What is a surge and what can I do to protect my appliances?
What is a surge?
A surge is a sudden, quick increase in voltage. Though usually small and unnoticed by you, over time these surges can damage sensitive electronic equipment. In an average home, these small surges can occur many times a day.
A voltage surge can be caused by equipment in your home or office such as refrigerators, freezers, furnaces, copier machines, laser printers, hair dryers, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, and power tools—just to name a few. A surge can be caused by a storm or single lightning strike near your home and cause serious damage to your electronics. Power lines and utility poles damaged by animals, fallen tree limbs and car accidents can also cause surges.
This little guy can cause power surges, and power outages!
What can I do to protect my appliances?
You can start with installing a “circuit panel” or “service entrance” style surge protector (also referred to as a surge suppression device) in your home. This device either reduces electricity spikes, or stops them from entering the house all together. This will protect your larger appliances, such as ranges, water heaters, washers, dryers, dishwashers and motors. A qualified electrician can ensure proper installation. Proper installation is key because even the best surge protector in the world is useless unless it is correctly installed.
But don’t stop here! To further protect your electronic equipment against surge damage, you need to install a surge protection device within fifteen feet of that equipment. This can be done with a simple plug-in unit or one that wires directly to your equipment.
Damaging surges can enter your home through phone and cable circuits just as easily as power lines. The same rule applies: protect your phone and cable cords within fifteen feet of your equipment. At locations that combine electric power with either cable television or telephone, make sure that the surge protector protects everything.
What equipment needs surge protection? Conduct a walk-through inventory of your sensitive equipment. Then, determine which of the items that you want to protect.
Are all surge protectors the same?
No. Like most products, surge protectors vary in quality. Careful attention must be paid to how a surge protector meets your requirements. Read the information on the box carefully and consult the checklist that follows.
Look for surge protection devices that carry a “UL 1449” label. Surge protectors also carry a “joule” and/or “surge-current” rating. The higher the rating of these two categories, the better is the quality of the internal surge-stopping components. Another important performance characteristic is the “clamping voltage.” This is the voltage that the surge protector will let through to your equipment before it diverts it to ground (a lower clamping voltage is better—see checklist for recommendations). A quality device will have status lights that will display correct input wiring configuration and failure indicator lights or buzzers to signify whether the device is working properly.
Expect to pay about $45–$100 for a higher quality eight-outlet plug strip with an internal phone protector. Stay away from those $8 specials. A residential circuit panel-mounted surge protector of higher quality will cost in excess of $100.
A variety of conditions can indicate that it is time to replace surge protectors. Two of the most prevalent signals are a failure indicator light going off and/or a buzzer sounding. Some surge protection strips are also designed to permanently turn off upon failure.