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I have a 240V relay that uses a 120VAC coil. When I switch power to the coil, the relay makes a faint humming sound. It isn't very loud, and sounds like a transformer almost. A normal speaking voice or small fan in the room is enough to drown it out, to give you an idea of the volume.

To be clear, this isn't a situation where the coil isn't getting enough power and contacts open and close rapidly (described as "buzz" in other questions). I have verified that the voltage is correct, and I have observed that the armature is still (not vibrating) when the coil is getting power.

So I am wondering if I have a bad relay, or if this is normal for AC relays, which I haven't used before. I am used to 12VDC relays for the record.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Most certainly the coil is run with just a rectifier thus "feeling" the ripple. \$\endgroup\$
    – PlasmaHH
    Sep 7, 2018 at 14:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PlasmaHH I don't understand. I am a software dood, a total noob when it comes to electricity. \$\endgroup\$
    – A.R.
    Sep 7, 2018 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is the shading pole effect of an AC Relay which draw 2x power of DC relay or more. (Normal) But contacts must snap for long life from short arc duration. So get the right Relay \$\endgroup\$ Sep 7, 2018 at 15:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TonyEErocketscientist You said that in your answer too, but what do you mean "get the right relay"? Also, what does this have to do with a rectifier? \$\endgroup\$
    – A.R.
    Sep 7, 2018 at 18:26

3 Answers 3

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enter image description here

Figure 1. Source: Machine Design.

The relay coil, when energised, pulls in the armature to actuate the contacts. Since the coil is powered by alternating current the magnetic field collapses to zero at each mains crossing and the armature tends to start to release. Its inertia is high enough that the contacts remain actuated long enough to maintain contact through each zero-cross of the mains.

The buzz is normal. It is caused by the vibration of the armature on the yoke on each half cycle.

Just a note on relay terminology: "I have a 240V relay that uses a 120VAC coil" is a little confusing. "I have a relay with 240 V contacts and a 120 V AC coil" would be clearer.


Update:

Spehro and Tony's answers both address the use of 'shading' poles on the armature to help maintain force during zero-cross. This in turn will reduce the vibration.

enter image description here

Figure 2. The yoke of an AC 'contactor' (high-powered relay generally used for AC motor circuits, etc.) showing two shaded poles. Image source.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ nice photo's @T \$\endgroup\$ Sep 8, 2018 at 8:30
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AC-coil relays use a shading ring that helps smooth out the force from the varying field. Photo from this website.

enter image description here

The shading ring acts as a shorted turn that causes an out of phase current so the total field does not drop to zero. It still varies though.

It's normal for AC-coil relays to hum acoustically at a multiple of mains frequency. They can excite resonances in mechanical bits causing the noise to become objectionable. Large industrial contactors can make quite a racket.

DC-coil relays do not generally hum noticeably even when carrying AC (though if the contact currents are very large there can be some effect from the magnetic fields.

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This is the shading pole effect or moving iron type enter image description hereof an AC Relay which draw 2x power of DC relay or more. (Normal) But contacts must snap for long life from short arc duration.

If " I have verified that the voltage is correct," then disregard/// get the right Relay.

Everything sounds normal.

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    \$\begingroup\$ what do you mean, "get the right relay"? How is it wrong? \$\endgroup\$
    – A.R.
    Sep 7, 2018 at 15:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Relays are like cars. Sure, they all do the same basic thing, but do you want to drive a tiny two-seater, or a big 4x4 off-roader? Any relay will work as a relay. For how long depends on picking the right one. \$\endgroup\$
    – rdtsc
    Sep 8, 2018 at 2:31

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