A surge protector is more than just a power strip to give you additional useable outlets; it is an affordable way to protect your electronics from random power surges that can cause permanent electrical damage.
Here is how surge protectors or surge suppressors work to protect your appliances and safely use them to prevent fires.
If you own a computer or other electronic equipment, you probably own a surge protector. Most surge protector designs serve an immediately obvious function, allowing you to plug various components into a single power outlet. But, there is much more to it than that.
- What Exactly is a Surge Protector?
- How Does a Surge Protector Work?
- What is the Difference Between a Surge and a Spike?
- What Usually Causes a Surge or Spike?
- Reasons Why You Should Have Whole-House Surge Protection
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 critical 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.
Reasons Why You Should Have Whole-House Surge Protection
If your home doesn’t have whole-house surge protection, there are several compelling reasons to invest in one:
Modern households have more electronic gadgets and electrical equipment than ever before. Home appliances now have circuit boards, which need to be protected from surges. New LED bulbs also contain sensitive microcircuit boards and can easily be compromised by an electrical surge.
The amount of personal gadgets a household owns has increased considerably within the last decade. Computers, pads, and smartphones all carry essential information and need to be protected. Your data should be safeguarded by professional surge protection.
80% of Surge are Generated Internally
Most power surges are very short (referred to as transient) and come from a home’s appliances (including motors in air conditioners). These small surges won’t cause any significant damage, but over time they can degrade the performance (and shorten the lifespan) of your appliances and electronics.
It is a good idea to speak to your electrical professional about layering the whole-house surge protection, especially if there’s an elaborate home entertainment system or other expensive electronic set-ups.
If an appliance in your home sends a surge through a shared circuit (one that’s not dedicated), then the other outlets could be compromised. This is one of the reasons you don’t just want a surge protector at the circuit panel.
A layered system will be connected directly to the electrical panel and at the point of use. A power conditioner with surge suppression is the best option to handle these shared circuits.
Complete Electrical System Protection
Though a whole-house surge protector’s primary function is to prevent your home’s appliances and electronics from harm, it also protects the entire electrical system. When a transient surge comes from a home appliance on a dedicated circuit, it will send the surge back through the breaker panel, where it is then shunted – protecting all of the other electrical equipment in the home. A whole-house surge protector safeguards every outlet.
To ensure you are protected from your electrical system, remember to test your GFCIs and AFCIs every 30 days.
There are several whole-house systems available for various voltage needs. Homes with 120-volt service (the typical size) can use an 80kA-rated surge protector as surges over 50kA are unusual. A typical home should never receive a surge of more than 10kA.
A home with subpanels should seek the protection of around half the kA rating of the main unit. However, if you live in an area that endures several electrical storms a year, a surge protector with an 80kA rating would be a smart investment.
Be mindful of the different brands (some are better than others) and their warranties (always opt for an extended one). A professional electrician can help you find the ideal systems (and ratings) for your home.
Surge suppressors should be used as a matter of habit with all semiconductor-based electronic and computer hardware, including peripherals such as printers, monitors, external disk drives, and modem s.
But the suppressor should not be relied upon to protect against lightning-induced transients. The safest procedure, inconvenient though it be, is to ensure that all susceptible hardware is plugged into the suppressor box and to unplug the suppressor’s main power cord when the equipment is not in use if you live in a thunderstorm-prone area.