's Lake Superior region
    How much snow do we have now?
    Visit Agate Reef

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    Great Article!

    I've used this kind of power-line technology for the past twenty years. Here are a couple pointers:

    1. Linc mentioned his problem began around Christmas. I wonder if anyone got new musical instruments that plug in? I've had this problem many times - in an effort to keep powerline noise out of the instruments, the makers put filters in their power supplies which wipe out the signal - both on the instrument side and the power line side! Unplug the gadgets one at a time watching the signal strength lights and you'll figure out which one is causing the problem. Plug the offending instrument into a surge-protecting power strip and you'll be fine.

    2. Most homes have 220v coming in from the street. This actually comes from a 220v center-tapped transformer on the pole. You have three wires coming in. One is a return, or ground which is the center tap. There is 220v across the other two, and 110v from either of these two to ground. Here's the issue: half of the recepticles in your house are most likely fed by one of the wires coming in, the other half by the other wire. This means that if you have a HomePlug in a recepticle fed by one wire; and another HomePlug fed by the other wire - the signal must go all the way out to the transformer at the street and back again. So if one of your HomePlugs has a really poor signal, try it in another outlet and maybe then both will be on the same wire. For some powerline technologies like X-10 and Insteon you can actually purchase a "bridge" that echoes the signal between the two wires, but I haven't seen anything like that for HomePlug.

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    I was working on this post when rbaer posted above. His point #1 is a good point! And his point #2 would be an example of the "must be on same circuit" I mentioned below.

    Although I'm not actually an electrician, I have spent many years as a remodeling contractor updating residential wiring or adding new work. I also have an old friend who is spent his entire working life as a licensed electrician who educated me along the way. I can add a little to this conversation.

    Quote Originally Posted by bobprimak View Post
    That depends. Some homes are zoned, which means that the wiring from one area of the house has absolutely no electrical continuity with the wiring from other areas of the house.
    I am unfamilar with any residence that would have zero continuity with other parts of the house.

    All houses are "zoned" to the degree that the wiring serving various areas and specific functions of the house are broken up into circuits, which are then individually protected by circuit breakers or, if the house is very out of date, fuses. However all circuits should then originate in (typically) one main panel. In some houses, partial updates and expansions lead to additional "main" or "sub" panels being installed. If your house is a "McMansion" you may have more than one main panel originally. The difference between a "main" or "sub" panel would be that a "sub" panel is fed through a circuit breaker or fuse in another panel, whereas a "main" panel is fed directly from the electric meter.

    The entire house is in turn fed from a transformer, which converts much higher voltage electricity from the power company down to TWO, DISTINCT 110V feeds to your house to give you 220V power for things like air conditioning, etc. These two 110V feeds share a common neutral (return) conductor, which gives them a form of continuity with the other 110V feed - back as far as the transformer. Your house shares the transformer with anywhere from one to several other houses (or small business). If your house is fed underground you can't visually see who is sharing your transformer (big humming box, often in a neighbor's back yard), but if your feed is aerial you can just go look at the wires coming from the transformer on a nearby power pole (big canister hanging up there).

    Effectively, all buildings that feed from the common transformer have continuity with each other - which is why a neighbor's power saw, etc. can sometimes be noticed at your house. You won't ever notice it if they aren't sharing the transformer with you however. If you DO notice a power flux as a result of power use from a non-shared transformer, there may be a problem with the power company's grounding system.

    Many of the Powerline technologies, including intercoms, consider all buildings sharing a transformer to "have continuity", and so can suffer conflicts due to this. Good instruction manuals should mention it. I once installed an intercom in my own house that amazingly picked up my neighbor's intercom as though it was my own house. Slim odds that we would happen to install the same technology, not so slim that we both left it on the default channel (at first).

    But depending on the particulars of the Powerline technology used, it may be designed as anything from "all houses on the transformer" continuity, to "must be on the same circuit breaker". And it will generally be one or the other: if it works across circuits in your house, it likely "sees" the sharing houses. Do keep in mind that by saying "Powerline technology" I simply mean any tech that uses the high voltage (110V) building wiring for connectivity. I haven't studied Powerline specifically.

    In Lincoln Spector's case, the fact that moving the base unit to the kitchen "fixed" it makes me suspect the circuit breaker protecting his home office. Lincoln said: "Something within the electrical system of the house (especially an old house) can be deteriorating and cause interference." In fact, the ONLY thing in an electrical system that can be expected to deteriorate is a circuit breaker (I'll avoid a discussion of the main "house ground", which can corrode eventually). If anything else in an electrical system is "deteriorating", you have a potential house fire brewing! Breakers do deteriorate over time (especially in damp or corrosive conditions), and before failing they can hum which could cause a Powerline technology to fail. They also can begin to "nuisance trip".

    Lincoln, I would verify that your office is on a different circuit than the kitchen (nearly guaranteed - it's been National Code for decades) and then consider swapping out the breaker that protects the office circuit. That is, if it becomes important enough to you.

    Keep in mind that although you're unlikely to come into contact with 220V, 110V is enough to kill so take appropriate precautions or don't do it yourself! Never use your "spare" hand to lean on the panel case or accidentally ground yourself (put one hand in your pocket when not needed), and wear rubber boots or stand on a mat.

    Hope someone was interested enough to get through this,
    Mike
    Last edited by Laughing1; 2013-01-24 at 18:26.

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    Red face

    Since your home network was working and then stopped, the scenario I'm about to describe probably isn't your problem, but it is another factor to consider with powerline modulation systems. In your breaker panel you have a 240 volt input that is divided into two 120 volt groups. Down the middle of the breaker panel is the neutral buss. Down the left side of the box is the left buss and down the right side of the box is the right buss (my terms). The voltage between either the left or right buss and the neutral buss is 120 volts. The voltage between the left buss and the right buss is 240 volts. The breakers on the left side and those on the right side form two 120 volt groups. You will see that 240 volt circuits require two breaker slots so they can span from the left buss to the right buss. Powerline carrier signals often can't traverse between the two sides unless you provide a capacitive bridge between them. This can be done in the breaker box or with a special plug that you plug into a 240 volt outlet.

    Oh duh! I see that this is about the same thing the previous post was saying...
    Last edited by RLeB; 2013-01-27 at 01:28.

  13. #12
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    Laughing1 posted:

    But depending on the particulars of the Powerline technology used, it may be designed as anything from "all houses on the transformer" continuity, to "must be on the same circuit breaker". And it will generally be one or the other: if it works across circuits in your house, it likely "sees" the sharing houses. Do keep in mind that by saying "Powerline technology" I simply mean any tech that uses the high voltage (110V) building wiring for connectivity. I haven't studied Powerline specifically.
    I pulled out this paragraph from the long post. I didn't know it was something inside the adapter which determines whether it sees all circuits up to the transformer or just one circuit back to the breaker. This sounds plausible, and so Lincoln may indeed be suffering only from one breaker which has worn out or is about to wear out. Definitely it should be verified and replaced if this is indeed the case.

    What doesn't add up to me is that from various online descriptions, I think Powerline Ethernet adapters do see clear back to the transformer in most residential situations, and they can interfere with neighboring houses with the same adapters. Just an impression I have -- no specific references on this. Still, even if this is the case, if one adapter location includes the bad breaker while the other location does not, the same effect would occur as if the unit were only seeing back to the breakers.

    I learn a lot in these forums.
    Last edited by bobprimak; 2013-02-08 at 09:01.
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