I have noted the reprint of the N.E.C. (National Electrical Code), Article 450-4 in the question covering autotransformer overcurrent protection. Could you explain this article in detail by citing an example?

An example of an everyday application is always a good way to explain the intent of the “Code.”

Example: A 1 kVA transformer Catalog No. T111683 has a primary of 120 x 240V and a secondary of 12 x 24V. It is to be connected as an autotransformer at the time of installation to raise 208V to 230V single phase.

When this 1 kVA unit is connected as an autotransformer for this voltage combination, its kVA rating is increased to 9.58 kVA (may also be expressed as 9,580 VA). This is the rating to be used for determining the full load input amps and the sizing of the overcurrent protect device (fuse or breaker) on the input.

Full Load Input Amps Formula

When the full load current is greater than 9 amps, the overcurrent protective device (usually a fuse or nonadjustable breaker) amp rating can be up to 125 percent of the full load rating of the autotransformer input amps.

The National Electrical Code, Article 450-4 (a) Exception, permits the use of the next higher standard ampere rating of the overcurrent device. This is shown in Article 240-6 of the N.E.C.

A buck-boost transformer is suitable for connecting as an autotransformer. What is the definition of an autotransformer and how does it differ from an isolation transformer?

An autotransformer is a transformer in which the primary (input) and the secondary (output) are electrically connected to each other.

An isolation transformer, also known as an insulating transformer, has complete electrical separation between the primary (input) and the secondary (output).

This is illustrated in the drawing below:

AutoTransformer vs Isolation Transformer

An autotransformer changes or transforms only a portion of the electrical energy it transmits. The rest of the electrical energy flows directly through the electrical connections between the primary and secondary. An isolation transformer (insulating transformer) changes or transforms all of the electrical energy it transmits. Consequently, an autotransformer is smaller, lighter in weight, and less costly than a comparable kVA size insulating transformer.
Please refer to this question for additional information on autotransformers.
Buck-boost transformers are frequently field-connected as auto transformers.

When a buck-boost transformer is connected as an autotransformer such as boosting 208V to 230V, the kVA is greatly increased. What is the procedure for determining the size (ampere rating) of the overcurrent protective device such as a fuse or circuit breaker?

The National Electrical Code Article 450-4 addresses overcurrent protection of autotransformers. A copy is reproduced below for easy reference.
450-4. Autotransformers 600 Volts, Nominal, or Less.

  • (a) Overcurrent Protection. Each autotransformer 600 volts, nominal, or less shall be protected by an individual overcurrent device installed in series with each ungrounded input conductor. Such overcurrent device shall be rated or set at not more than 125 percent of the rated full-load input current of the autotransformer. An overcurrent device shall not be installed in series with the shunt winding (the winding common to both the input and the output circuits) of the autotransformer between Points A and B as shown in  diagram 450-4.
NEC 450-4 diagram
  • Exception: Where the rated input current of an autotransformer is 9 am peres or more and 125 percent of this current does not correspond to a standard rating of a fuse or non-adjustable circuit breaker, the next higher standard rating described in Section 240-6 shall be permitted. When the rated input current is less than 9 amperes, an overcurrent device rated or set at not more than 167 percent of the input current shall be permitted.
  • (b) Transformer Field-Connected as an Autotransformer. A transformer field-connected as an autotransformer shall be identified for use at elevated voltage.

Buck-boost transformers are almost always installed as autotransformers. Does the N.E.C. (National Electrical Code) permit the use of autotransformers?

Yes. Please refer to N.E.C. Article 450-4, “Autotransformers 600 Volts, Nominal, or Less.” Item (a) explains how to overcurrent protect an autotransformer; item (b) explains that an insulating transformer such as a buck-boost transformer may be field connected as an autotransformer.

Are buck-boost transformers as quiet as standard isolation transformers?

Yes. However, an auto-connected buck-boost transformer will be quieter than an isolation transformer capable of handling the same load. The isolation transformer would have to be physically larger than the buck-boost transformer, and small transformers are quieter than larger ones.

