A power surge can follow any wire in your home and threaten any device plugged-in inside your house.
Many homeowners have a false assumption that surge protection is simply a matter of plugging their devices into one of those low-cost, multi-outlet surge suppressors.
But proper protection must be hard-wired into your main electrical panel by a licensed electrician.
If you want to protect devices plugged into outlets everywhere in the home because you have a home office or because you own a lot of expensive electronics, install the best whole house surge protector.
It’s truly the most reliable way to preserve your devices and appliances.
- What Is a Surge Protector?
- How Does a Whole House Surge Protector Work?
- How to Install a Whole House Surge Protector
- Mounting the Surge Protector on the Main Panel Box
- The benefits of whole house surge protection
What Is a Surge Protector?
When you hear the words “surge protector,” you probably picture a power strip with several devices plugged into it. Surge protectors work by passing the electrical current from the electrical outlet to the devices plugged into the strip.
A surge or spike above the designated level causes the surge protector to automatically redirect the “extra” electricity into metal oxide varistors (MOVs) inside the power strip. Household power strips offer limited protection for devices and usually must be replaced after one power surge.
How Does a Whole House Surge Protector Work?
Whole house surge protectors work in much the same way, but they are built to withstand many power surges over the course of many years. They also protect all the appliances and devices receiving power from the electrical panel it’s wired to.
Whole house surge protectors are smart to keep all your sensitive electronics and valuable appliances safe from electrical surge damage.
How to Install a Whole House Surge Protector
Many manufacturers recommend hiring a professional electrician to install your whole house surge protector. This is for a good reason, as accessing the main power panel box for your house can be dangerous.
Even when the main power switch is off, there are still live wires in the box that could cause electrocution and even death. This article will walk you through the installation if you’re familiar with accessing this powerful electricity source. If you’re at all uncomfortable with trying to install this yourself, hire an electrician to do it for you.
Either way, this will serve as a guide to help you understand the process of how to install a whole-house surge protector.
Here’s a list of tools needed to install a primary panel surge protector.
- Flathead screwdriver and screws
- Wire strippers
- Electrical tape
- Hammer and nails
- Cordless drill or driver
- Voltage detector
Mounting the Surge Protector on the Main Panel Box
Step 1. Turning off the main power
The first and most crucial step for installing is to flip the main switch outside of your electric panel box. This turns the breakers off and cuts off power to your house. Do this before opening the panel box because an active panel can be dangerous and cause electrocution.
Once you’re sure the box is no longer energized, you can unscrew and remove the entire panel door. A voltage detector will tell you whether the power has stopped flowing and if it’s safe to remove the front panel.
There may still be live wires even with the power flow cut off. Be sure only to touch the wires that you need to for connecting your surge protector. If you’re not sure about this, hire an electrician for your protection.
Step 2. Mounting the surge protector
You should see one or more small circular knockout areas on the side of the panel where it meets the wall. Gently knock out one hole to create an opening for the surge protector wires.
Feed the wires of your surge protector through this opening and guide them through to the front of the panel until you’re ready to connect. Secure the surge protector module into the wall with screws using your drill and screwdriver.
Different models will have different mounting directions. Read through your manufacturer instructions for these details. Mount the surge protector outside the panel. This lets you monitor your surge protector’s performance without opening the panel.
Finish Installing a Whole House Surge Protector
A whole-house surge protector has four wires for you to connect within the panel box.
- Green wire = Ground
- White wire = Neutral
- 2 Black wires = Complete the circuit
Step 3. Strip the surge protector wires
To connect the wires, you’ll need to strip the coating off of the ends. Place the wire end into the part of the stripper that reads 14 AWG. This ensures that you won’t scar the cable with too small a strip gauge and reduce the surge protector’s effectiveness.
- Connect the green wire to the ground bus bar on the right
- Connect the neutral white wire to the neutral bus bar on the right (among the other white wires)
- Connect the two black wires to a dipole circuit breaker and mount it close to the main power wires
Step 4. Replace the panel cover and test
Once your wires are connected, you can replace the panel cover (careful not to flip any of the breakers). Replace the four main screws of the panel and then any other screws, making sure there are no gaps or spaces. Now it’s safe to turn your main breaker on again.
Flip the dipole breaker switch that you connected your two black wires to. Check the lights or digital display on your surge protector to see if it’s working according to your owner’s manual.
The benefits of whole house surge protection
You might have plug-in surge protectors on some of your electronics, but you probably don’t have them for appliances with electronic circuit boards. Those electronics are sitting ducks for power surges generated by lightning strikes (even if the strike is miles from your home).
Most newer appliances, cable boxes, exercise machines, and that new Bose Wave are all at risk. And it’s not just lightning. Damaging power surges on the grid are common even when there isn’t lightning around.
It doesn’t take much of a power surge to wipe out delicate electronics. It often costs as much to replace a circuit board as it does to buy a new device.
That’s why everyone should have a whole-house surge protector. Those who live in rural areas are particularly vulnerable, especially if you live near the power line’s end. There’s nowhere else for the surge to go but into your house.
A full-featured whole-house surge protection device (SPD) can protect all your electronics, appliances, telephone, Internet, and cable TV equipment (the Square D No. SDSB1175C is one type; about $300 at spectrumsuperstore.com).
Electricians charge about $175 to install it. But if you’re comfortable working inside the main panel, you can do the job yourself and save the installation fee.
Here’s another thing to think about. Chances are your insurance will not cover damage to appliances from a power surge. That coverage is usually available at an extra cost, but whole-house surge protection prevents damage from occurring altogether.