House Of Worship

Building A Vibrant Worship Space Part 4

Power for lights, sound and video.

Power. We all want it. We can’t live without it. Unlike other countries, the US is a blessed nation and, often, we take our 24/7 power (electricity) for granted. But, although we typically have consistent power on a daily basis, the fact is, not all power is created equal. There are many challenges with power that we should understand; then, we should help house of worship (HoW) leaders understand as they begin to build a vibrant worship space. Here are a few key issues that I believe we should address when we work with HoWs: budgeting for power, dirty power, power surges and power sequencing.

Budgeting for Power: Should we depend on an electrician to design the power grid for our HoW? In my 30-plus years working with HoWs, I have found that leaders rarely develop a plan that identifies their current and future power needs. The reality is, they are busy helping their congregants navigate life in the 21st century. They are not thinking about the power required to drive the sound, lighting, video, HVAC, computers, printers, hot water heaters, parking lot lights and other items located throughout their campus. Accordingly, often, they fail to allocate the necessary funding to build the power grid that will provide electricity to all those components. In very general terms, I believe smaller HoWs should allocate at least five percent of their overall budget to power needs; medium, larger and mega-HoWs should allocate 15 percent to 20 percent of their budget to power design and installation.

I believe that we—the systems designers and integrators—should help leaders think through all the necessary items that will require power (currently or in the future), and then hire a master electrician to calculate the power requirements. Then, we should help the leaders, as well as the master electrician, understand where the power should be distributed. That is a huge task. But, doing that work during the planning stages will save huge amounts of money versus waiting until after construction has begun or it’s already complete.

Dirty Power: What is that annoying buzzing sound? One of the biggest problems in nearly every HoW is dirty power. For the purposes of this article, dirty power encompasses line noise, grounding, impedance issues, harmonic distortion and voltage volatility. Dirty power causes sound engineers more anguish and stress than any other issue. Most seasoned sound people have powered up a sound system then heard a horrible hum, buzz or hiss in the system. More often than not, those unwanted noises are caused by dirty power. The better sound equipment built today includes power supplies that can reject or clean up some of the dirty power. However, to achieve the best results, the power should be analyzed and cleaned up at the source by an experienced master electrician.

Power Surge: Why does equipment fail? Sometimes, the gear we purchase is cheap or bad. Other times, the reason our gear fails is that it was destroyed by a power surge. Power surges (over-voltage) are prevalent in older HoWs, but they can also be found in newer facilities. We certainly should use surge protectors to provide additional protection from over-voltage from lightning and other power surges. However, we should also monitor those surge protectors, because they can sustain only so much surge protection before they fail. When they fail, the next surge could destroy your gear. There are “smart” surge protectors on the market; when they’re down to 15 percent to 20 percent of surge protection remaining, they’ll shut off in order to protect the gear from incurring possible damage.

Power Sequencing: What was that loud thump? Volunteers don’t always understand the power-up sequence that is required in order to protect speakers from square waves that are emitted from a mixing board and processors on power up. An effective way to minimize that important concern is to purchase a power sequencer that provides power to your devices in a unique order. In simple terms, you plug the power cables of all your sound devices into a power strip (or a box) with numerous power plugs. You plug in your devices into the numbered receptacles, beginning with number 1. The mixing board should be the first to power up, followed by the audio processors and then the amplifiers (or powered speakers). Power down sequence is the reverse. First, the amplifiers (or powered speakers) turn off, then the processors and then the mixing board. Following that sequence reduces the opportunity for audio devices to damage the speakers.

Obviously, power is vital to the success of every HoW in the US that wants to use electronic technology to enhance the worship experience. Yet, power concerns are often neglected in HoWs. To address that problem, I believe that every HoW should plan, and then allocate the necessary funds to develop, a power grid that provides clean, stable electricity to every component on the campus. Being aware of the challenges with power, and helping all parties understand the need for abundant clean power, will better prepare HoW leaders to build a vibrant worship space.

That is what I believe. I want to know what you believe.

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