Surge Protection for Your Home

A nearby lightning strike, downed power lines and even the cycling on and off of appliances in your home can cause damaging power surges.  Lightning cannot be prevented and can cause harm to home electronics if they are not properly protected. Every piece of electrical equipment in your home needs protection.  Every avenue to the outside world must be protected – power, phone, cable data and control lines must all be protected or the equipment will be vulnerable to damage from surges or “spikes” in electrical current.

Begin power protection at the main power entrance, the where power, cable and phone lines enter the house. By installing a high-energy surge protection device at this location, you can knock down the first wave of high voltage spikes entering your home. Most contractors call these lightning arresters.  The lightning arrest is a device that helps divert damaging surges away from your electrical system and out through a ground rod.

The cable TV line usually enters your home near the main power entrance. It is best to have all of the utilities enter your home at one point because it allows you to tie all of their grounds together to form a single grounding system. This is required by some codes but is often overlooked by cable installers. Unless all of your equipment ties into a single ground, protection against surges won’t be as effective.

Your desktop computer, printer, wireless router, external hard drives, television, DVR, CD and DVD players and stereo system represent a considerable investment, and they can be easily damaged by spikes. Each of them should be plugged into a plug-in surge protector. By using a protector that has multiple outlets, it will allow one device to protect your entire entertainment center. The lead into the house for cable service should be surge-protected as well.  If you protect the stereo but leave the CD player unprotected, the connection between the two devices provides a path for surges.

Some appliances containing electronic controls (i.e. microwave ovens) may also require surge protection. There are surge protectors designed especially for microwaves.

Telephones and answering machines are some of the most commonly damaged devices in the home. A plug-in surge suppressor should be used to protect the power and phone line inputs. A common mistake is protecting only the power line. This does not provide adequate protection. Using a device that contains both protection elements in a single package is best and insures system compatibility. These devices will have inputs for the phone line and the electric plug. If either line goes directly to the equipment, the equipment is not completely protected.

A standard surge protector passes the electrical current along from the house outlet to a number of electrical and electronic devices plugged into a power strip. If the voltage from the outlet surges or spikes; rises above the accepted level, the surge protector diverts the extra electricity into the outlet’s grounding wire.

In the most common type of surge protector, a component called a metal oxide varistor, or MOV, diverts the extra voltage. An MOV forms a connection between the hot power line and the grounding line. When the voltage is correct, the MOV does nothing; when the voltage is too high, an MOV can conduct a lot of current to eliminate the extra voltage.

As soon as the extra current is diverted into the MOV, and to the ground, the voltage in the hot line returns to a normal level so the MOV’s resistance shoots up again. In this way, the MOV only diverts the surge current, while allowing the standard current to continue powering whatever electronics are connected to the surge protector.

In general, the more the surge protector costs, the faster it is going to react to the amount of electricity going through it, which will prevent damage to your items that much faster. The cost of a quality plug-in, strip-type surge protector is approximately $25 while the cost for a Whole House surge protector ranges between $200 and $1,000. The more expensive protector is usually better protection. It is wise to have a licensed electrician install a whole-house surge protector. While this may seem like a costly investment, it is cheap insurance when you consider what can happen to your expensive electronic equipment and appliances without surge protection.


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