How to Protect Home Electronics With Surge Suppressors
By Gary Nevis
Many home owners assume that surge suppressors can protect their home from lightning damage. But surge suppressors are not lightning protection devices - they cannot protect your home or your home's internal electrical wiring from a direct lightning strike. Surge suppressors can, however, protect your equipment from voltage surges caused by unexpected occurrences such as a utility pole downed by a storm.
Surges can also be generated from inside the home. Appliances such as furnaces, air conditioners and vacuum cleaners can cause power surges in your home's electrical system when turned on or off. And in some cases, remote lightning strikes cans cause surges. However transient voltage surge suppressors can reduce the risk of such damage.
The unpredictable nature of surges makes it difficult to suppress them; you never know when, how long or how powerful they will be. In some cases, a surge may have a higher energy level than the device can handle. When this happens, the surge suppressor may be damaged and lose its ability to provide protection against future surges. Most have a small light which indicates "protected" or not. You should replace any whose light does not show "protected".
Some surge suppressors look very similar to multiple-outlet power strips but obviously have additional features to suppress surges. Other surge suppressors resemble common plug-in adapters. Not all power strips and adapters offer surge suppression, so make sure the product and product packaging clearly states "UL Listed Transient Voltage Surge Suppressor."
Surge suppressors are rated by the amount of energy in Joules that they can handle, and speed in nanoseconds at which they shunt the stray voltage to ground. The higher the number of Joules and the smaller number of millisecond reaction time are good indicators of the suppressors effectiveness. Companies such as Tripp Lite make a variety of line and plug in surge arrestors that can be placed on appliances and computers.
Use Them Everywhere
Use a plug in type surge arrestor on all your appliances including microwave ovens and washers. Modern washing machines now contain sensitive electronics which can be costly to replace and plug in surge protectors can cost under $20 in discount stores.
Whole House Protection
Companies like Levitron manufacture whole house surge arrestors which connect to your outside breaker box and direct surges down to a ground rod. Again, ratings are in Joules and Milliseconds and more expensive models will typically have better ratings. These must be installed by a licensed electrician and offer front line protection. Additional plug in or power strip suppressors should still be used inside the home
Only As Good As Your Ground
Indoor, plug in surge arrestors shunt excess voltage to your wiring systems ground, using the bottom round hole of a typical socket. You should check your home's wiring using a circuit tester that checks for proper ground. If you have a faulty ground the suppressor will not work. Have a licensed electrician come and identify why your ground is defective.
Unplug When Storms Come
No surge protector can protect you from a direct lightning strike to your home or power transformer. Therefore when expecting thunderstorms with dangerous lightning you should unplug all valuable equipment such as computers, including phone and internet cables. Do this before the storm comes since you do not want to be touching these wires when it is lightning.
Phone and Cable Protection
Some plug in surge protectors and power strip models also have plug ins for phone and cable lines to pass through them. Use these on all phone lines and cable lines since a surge can come in through the phone line or cable line just as easily. These may help protect from an indirect lightning strike outside the home that causes voltage to be induced on the cable and phone lines.
Many models come with huge dollar amount lifetime guarantees against damages to your electronics. Take these claims with a grain of salt. The fine print states that they will compensate you for damages to your electronic equipment if their devices failed to operate at the specifications they were made for. You can imagine how they could weasel out of a $50,000 claim by having their testing lab show that the surge you experienced was above the range of their device!