Power Surges and Surge Protection


Power Surges and Surge Protection

A power surge refers to an increase in voltage that substantially exceeds the standard designated flow of electricity -- 120 volts. At a basic level, the wiring overheats and starts to burn. Homes, businesses, offices and other environments have an abundance of important and expensive electronic equipment or appliances, including personal computers, phones, fax machines, stereos, TVs, microwaves that can benefit from surge protection.

Many of these items have circuitry or microchips that are overly sensitive to fluctuations in voltage. Even a slight surge or spike power surge can put a strain on the system, compromise its performance, or completely destroy it.

What causes power surges?

One of the most common reasons for power surges is the operation of heavy duty electrical devices. Refrigerators, air conditioners, and elevators are just a few appliances that require a significant amount of electricity to switch motors and compressors on and off.

Toggling high-power electrical equipment and devices can create swift, fleeting demands for electricity, and disrupt the constant flow of voltage in the electrical system.

The following sources can also cause of power surges:

  • Faulty electrical wiring
  • Down power lines
  • Problems with utility company’s lines, transformers and other components
  • Lighting also causes power surges but does not occur as frequently. Lighting may increase electrical pressure in wiring by millions of volts, overwhelming even the best surge protector.

Surge Protection Ratings

Standard surge protection devices work by passing the electrical current from the electrical outlet to electronic and electrical devices plugged into the power strip. A surge or spike above the designated level causes the surge protector to automatically redirect the “extra” electricity into the grounding wire attached to the outlet, which returns the voltage to a normal level.

There are three ratings to look for when buying a surge protection product:

  • Clamping voltage: This rating advises consumers what voltage level cause the surge protector to pass electricity to the ground wire The lower the rating, the better the protection. The UL approve devices have three ratings: 330 V, 400 V and 500 V.
  • Energy absorption/dissipation: This rating tells you the device’s capacity to absorb excess electricity before it fails. A higher “joule” delivers greater protection. A protector 600 joules or higher provides good protection.
  • Response time: Choose a surge protector that has a response time of less than one nanosecond. The longer the response time the greater the exposure of your equipment to a power surge.

Buying Surge Protectors

Simple surge protectors equipped with a breaker to trip the device are fine for standard electrical outlets.  If you purchase one with an indicator light that can let you know it’s working properly.

Some other features to consider are:

  • Warranties
  • Automatic Warning Devices
  • 3-Line Protection
  • Power Shut Down Protection
  • Resettable Circuit Breaker
  • GFCI Protection

You can purchase specialized surge protectors with other types of connection, such as USB (computer use) or barrel connection for cable TV or phone-line input jack for phones.

Whole House Surge Protectors

A power surge can follow any wire into a home and threaten phone, fax, computers, televisions and other equipment. Many homeowners have a false assumption that surge protection is simply a matter of plugging their devices into a low-cost, multi-outlet surge suppressor.

If you want to protect devices plugged into outlets anywhere in the home, install a whole home surge protection system. This protection must be hard-wired into the main electrical panel by a licensed electrician. Use smaller whole house surge protection for delicate circuitry, telephone and cable lines.

Use the multi-outlet power strip surge protection as your backup to absorb any excess power that seeps through the primary protection.

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