3

My insurance company is offering some members a Ting Fire device. This device claims to plug in to an outlet and detect electrical issues throughout the house. I know that we can only speculate how it works so I am trying to focus my question on how to emulate its claimed features with traditional testing tools like voltmeters or cheap oscilloscopes.

How can a single device plugged into an outlet detect problems on its own circuit? On other circuits?

Is it possible to emulate some of the stated features with traditional test tools? Some test cases like voltage spikes and surges would affect the entire home.

How are more isolated faults detected across circuits? For example can an arc fault on another circuit be detected with an oscilloscope or voltmeter? Can RF interference from certain electrical faults be detected with consumer grade test equipment?

10
  • 2
    If they have you pay for it, it is probably a scam. Go for it if insurance company gives you a discount for using it.
    – crip659
    Commented Jul 14, 2021 at 15:17
  • 3
    State Farm is sending sensors that can detect hazards in electric wiring to 40,000 homeowners in California, Arizona and Texas as part of a pilot project that will measure potential savings and customer acceptance. "customers who sign up for the project will receive a Ting sensor for free and up to $1,000 for electrical repairs if any problems are detected. The devices, manufactured by Whisker Labs, retail for $349. One Ting plugged into a wall socket can detect loose connections, damaged wires or faulty appliances." Commented Jul 14, 2021 at 15:20
  • 3
    Ting doesn't really state how this thing works but I'm going to guess it's along the lines of an arc fault detectors. Electrical arcs and sparks generate significant wideband RF noise that is relatively easy to detect. This device likely "listens" to your home's power and senses if there are arcs happening and sounds an alert if it finds something it doesn't like.
    – jwh20
    Commented Jul 14, 2021 at 15:30
  • 6
    Based on tingfire.com/customer-stories it seems to commonly detect arc faults. Arc faults can be protected against via AFCI breakers but if this device can provide any sort of diagnostic information such as time of day and load on the line then it could help to quicker pinpoint why the AFCI breaker tripped. If you don't have AFCI breakers then I can definitely understand why an insurance company would be promoting it. However, this is a double-edged sword because if you're notified about a problem but fail to fix it then that could be grounds for policy cancellation.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Jul 14, 2021 at 16:43
  • 9
    To me it sounds like Statefarm getting out of more claims, I had a barn roof collapsed from heavy snow they denied coverage because of a rented horse stall , so if you accept one of these devices expect a huge repair bill or canceled service. Renting a stall would be like having a room mate paying rent and the section of the roof had nothing to do with the horses it was where the hay, sawdust and tractor were stored
    – Ed Beal
    Commented Jul 14, 2021 at 17:20

4 Answers 4

4

You don't have to guess. On their website, it states that the Ting device detects the signals that are generated by electrical arcs. To do this with general purpose test equipment would not be easy and, as already pointed out, would require continuous monitoring. Again, on their website, they claim to use proprietary techniques to reliably detect these arcs. Because these arcs generate RF energy, they should be detectable by this device no matter which particular circuit is supplying its operating power.

6

TLDR: it is listening for arc faults

Have you ever hooked up a set of speakers with the power on? Are you familiar with the obnoxious crinkle-crunch sound they make when you do that?

That is the sound of arcing.

And I may seem flippant when I call electricity flow a sound, but the fact is, they are very tightly analogous -- that's why speakers are such simple things. Waveforms on a wire correlate directly to audible movement of the air.

Anyway, back to that sound. One of the most notorious fire-starters in electrical is arcing - a wire is making poor contact, and electricity is flowing only by jumping across a very close gap (microns) between conductors. This "jumping" creates a great deal of heat, and it damages the conductors further, making more and worse arcing more likely. And the high heat can cause all sorts of mayhem, especially inside plastic boxes which have poor defense from fire-starting (they will not sustain combustion themselves, but burn when heated by an outside heat source).

And that's what we're worried about.

Fortunately, that arcing makes exactly the "sound" I mentioned at the top: that distinctive crinkle-crunch.

And that "sound" transmits fairly well across the phase on the panel. So a "listener" in one location could potentially hear any activity on the phase.

Right now, there are AFCI breakers and receptacles which are capable of detecting that, and tripping to protect a circuit. Generally they are designed to detect arc faults on the downline circuit - however they do have a reputation for tripping based on arcs "heard" on other circuits on the phase.


So, that's what the gadget is doing. Unlike an AFCI breaker it cannot trip to protect the circuit, but presumably it is tuned to listen to more of the use.

One thing that puzzles me is how it manages to "listen to" both phases/poles on a typical US split-phase panel. They are connected only via 240V loads (which can't be counted on) and a transformer (which suppresses high frequency noise like "that sound"). Presumably they give you two of them, with some instructions on how to locate opposite phases/poles.

1
3

How does the device work? It may be somewhat analogous to the voice-controlled devices that are ubiquitous now. These work by making a recording of audio frequencies (say, a range of 200 Hz to 10 kHz) and processing the sound file. The Ting device may do something comparable but recording electrical "sounds" across a much broader frequency spectrum.

If you're familiar with a volt meter or oscilloscope you'll know that these are great for measuring steady DC signals or AC signals with nice periodicity. They're less helpful for non-periodic signals.

A spectrum analyzer might be useful in looking for broadband noise like that produced by an arc, but unless the arc is happening continuously it might be improbable to trigger the spectrum analyzer at the right moment to see it.

1

I did research on this kind of application in college years ago and I actually did use an AM radio as a base point for detecting electromagnetic signals generated by lightening and electrical arcs. The signals are standing wave patterns that be emitted through space or conducted down wiring and this also a means by which electrical devices are tested for industry compliance before manufacturing. Signals of this type are also generated by many other sources that appear as noise in this system. The Ting device would need to detect these signals and filter out unwanted ones, convert them to data and send this to the network so there is probably a fairly sophisticated algorithm for doing so. However, the human ear and brain is an amazing filter and an AM radio could be useful if you can tune to around 10KHz or so. A spectrum analyzer would also enable one to visualize these signals. AFCI breakers probably do the same basic job as the Ting except that they ony monitor branch circuits.

1
  • Ham radio operators see this all the time. In fact the last 2 winters here, the new neighbor put out his Christmas light display, and was causing all kinds of noise on the 80-40 meter bands. Modern ham radios have a frequency spectrum display, and it was all across the bands. If we had a power outage, the noise went away (my radio is off grid powered). When he took the display down the noise went away. Last year, he said there was an issue with one of his lighted reindeer that gave him a shock when he touched it. Once he took the that one out of the equation, the noise also went away.
    – Paul Reedy
    Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 2:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.