Is a Whole Home Surge Protector Worth It?
We’ve all seen and used typical surge protectors before. But did you know that you can get a home surge protector that can cover your entire home? A power surge can cause devastating damage to your home’s electronics. Home surge protectors can help keep your entire home safe and will protect you from much more damage than a typical surge protector. Many homeowners will question if it is worth it to get a whole home surge protector. After looking at all the benefits and the damage it can prevent we hope that you can see just how valuable a home surge protector can be to your home.
This article in This Old House magazine details what surge protection is and just how it can help protect your home and your electronics.
Don’t count on power strips to safeguard your home and fragile electronics
Not long ago, electrical contractor Allen Gallant was about halfway through the job of completely rewiring a 3,200-square-foot house in Acton, Massachusetts, when the owners decided to save some money and not install whole-house protection against power surges. Sure enough, soon after the house was finished, Gallant got a phone call from the distressed owners: Lightning had struck a utility pole near their house, sending a tidal wave of voltage through the wires, past the main breaker panel, and into the house. “It burned out the motherboard in the Sub-Zero refrigerator, fried the temperature controls in the double-wall oven, killed six dimmers, two computers, and every GFCI plug in the house,” Gallant says. “It was an $11,000 loss.”
Many homeowners believe that adequate surge protection begins and ends with plugging their computer into a power strip. Unfortunately, that’s seldom the case. First of all, not all surge protectors live up to their name; some are little more than glorified extension cords. Second, a surge will follow any wire into a house — phone and cable lines included — and threaten fax and answering machines, televisions, satellite systems, computers, and modems. And third, as the owners in the Acton remodel discovered, delicate electronic circuitry has pro-liferated throughout our homes, leaving common appliances as vulnerable as computers to the effects of surges.
Two Types of Surges
A power surge may last for only a few millionths of a second, but at its worst, it carries tens of thousands of volts, enough to fry circuit boards, crash hard drives, and ruin DVD and home-entertainment systems. Lightning-induced surges are the most powerful and most feared: A 200,000-amp jolt crashing through a power line will burn standard 20-amp wiring like a lightbulb filament. But a lightning strike has to be less than a mile from the house to cause harm, and in fact most surge-related damage is not caused by lightning.
Far more common, if not as dramatic, are surges caused by downed power lines, sudden changes in electricity use by a nearby factory, or even the cycling on and off of laser printers, electric dryers, air conditioners, refrigerators, and other energy-sucking devices in the home. The damage inflicted by these minor power fluctuations can be instantaneous — but may not show up for some time. “You might not even notice it,” says Andy Ligor, a consultant with A.M.I. Systems Inc., a firm that installs both residential and commercial surge-protection systems. “Then a year or so later your microwave stops working.”
The Best Defense
Guarding against surges requires a two-pronged approach: a whole-house suppressor to tame the big, dangerous power spikes and an individual circuit (or “plug-in”) surge suppressor for vulnerable appliances and electronic devices. Both types essentially act like pressure-relief valves. Normally they just sit there, allowing electric current to flow through them. But with higher-than-normal voltage, the devices instantly divert excess voltage to the ground wire. (The best ones react in less than a nanosecond.) As soon as voltage levels return to normal, the flow of electricity is restored, unless the surge was big enough to melt the fuse built into some units.
Typically, whole-house suppressors are hard-wired to the service panel, a process that takes a licensed electrician about two hours. Whole-house systems should be rated to stop a 40,000-amp surge, at minimum. Features to look for include thermal fuses, and lights or alarms that indicate when a device has taken a hit. Protection for an average house with 200-amp service will run about $500 — including a couple of hours of an electrician’s labor. Separate but smaller whole-house units are recommended for the phone and cable lines. These protect fax and answering machines, televisions, and modems.
By themselves, whole-house suppressors can’t stop surges completely; up to 15 percent of excess voltage may leak by. That’s where “plug-in” surge protectors come in. These buffers between individual appliances and wall outlets come in a bewildering array of options and prices. They range from $70 units not much bigger than a computer mouse to $350 units the size of a pizza box that guard all the components in a home theater. But most plug-in models fall into three basic categories: the familiar multi-outlet power strip; the multitasking surge station that can handle phone and cable jacks as well as power cords; and the UPS (uninterruptible power supply), which completely cleanses electric power of random fluctuations and provides a short-term battery backup in case the power dips or goes out entirely. Expect to pay between $20 and $70 for a quality power strip or surge station, and from $100 to $250 for a UPS.
In summary, after knowing the devastating damages that power surges can cause it’s clear to see that whole house surge protection is very much worth it. Investing in protection will pay for itself in the long run. Don’t wait until it’s too late, protect your devices today.
When you need an electrician in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, call a name you trust. Berkeys Air Conditioning, Plumbing & Electrical is licensed bonded and insured Dallas Contractor. Call (214) 238-8353 for an appointment today!