Whether you’re just looking to add more outlets or want to add a layer of protection between your gear and the outside world, you’ll eventually want to buy a surge protector.
With an incredible range of prices and features, not to mention a barrage of questionable marketing promises, it’s hard to figure out what’s worth the money and what’s nonsense. I’ll help you sort through it.
When you put together a computer system, one piece of standard equipment you’ll probably buy is a surge protector. Most designs serve one immediately obvious function — they let you plug multiple components into one power outlet.
With all of the different features that make up a computer system, this is a useful device.
What Exactly is a Surge Protector?
A surge protector is a small appliance or device that has two main functions. The first is to provide the ability to plug multiple components into one single power outlet.
The second and most important function is to protect your electronic devices such as your TV system or computer from a high-voltage power surge. A power surge or spike is an increase in voltage above the designated level in electricity flow.
How Does a Surge Protector Work?
A typical surge protector passes the electrical current along with the outlet to a number of the devices plugged into the power strip. If the voltage happens to rise above the acceptable level, the protector will divert the extra electricity into the outlets grounding wire.
Grounding wires run parallel to the hot and neutral wires. They provide a pathway for electrical current to follow should there be a breakdown in the system of hot and neutral wires that generally carry the current.
What is the Difference Between a Surge and a Spike?
When the voltage increase lasts three nanoseconds or more, it is called a surge. When the voltage increase only lasts for one or two nanoseconds, it is called a spike. That is it, that is the difference. However, those nanoseconds, just billionths of a second, can inflict significant damage on a machine if the surge is high enough.
What Usually Causes a Surge or Spike?
One of the most known causes is lightning, although it is very uncommon. More common causes include high-power devices such as air conditioners, elevators, and refrigerators. The compressors and motors within them require a lot of energy to switch on and off.
When switching, it creates sudden, brief demands for power, thus upsetting the current steady voltage flow. The damage typically occurs in the building’s electrical system and can be immediate if not protected, or the damage may occur gradually over time.
Faulty wiring, issues with the utility company’s equipment, and downed power lines are among the most common sources of power surges. Within the complex system of transformers and cables that bring electricity to your homes, there are plenty of possible points where an error could cause an uneven power flow resulting in an eventual power surge.
Surge Protectors: Excising the Excess
Using our trusty hose analogy, applying too much pressure to a hose can eventually cause it to burst. In the situation of electrical excesses, however, rather than bursting, electrical lines and appliances burn up, or at the very least wear down over time.
By diverting excess pressure in the hose (your home’s wires), surge protectors safeguard wiring and appliances. To accomplish this, they need the help of special components.
Managing the Pressure
How is all that pressure, or excess electrical energy, diverted? When the voltage reaches a certain point, surge protectors re-route that extra energy with the help of what is essentially a pressure-sensitive valve. With the correct voltage, the current flows through as normal, but with a spike or surge, the device kicks-in immediately and redirects the excess.
Commonly used devices for managing this pressure in surge protectors include metal oxide varistors (MOV) and gas discharge arrestors, which allow electrical devices to continue operation while diverting excess energy to grounding wires.
Multi-Layered Protection a Must
Due to the nature of surge protection devices, all three of the following surge protection types – or at least Type 2 and Type 3 devices – are needed for adequate protection:
- Type 1: Whole House Protection Installed between the power lines in the street and your meter.
- Type 2: Whole House Protection Installed between your meter and breaker box.
- Type 3: Point-of-Use Smaller protectors at wall outlets where you plug-in appliances.
Isn’t that overkill?
No. A whole-house surge protector can’t handle 100 percent of surges. A small amount of excess voltage can leak up to 15 percent. They also can’t handle surges within your home. They suppress surges from outside sources, such as utility companies and transformer issues.
Still, They cannot protect against the myriad of surges happening inside your home from your appliances – when your A/C or fridge kicks on and off, for instance.
Only as Good as Your Grounding
A surge protector will not help older homes with ungrounded outlets or homes with improper wiring and grounding without the necessary upgrades. Even the best surge protector will fail if there is no proper escape route via grounding for excess electricity to go.
If your home has grounding issues, have them addressed quickly, as wiring repair or upgrade costs will pale compared to replacing fried appliances.
Some of the surge protector device components and features are as follows:
- It is an iron core transformer that transfers alternating current (AC) power. However, it cannot absorb sudden surges.
- It is a Zener diode that protects against the common circuit spikes and is sometimes merged with a transient voltage suppression diode.
- If a circuit breaker is out or blows a fuse, that is where a surge protector comes in and provides internal protection, and protects against device and exterior surges.
- It will provide you uninterruptible power supply that takes in spikes while using a low pass filter and allows external power beyond the battery, which then supplies uninterrupted power.
- A metal oxide varistor (MOV) is thermal fused and what it does is limits the voltage three to four times that of a regular current. Parallel to this is the MOV connections that expand life expectancy and thereon increase the current capacity. If it gets exposed to several large transients or numerous small transients, MOVs will eventually self-destruct.
Now let’s talk about a transient surge protector. It attempts to limit the voltage supplied to an electric device by either blocking or shorting the current to reduce the voltage that comes under the safe threshold.
Now you can do the same by using an inductor that inhibits a sudden change in current. And shorting is done by spark gaps, Zener-type semiconductor, and MOVs, all of which begin to conduct current once you reach that certain voltage threshold or by capacitors that inhibit a sudden change in voltage. Some surge protectors use multiple elements.
Now talking about the surge protectors for homes, they can be in power strips used inside or a device outside at the power panel. Now, sockets in a modern house use three wires that are line, neutral, and ground.
Many protectors out there connect to all three in pairs due to conditions such as lighting, where both cable and neutral have high voltage spikes that need to be shorted to the ground.
To protect your home from these damages, it is vital that you invest in a good surge protector and not forget the UPS battery. There are many companies from which you can attain this equipment, but one of the most trustworthy companies out there is Schneider Electric.
They have an array of surge protection devices installed in the system to ensure protection from over or under voltage.
An electronic device plugged directly into an outlet is susceptible to severe damage. Protect your gadgets from power strikes and surges using a surge protector—they’re inexpensive and easy to use. They’re beneficial in the long run, too. Surge protectors help extend the lifespan of your electronics.