The Shocking Facts About Surge Protectors
Back in the 80’s we built a magnificent 4200-plus square-foot home for our cousin and her husband. It contained every imaginable feature and convenience: Multiple furnaces, a 400 amp main electrical service, a built-in Intercom system, a built-in ice maker, an indoor barbecue, upscale everything; you name it this house had it. About five years ago there was a lightning storm in our area – and guess whose house got hit dead center? Everything got cooked: televisions, radios, the computer and appliances galore – even the built-in intercom system was toast.
And it can happen to you. But, there are things that you can do to help prevent the same thing from happening in your home. By the way, lightening isn’t the only form of electricity that can damage appliances and electronics in our homes. Blackouts, brownouts and the surges of power associated with them can be equally devastating. Even small surges or spikes can eventually destroy or affect the performance of expensive electronic equipment such as a computer, phone, fax, TV, VCR, stereo and microwaves. Damage can occur either instantaneously or over time as smaller surges cause the gradual deterioration of sensitive circuitry. The common use of microprocessor chips has increased the need for surge protection because these chips are generally very susceptible to voltage fluctuations.
Surges and spikes are nothing more than an increase in “normal” electrical line voltage, often caused by a sudden change in or demand for more electricity, such as turning on a large appliance, garbage disposal, a/c, washer/dryer, etc. A surge typically measures less than 500V and lasts less than 2 seconds. A spike, on the other hand, is much shorter in duration – less than one-thousandth of a second – but can measure into the thousands of volts. Either event can damage electronics beyond repair. In addition to change in demand for electricity, everyday electric utility company switching and maintenance can produce damaging electrical surges on your power line. Yep, lighting, blackouts and brownouts are only part of the problem.
Surge Protectors act like an electrical sponge, absorbing dangerous excess voltage and preventing most of it from reaching your sensitive equipment. Like a sponge, surge protectors have a limited capacity. Once the capacity is reached, the unit is no longer protecting your equipment and it should be replaced. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) rates surge protectors by amount of voltage protection. The lower the rating, the better the protection. The lowest UL rating for this voltage “known as clamping voltage” is 330 volts.
Here are a few things to look for – and look out for – when purchasing a surge protector:
- 3-Line Protection – Surges can occur between hot, neutral and ground lines. Choose a unit that protects along all three lines.
- A Fuse or Circuit Breaker – Stops the flow of electricity when a circuit is overloaded and is not related to surges or spikes.
- Cheaper surge protectors are not designed to handle the higher voltage variety of spikes.
- Response Time – Find out how fast the surge suppressor can react. The faster the better.
- Cable Line Protection – Coaxial cable lines can carry surges and spikes. For complete protection of your TV/VCR, you should protect the cable line as well as the power line. To protect this equipment, select a surge protector with coax line protection.
- Digital Satellite Line Protection – Digital Satellite Lines can also carry surges and spikes. These lines, however, cannot be connected to standard coax cable jacks. Be sure to choose a surge protector with specially designed digital satellite jacks.
- Phone Line Protection – Surges can occur on telephone lines. Phones, answering machines, fax machines and modems can be damaged from surges on the phone lines. To protect this equipment, select a surge protector with phone line protection.
A joule is a measurement of energy. The joule rating on a surge protector indicates the amount of energy or “over voltage” that that device is capable of handling. In general, the higher the joule rating, the better the unit – and the longer it will last. The joule rating is determined by the total number of MOV’s (Metal Oxide Varistor). An MOV is a component in surge protectors that absorbs excess electrical energy and holds the voltage to a safe level. The more MOV’s the better.
As computers get smaller and electronics become more pervasive in our homes the need for spike and surge protection increases exponentially. Whether it’s lighting or a glitch at the power plant you don’t want outside forces damaging your property. Check them out. It’s a small price to pay for a substantial amount of protection.