(Example) 1 kVA — 40 db; 75 kVA — 50 db. (db is a unit of sound measure).

Do buck-boost transformers present a safety hazard usually associated with autotransformers?

No. Most autotransformers, if they are not of the buck-boost variety, change voltage from one voltage class to another.

(Example 480V to 240V) In a system where one line is grounded, the user thinks he has 240V; yet due to the primary and secondary being tied together, it is possible to have 480V to ground from the 240V output. A buck-boost transformer only changes the voltage a small amount, such as 208V to 240V. This small increase does not represent a safety hazard, as compared to a buck of 480V to 240V.

Buck Boost Safety

Why is the isolation transformer kVA rating shown on the nameplate instead of the autotransformer kVA rating?

The kVA rating of a buck-boost transformer when auto connected depends on the amount of voltage buck or boost. Since the amount of voltage buck or boost is different for each connection, it is physically impossible to show all of the various voltage combinations and attainable kVA ratings on the nameplate.

A connection chart showing the various attainable single phase and three-phase connections is packed with each unit.

Why are buck-boost transformers shipped from the factory as insulating transformers and not preconnected at the factory as autotransformers?

A four winding buck-boost transformer can be auto connected eight different ways to provide a multitude of voltage and kVA output combinations.

The proper transformer connection depends on the user’s supply voltage, load voltage and load kVA. Consequently, it is more feasible for the manufacturer to ship the unit as an insulating transformer and allow the user to connect it on the job site in accordance with the available supply voltage and requirements of his load.

What causes transformer noise, and how can it be eliminated?

Q: I am planning a new job which requires a 300 KVA, 3Ø transformer, several 25 KVA, 1Ø transformers and a 30 KVA, 3Ø transformer. This is essentially the same type of installation which our firm completed a year ago. In this installation we received numerous complaints about transformer noise. What causes transformer noise, and how can it be eliminated on the new job?

A: Transformer noise cannot be eliminated. It can, however, be reduced through proper design and assembly, and/or masked through proper consideration of the installation.

The basic cause of transformer noise is magnetostriction: the expansion and contraction of the iron core (laminations) due to the magnetic effect of alternation current flowing through the transformer coils. This produces an audible hum. Magnetostriction may be partially controlled by the transformer design, but it cannot be totally eliminated.

The fundamental sound frequency is twice the power line operating frequency of the transformer (i.e., a 50 Hz transformer produces sound at 100 Hz and a 60 Hz transformer produces sound at 120 Hz). In addition to the fundamental frequency, harmonics are also produced.

Since the average office environment is about 50 decibels, depending upon the equipment within the office, the location of a 300 KVA transformer in such an area would produce complaints. The 5 decibels (50db vs. 55db) difference between the normal office ambient sound level and the maximum sound level of the transformer may not seem significant; however, it is recognized that a 3 decibel increase in sound level measurement represents a doubling of the actual sound level, so the 5 decibel increase becomes quite large.

As this example shows, even a well designed transformer can be a problem if it is located without consideration of its surroundings. Transformer noise can be brought under control through proper installation. The following guidelines will help assure you of an acceptable installation.

  1. The maximum sound level of the transformer to be used should be compared with the estimated ambient of its location. If it is higher than its estimated ambient, the unit should be relocated.
  2. When installing transformers in “people areas”, such as office buildings or motels, plan to have at least one “non-people” room between the transformer and the “people area”.
  3. The mounting surface for a transformer should not amplify the sound level. A general rule of thumb is the mounting base (such as a concrete floor) should weigh at least 10 times as much as the transformer.
  4. A corner location should be avoided since the sound will be reflected out into the room.
  5. Don’t mount unit on thin walls, such as plywood or curtain walls. They amplify the noise.
  6. The manufacturer’s installation instructions should be followed so that any vibration suppression devices incorporated in the transformer design are utilized.
All Acme transformers operate at sounds levels below NEMA standards and each unit, 30 kVA and larger, is shipped from the factory with vibration isolation pads to help assure you of the quietest installation possible. Encapsulation greatly suppresses noise in units under 30 kVA, and vibration isolation pads are not required.