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  • Erin Hudgins

Is Your Home Protected from Power Surges?

As you invest in high-tech electronics and smart home technology, it's essential to protect your devices from damaging power surges. An electrical surge is a spike in voltage that only lasts for a fraction of a second but can reach over 1,000 volts. Spikes can degrade wiring insulation and destroy electronic devices like televisions, computers and electrical appliances. Power surges can be caused by external sources such as power outages and lightning strikes, but more frequently they originate from inside your home when a breaker trips or at the start-up of a motor, such as an AC unit or pool pump. It's important to protect your home's electronics at every level to mitigate the effects of a surge. The best strategy is a layered defense employing several SPDs at different locations in the home because no single device can protect everything. Take the following three steps to defend your home's electronics and safeguard your investments:

1. Surge protection device at the meter

This is your first line of defense against external power surges, such as lightning strikes or a falling tree short-circuiting the power lines. These surge suppressors are installed directly at the meter and stop surges before they enter the house. They must be installed by a licensed electrician or electric utility company, many of which will install these for a small monthly fee. The Meter-Treater 400 is a good option that offers a warranty to repair or replace motor-driven appliances (but it does not cover

sensitive electronic items such as

computers). Two status LEDs indicate that the unit is functioning properly.

2. Surge protection device at the panel

Estimates show that 60% of power surges originate from within a home, whether due to a short circuit or starting up a current-hungry device such as an AC unit or clothes dryer. Just plugging your electronics into surge protection strips is not enough- these inexpensive power strips may not be adequate for a serious surge. And you’ve likely overlooked your most expensive electronic devices, leaving them unprotected. Appliances such as your stove, refrigerator washer/dryer or AC unit are all equally susceptible to a large percent of surges, yet most people don’t bother to protect them. It’s estimated that the majority of households have around $10,000 of unprotected electronics on a standard circuit. Whole-house surge protectors solve this problem by protecting every single electrical item in your home from external and internal spikes.

These devices are mounted directly onto your breaker panel and good models can protect from voltage spikes up to 100,000 volts. The challenge of sizing an electrical safety system is finding a high-capacity SPD that can protect against the largest surges, while also detecting and stopping smaller surges that can damage sensitive electronics. The Siemens FS100 is a high-quality option that defends against both low- and high-voltage surges, unlike other less expensive models that can only catch one type or the other. Convenient indicator lights tell you if the device is connected and working properly. Although the wiring of these devices is very simple, we recommend hiring a licensed electrician who is familiar with working around high voltages.

3. Surge Protection Strips at the Device

Surge protectors are by far the easiest and simplest way to deter damaging surges, and they are crucial as your last line of defense. They are designed to detect the excess voltage and divert it to the grounding wire. These should be used at all times, especially for expensive devices with intricate microprocessors such as televisions, computers, stereo systems, high-tech kitchen appliances and cell phones. There are a few things to remember when shopping for surge protectors:

Surge Protectors vs. Power Strips - don't get these two devices confused. Typically, power strips are cheap, multi-outlet products that are merely an expansion of a wall outlet. These usually have an on/off switch, but most don't offer any real protection from electrical issues: it's no different than plugging into the wall directly. Surge protectors,

on the other hand, offer some level of protection against power spikes.

More Joules = More Protection - Surge protectors offer protection in amounts called joules. Generally, the more joules the better, as this means the device can handle one large surge, or multiple smaller surges, before your gear is in danger. Over time, the parts inside the protector wear down, reducing its effectiveness. Some will give you a warning or shut off when their protection drops below a safe level, but many will just keep working, without protection, putting your electronics at risk. If you've had a serious electrical event (like lighting blew out a transformer down the street), it's probably worth replacing your surge protector just in case. It's also good practice to replace them every couple of years, even if you've never had an issue.

Power spikes can come through phone or cable lines too

If you want total protection, consider that phone and cable lines can carry power spikes too. Some surge protectors have connectors for these as well.

Models with USB

These surge protectors are handy for charging cell phones and tablets, and they are far more streamlined than bulky surge strips. These can be plugged directly into an existing outlet for localized protection. For faster device charging, make sure to check

the output amp rating on the USB ports. You'll want at least 2 amps for quicker charging.

There is no way to prevent power surges but these devices work to safeguard your gear from even the most severe voltage spikes. More layers of protection mean a longer life for your electronics and appliances. If you want to learn more about surge protection or would like us to install one in your home, please give us a call at (540) 552-5397.

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