Many homeowners believe adequate surge protection begins and ends with plugging their computer into a power strip. Unfortunately, that’s seldom the case.
First of all, not all surge protectors live up to their name; some are little more than glorified extension cords. Second, a surge will follow any wire into a house – phone and cable lines included –and threaten computers, televisions, satellite systems, and modems. And third, delicate electronic circuitry has proliferated throughout our homes, leaving common appliances as vulnerable as computers to the effects of surges. Power surges are responsible for millions of dollars of property damage each year, and, over time, they can cause cumulative damage while decreasing the lifespan of TVs, computers, stereo equipment, and anything else plugged into a wall outlet. Being educated is the key to choosing the best surge protection for your home.
Two Types of Surges
A power surge may last for only a few millionths of a second, but at it’s worst, it carries tens of thousands of volts, enough to fry circuit boards, crash hard drives, and ruin DVD and home-entertainment systems.
Lighting induced surges have highest chance of causing damage and striking fear in people. A 200,000-amp jolt crashing through a power line will burn standard 20-amp wiring like a lightbulb filament. But a lightning strike has to be less than a mile from the house to cause harm, and in fact most surge-related damage is not caused by lightning.
Far more common are surges caused by downed power lines, sudden changes in electricity use by a nearby business, or even the cycling on and off of electronics such as dryers, air conditioners, refrigerators, and other energy-sucking devices in the home. The damaged inflicted by these minor power fluctuations can be instantaneous – but may not show up for some time.
A Line of Defense
One of the most effective ways to protect your property is a two-tiered approach. A service-entrance surge protection device reduces power surges to a lower level that protects large appliances, such as your stove or clothes dryer, while point-of-use surge protectors defend your sensitive electronics. A surge protection device mounted at your home’s main electrical panel or the base of your electric meter protects equipment inside your house or business from surges coming through “ports of entry,” such an outside electric, telephone, and cable TV or satellite dish line.
Point-of-use surge protection devices do not suppress or arrest a surge but divert it to ground. They are designed to protect your sensitive electronic appliances, like a computer, and resemble a regular plug strip. However, do not assume your plug strip offers surge protection unless it specifically says so. You can also install special electrical outlets that offer surge protection, which can be helpful in places like kitchen countertops.
Yes. Many electrical devices have electronic timers, clocks, or remote controls that remain in operation even when it is not in use. Also, some appliances cycle off and on at random and they could be on during a surge.
Because electronics have become increasingly sophisticated and, as a result, more sensitive. Even slight power surges can shorten lifespan of DVRs, game consoles and computers. And now, even refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers are full of sensitive microprocessor circuitry take makes them as venerable to surge damage as home computers and LED televisions.
Most people have insurance to cover replacing damaged appliances, but there is no compensation for the inconvenience in replacing these appliances, such as a refrigerator or its contents. Surge protection is an investment that reduces the risk of such unpleasant experiences. The cost can be recovered simply in protecting against just one catastrophic impulse that might destroy or damage appliances in a modern home.
No. The reaction time of circuit breakers in your electrical service panel are much too slow. Circuit breakers are designed to protect the wiring in your home from over current. It is the over voltage that is blocked by the surge protector.
No. Surge protection devices are designed to “stand by”, waiting to block any unusually high voltage. They do not provide uninterruptible power. If a lightning strike somewhere downline causes a circuit breaker on the distribution line to trip momentarily then you will see your lights blink off for a moment while the circuit breaker resets. The surge protector will have protected your appliances for any possible voltage surge but not from the brief interruption of power.
Only an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) can step in to maintain the voltage during a “blink” or a brief outage. A UPS backup power supply is highly recommended for your home computer, even your satellite receive or DVR. Affordable models are available at office supply stores and online retailers. They are sold based on the load, or combined wattage, of the appliances they will power. Smaller models may provide uninterrupted power for just a few short minutes. More expensive units, with greater battery capacity, can power appliances longer. These units also have built in surge protection.
A surge arrestor acts like a trapdoor to divert excess electrical energy (sometimes called over voltage, transients, or surges). Unwanted bursts of electricity are diverted to the trapdoor because it is a low-impedance path to ground. The trapdoor is a metal oxide varistor (MOV) which automatically activates when the voltage exceeds a certain level, safely diverting most of the excess energy to the ground.
When the over voltage or transient is over, the MOV automatically resets and is ready for the next one. It is important to note that with lightning or other fast acting impulses, the leading edge of the impulse will pass the first MOV, even as the majority of the surge is racing to, and through, the trapdoor, hence the need for a second stage Point-of-Use arrestor inside the home or business.
Meter-base devices go between the electric meter and the meter box on the outside of the house and it takes minimal installation times. Because it is installed behind the meter, a trained Victory Electric representative is required to install the unit.
While a home surge arrester can be extremely effective tool to protect a home from transient voltage, it is highly recommended to use “point of use” surge protectors inside a home to further protect electrical equipment from the damaging effects of transient voltage. As mentioned above, transient voltage can enter a home a multitude of ways, so if by chance the transient voltage enters from a point other than the main service entrance, using point of use surge protectors will give you peace of mind that you are protecting your electrical equipment to the best of your ability.
No, though they do handle the most frequent and destructive ones. Very few people with both a meter-base (whole house) device point-of-use device have suffered damage.
However, there are many variations of power disturbances, and you can’t handle all of them with just surge arresting, even with point-of-use arrestors with filters used inside.
No. Nothing is a complete guarantee from a direct lightning strike. No product on the market can effectively handle such a high level of energy.