Practical Considerations of Transformer Heat and Noise

Unwanted electrical effects //

In addition to unwanted electrical effects, transformers may also exhibit undesirable physical effects, the most notable being the production of heat and noise.

Practical Considerations of Transformer Heat and Noise
Practical Considerations of Transformer Heat and Noise (photo credit:

Transformer noise is primarily a nuisance effect, but heat is a potentially serious problem because winding insulation will be damaged if allowed to overheat. Heating may be minimized by good design, ensuring that the core does not approach saturation levels, that eddy currents are minimized, and that the windings are not overloaded or operated too close to maximum ampacity.

Figure 1 - Large power transformers are submerged in heat dissipating insulating oil
Figure 1 – Large power transformers are submerged in heat dissipating insulating oil

Large power transformers have their core and windings submerged in an oil bath to transfer heat and muffle noise, and also to displace moisture which would otherwise compromise the integrity of the winding insulation.

Heat-dissipating “radiator” tubes on the outside of the transformer case provide a convective oil flow path to transfer heat from the transformer’s core to ambient air (Figure 1 above).

Max. operating temperature rise //

Oil-less, or “dry,” transformers are often rated in terms of maximum operating temperature “rise” (temperature increase beyond ambient) according to a letter-class system: A, B, F, or H. These letter codes are arranged in order of lowest heat tolerance to highest:

Class A

No more than 55o Celsius winding temperature rise, at 40o Celsius (maximum) ambient air temperature.

Class B

No more than 80o Celsius winding temperature rise, at 40o Celsius (maxi- mum)ambient air temperature.

Class F

No more than 115o Celsius winding temperature rise, at 40o Celsius (maxi- mum)ambient air temperature.

Class H

No more than 150o Celsius winding temperature rise, at 40o Celsius (maxi- mum)ambient air temperature.

Phenomenon of Magnetostriction //

Audible noise is an effect primarily originating from the phenomenon of magnetostriction: the slight change of length exhibited by a ferromagnetic object when magnetized.

The familiar “hum” heard around large power transformers is the sound of the iron core expanding and contracting at 120 Hz (twice the system frequency, which is 60 Hz in the United States) – one cycle of core contraction and expansion for every peak of the magnetic flux waveform – plus noise created by mechanical forces between primary and secondary windings.

Again, maintaining low magnetic flux levels in the core is the key to minimizing this effect, which explains why ferroresonant transformers – which must operate in saturation for a large portion of the current waveform – operate both hot and noisy.

Heavy load //

Another noise-producing phenomenon in power transformers is the physical reaction force between primary and secondary windings when heavily loaded.

If the secondary winding is open-circuited, there will be no current through it, and consequently no magneto-motive force (mmf) produced by it. However, when the secondary is “loaded” (current supplied to a load), the winding generates an mmf, which becomes counteracted by a “reflected” mmf in the primary winding to prevent core flux levels from changing.

These opposing mmf’s generated between primary and secondary windings as a result of secondary (load) current produce a repulsive, physical force between the windings which will tend to make them vibrate.

Transformer designers have to consider these physical forces in the construction of the winding coils, to ensure there is adequate mechanical support to handle the stresses. Under heavy load (high current) conditions, though, these stresses may be great enough to cause audible noise to emanate from the transformer.

Conclusions //

Noise is a common phenomenon exhibited by transformers – especially power transformers and is primarily caused by magnetostriction of the core. Physical forces causing winding vibration may also generate noise under conditions of heavy (high current) secondary winding load.

Reference // Lessons in AC electrical circuits (Download Handbook)

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About Author //


Edvard Csanyi

Edvard - Electrical engineer, programmer and founder of EEP. Highly specialized for design of LV/MV switchgears and LV high power busbar trunking (<6300A) in power substations, commercial buildings and industry fascilities. Professional in AutoCAD programming. Present on


  1. Engr Abubakar Ango
    Aug 12, 2015

    I really must commend Edvard and the rest members of his team for sharing resourceful resources with us his colleagues all over the world

    Aug 03, 2015

    According our experience, in some kind of TR structure the coil noise will be louder than core noise.

  3. Imran
    Aug 01, 2015

    Nice very informative.

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