Why Is a Surge Protector Important?

Once again, it’s the season when high tech toys galore find themselves lighting up the wish lists of boys and girls of all ages.

But if Santa leaves the latest cool gadgets under your tree, how do you protect those electronic gifts from the bah-humbug of a power surge?

What Is a Power Surge?

A power surge, also called transient voltage, is a temporary spike in the electrical current supplied to a building or outlet.

Since the normal voltage for most homes or offices is about 120 volts, anything above that is considered a power surge for most utility customers.

Lightning is perhaps the most familiar culprit. However, there are many other things that can cause an electrical surge:

  • Appliances turning on and off, especially energy hogs like your AC, furnace, and refrigerator
  • Faulty wiring
  • Tripped circuit breakers
  • Short circuits in your wiring system
  • Problems with utility company equipment
  • Downed power lines

Why should you care about an electrical power surge? When the electricity spikes, it causes a sudden flow of excessive heat, which can burn the wire and any components connected to it. Power surges have been responsible for damage to homes and appliances, and for some structural fires.

In the case of lightning strikes, the best way to protect yourself is to unplug appliances during a thunderstorm when possible.

Otherwise, you’ll want to select a quality surge suppressor to go along with any electronic devices you’re giving or receiving. You can also invest in a whole house surge protector that works for your entire electrical system.

Surge protection is more important than ever, because today’s devices, such as microprocessors, are much more sensitive to power surges than the less sophisticated equipment of previous generations.

How to Choose a Surge Protector

A poor quality surge protector is just as bad as no protection at all: it can actually put your devices at risk of damage from a power surge. Here’s what to look for when shopping for surge protectors:

  • Make sure you’re actually getting a surge protector and not just a power strip. While a power strip merely gives you more outlets, a bona fide surge protector is specifically designed to absorb power surges and redirect them to the ground. Make sure the product you buy actually says “surge protector” on the label.
  • Look for the UL seal. Underwriters’ Laboratories tests every surge protection device to make sure it meets minimal safety and quality standards. UL’s official moniker for surge protectors is “transient voltage surge suppressor.” If you can find those four important words on the label, it means that the product you’re buying has met those important standards.
  • Check the energy absorption rating. Measured in units called joules, this tells you how much energy your surge protector can absorb before it fails. Look for at least 600 joules for more effective protection and longer life, and the higher the number the better.
  • Check the clamping voltage. This is the amount of energy it takes to trigger the surge protector, and it is measured in volts. Look for 400 volts or less, and the lower the number the better.
  • Check response time. This is how long it takes the surge protector to respond when a surge is detected, and is measured in nanoseconds. As with clamping voltage, the lower the number the better. Look for a response time of less than one nanosecond.
  • Look for a warranty. Some manufacturers offer a warranty to cover connected devices. Check which devices — such as computers or TV sets — are covered, and how to file a claim.
  • Consider your surge suppression needs. Do you need a surge protector for your TV? Computer and peripherals? Your phone or cable lines ? What about a portable surge protector for use when traveling? Make sure you select a unit with the correct number of outlets you need.
  • Replace when necessary. Finally, surge protectors don’t last forever and will need to be replaced.

Do you have an older surge protector that’s been around a few years?

If so, get in touch with Complete Electrical Solutions to have it checked by a qualified electrician.  We’ll make sure it still gives you the protection you need. We can also answer any questions you have about selecting and correctly installing your unit.

2 thoughts on “Why Is a Surge Protector Important?

  1. A couple of years ago my family and I were having lots of power surges and we couldn’t figure out why. Once we bought a surge protector, everything got better and we stopped having so many problems. I really like how this article suggests not to confuse surge protectors with power strips. They look so much alike and I could see how one would easily do that.

  2. Understanding the difference between surge protection and just a normal power strip is definitely important. Great advice for choosing your surge protection.

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