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Surging Ahead: Preventing Electrical Surges in Your Home

A crack of lightning. A blackout during a storm. A household appliance turning off and on. These are just a few things that may create harmful power surges in your home. By overloading and burning circuits, these blasts of excess electricity can cause plenty of costly damage to your electronics, appliances, and wiring. The good news is that surge protection devices (SPDs) can limit the damage, for as long as they're chosen carefully and replaced after major surges and lightning strikes. 

Knowing what to Protect:
Most of us protect our computers and televisions, which is smart. "TVs are very sensitive to surges, like other items with LCD screens," says Bill Burke, electrical engineering division manager for the National Fire Protection Association. Ranges, refrigerators, washing machines, and dishwashers with LCDs and digital controls need special surge protection, too - but not, Burke stresses, in the form of an outlet-strip-style device. 

Plug-in SPDs (unlike wall-mounted units) are most useful for computers, TVs, and other electronic devices. Whole-house units, installed at the breaker box by a licensed electrician, protect all your home's wiring, outlets, and items that can't use a plug-in SPD, such as major appliances and HVAC equipment. Using both whole-home and plug-in SPDs gives you multiple layers of protection. You can also find SPDs for your landline to prevent damage to internet routers.

Because surge protectors work by sending you excess current to your home's ground wiring, that wiring must be in good condition and outlets must have three prong openings. Contact an electrician if your ground wiring needs an update.

Important Know-Hows:
  • Always be aware of 'cheap' or 'low cost' budget surge protectors; if they are not listed within strict guidelines, they may not be certified to protect your electronics!
  • Be aware of the Voltage rating, and make sure the SPD will be able to handle what you are trying to protect; some companies do not list their products with warranties, so you do not want to be stuck digging into your own pockets to replace your items!
  • No protector is a march for direct lightening; a direct hit can affect your electronics way too quickly for a surge protector to pick up. The safest and easiest way to protect against this is to unplug the items you want to save or do not think will be protected during a bad storm. 
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