When we hear “surge protector,” we automatically think of the power bars we plug our desktop computers and printers into. We do not see them as useful tools beyond that. But it should be. Modern homes are way more susceptible to power surges than ever before, and in areas that were never at risk before. It’s time we take a look at surge protection as a viable tool in protecting some of our biggest investments.
How Do Surge Protectors Work?
A surge protector is a device that will limit the amount of voltage that passes through it to protect devices downstream in the event of a power spike or surge. The most common type of surge protector uses a metal-oxide varistor (MOV) to limit voltage. It is basically a very fast-acting switch that starts working at higher-than-normal voltages to safely limit the voltage it allows to pass.
It is worth noting that these types of surge protectors are self-sacrificing. Once the MOV reaches its rating, its done. That makes this type of surge protector disposable. These are still infinitely less expensive than new devices throughout the home. Trust me when I tell you that there are way more devices at risk than you think.
Surge Protection Is More Important Now Than Ever
I suppose the obvious question is why, now, are surge protectors so important? This question has a two part answer. The first part is simple. Our dependency on technology increases every time technology moves forward. The simple translation is that we just have more electronics in our lives. To prove it, I’ll go through a pretty typical house and all of the electronic devices that can be negatively impacted by power spikes and surges. Your fridge, dishwasher, microwave, range, TVs, PCs, printer, satellite receivers, stereo equipment, video game consoles, portable electronics (tablets, smartphones, laptops) while charging (even “wireless” charging), furnace, water heater and your water softener can all be ruined. Do you want to hear the bad news? Even your LED light bulbs and dimmers are at risk.
Quite simply, anything that plugs in and has a circuit board is at risk. Anything digital could be ruined. To increase energy efficiencies, the tolerances on electronics are tighter and tighter. This leaves little, to no room for voltage variances. This leads directly into the second part of the answer.
Because we have accepted an amazing amount of technology into our homes, we need an amazing amount of power to run it all. The utility needs to generate more and more energy and transport more and more energy. The power infrastructure across the country is dated and worn out. No one could have possibly predicted the current demand for electricity. This over-worked system can cause problems with distribution. This translates into poor, inconsistent delivery of electricity. So, while the utility is trying their best, their supply is not always the cleanest or trustworthy.
The Biggest Electrical Power Surge Culprit
Believe it or not, lightning strikes are not the biggest culprit for surges and spikes. If lightning hit your house, there aren’t enough surge protectors available to stop it from causing damage. If this is a legitimate concern of yours, you should be investing in lightning rods, not surge protection.
The biggest culprit for surges and spikes is your own home. You got it. We create and are responsible for over 80% of the electrical surges that our home electronics see. Your AC unit, your fridge and your freezer are the worst. The have very large compressors which cut in and out many times during the day. These compressors have start-up currents that can be over 500% higher than their running currents. These demands are very short term though. The incoming voltage spikes up to accommodate the start-up, then drops down rapidly to normal operating conditions.
Those short term demands are what cause the surges that your devices see. All of your home electronics would not, likely, be destroyed in one fell swoop. But over time, the electronic components will start to fail as a direct result of these surges.
Other appliances and tools that can cause these types of disruptions are: large hand tools like corded drills, corded circular saws and corded reciprocating saws. Table saws, miter saws, grinders, etc. and even vacuums.
The Power Surge Solution
The best way to protect your home electronics (read: anything in your house with a circuit board in it) is with surge protection. It isn’t enough to have just a power strip with a surge protector, or even to have a whole house surge protector. You need to layer your protection.
The whole house surge protector will protect the entire house from supply side surges and spikes. That is anything from the outside. These also prevent dangerous surges from separate circuit loads. For example, your AC is on a circuit all by itself. When it creates a surge, it sends that surge back to the panel before it would normally be distributed along the rest of the wires in the house. Because the whole house surge protector is wired in at the panel, it will stop the surge from going any further. This also applies (in modern homes) to your fridge, freezer and outside plug (where you might be more likely to be running corded power tools) circuits.
The layering comes into play when you have normal circuits open to potential surges. This example will use your desktop computer. It is in your bedroom. You need to clean your room, so you plug your vacuum cleaner into another bedroom plug on the same circuit. For some reason you turn the vacuum on and off rapidly (your mom calls out to you or an important phone call comes in). This action can induce a surge into the circuit. Now because both plugs are on the same circuit, your desktop sees the surge before it goes back to the panel to be dealt with by the whole house surge protector. Bye bye desktop computer. This is where you would use a power strip with a surge protector.
Surge Protection At It’s Best
Surge protected receptacles behind your TV stations, where you charge your laptop and where you might charge your phones and tablets are great ideas. Remember that not all power strips have surge protection and that most do not tell you they have died. The power strips that have indicators (either lights or sounds) are the best to buy.The bigger the number (Joules or Amps), the longer it will last. Especially with a whole house surge protector installed.
Whole house surge protectors should be between 60kA and 100kA. This size, while a little more expensive, will accommodate more surges. For example, a 6okA will absorb 10x 6kA surges, and a 100kA will absorb 10x 10kA surges. Unless there are major equipment failures, these will last the lifetime of the home. This level of surge protection will also come with warning lights and beeps to make sure you understand what is happening.
If you’d like to discuss more or have a wiring situation you would like a professional electrician to look at – give me a call at 306-551-5254!