Every device and appliance that is powered by electricity is vulnerable to damage from spikes and surges while it is plugged in. We have all heard the stories of (or maybe even experienced for ourselves) the inconvenience and financial strain caused by the sudden loss of an appliance, computer, or television. Luckily, there is a rather simple and inexpensive solution: Surge Protective Devices (SPD).
What is a Surge Protector?
A Surge Protector is a device made to protect anything that is “downstream” on the electrical circuit from the harm caused by increases in the flow of electricity.
What is an Electrical Surge?
Transient Voltage (aka a surge or spike) is a sudden, unexpected increase in voltage on an electrical circuit. Most surges last only a thousandth of a second, but that’s all the time it takes to fry your electronics.
What Causes an Electrical Surge?
Power lines can send surges into your home when they are struck by lightning, downed by car accidents, etc. This is why it’s advisable to have a “whole house” surge protector at your meter.
Large appliances such as air conditioners and refrigerators draw a lot of power while running. What happens to that extra electricity when the motor cycles off? It creates a small surge that searches for ground. While these small surges go unnoticed, over time they degrade the circuit boards, shortening the lifespan of your electronics. This is why it’s advisable to have plug-in “point-of-use” surge protectors at the receptacles that your electronics are plugged into.
Surge Protectors and Power Strips: What is the Difference?
While some types of surge protectors resemble power strips, they also provide the valuable service of guarding anything that’s plugged into them against transient voltage. Quality surge protectors will also have protection for cable and phone lines, which are more ways that nearby lightning can find its way into your home and your valuable electronics. Power strips merely provide more receptacles for more plugs.
How Does a Surge Protector Work?
Under normal conditions, a surge protector does nothing but allow electricity to flow through it. An increase in voltage will trigger the surge elements to activate and redirect the excess power to ground, while allowing a safe amount through to keep powering your devices/appliances. In the event of a catastrophic surge that exceeds the design parameters of the unit, the SPD will redirect the surge to earth ground.
Why Do You Need Surge Protectors?
- Protects your appliances/saves money
- Easy to replace/saves time
----It is much less expensive to replace a surge protector than your appliances or electronics.
----The Utility or Cooperative that offers a Surge Program will usually replace a damaged Meter Base Surge Protector at no charge (your Program may differ).
If a surge enters through an unprotected cable TV line and kills the cable box and/or modem, do you really have the time to wait for the Cable Man to come out and replace that equipment?
How Do I Choose a Surge Protector?
If your Electricity Provider offers a Surge Protection Program, they may offer a variety of point-of-use surge protectors for purchase by Program Members (in addition to the “whole house” SPD at your meter). These “Utility Grade” devices are the best choice.
If your provider doesn’t offer a Surge Program or their Program doesn’t offer plug-in protectors for sale, look for the following features/specifications:
Some SPDs do not cut the flow of power when the surge element goes bad. Indicator lights let you know at a glance that you’re protected.
A UL (Underwriters Laboratories) certification shows that the product has met Global Safety Standards.
The clamping voltage (aka “let-through voltage”) is the maximum amount of voltage allowed to pass through the surge protector before the surge elements are activated. The lower the clamping voltage, the sooner the protective elements will be triggered.
The Joule rating defines the maximum amount of energy the surge protector can divert before taking damage to itself. While not as important as the clamping voltage, the higher the Joule rating (1,000+) the longer the surge protector will last.
Response time is the amount of time it takes for the surge elements to trigger once transient voltage is detected. A lower value indicates a quicker response time. A good surge protector will have a response time of less than one nanosecond!
With a full understanding of the concept behind surge protectors and their purpose, it is easy to see the importance of safeguarding your household appliances and electronics from harmful surges today.