Get Amp’ed Up About Surge Protection

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We’re talking about whole house surge protection that keeps everything that plugs into an outlet, plus phone, fax, cable and modem lines, guarded against damaging swells in electricity.

Whole-house surge protective devices (SPDs) are typically wired to the electric service box and protect all the appliances and electrical systems in a home. They typically cost about $200 to $500, but when you think about the cost of replacing all of the electronics in your home (including appliances, TVs, game systems, computers, etc.), it’s a very small price to pay for that protection.

Did you know there are two types of surges?

  1. Lighting-Induced Surges: Lightning-induced surges are the most powerful and most feared: A 200,000-amp jolt crashing through a power line will burn standard 20-amp wiring like a lightbulb filament. But a lightning strike has to be less than a mile from the house to cause harm, and in fact most surge-related damage is not caused by lightning.
  1. Downed Power Lines and Other Minor Fluctuations: This is the more common cause of power surges. Downed power lines, sudden changes in electricity use by a nearby factory, or even the cycling on and off of energy-sucking devices in the home can be the culprit. The damage inflicted by these minor power fluctuations can be instantaneous, but may not show up for some time. Meaning, your microwave could take a hit today, but not fully stop working for another year.

Think beyond the power strip! Not all surge protectors live up to their name; some are little more than glorified extension cords. A surge will follow any wire into a house, phone and cable lines included, and threaten fax and answering machines, televisions, satellite systems, computers, and modems. Delicate electronic circuitry has proliferated our lives, leaving common appliances as vulnerable as computers to the effects of surges.

How is whole house surge protection different?

Like many of the surge suppression strips we’re used to, whole house surge protectors use metal oxide varistors (MOVs), to shunt power surges. However, unlike the MOVs found in a power cord that can fail with one good hit of extra juice, MOVs in whole house protection systems are built to withstand larger surges for years. They are becoming so popular that homebuilders are offering whole house surge protection systems as add-on features to boost marketability and appeal to buyers.

Why should you have whole house surge protection at the electrical service panel?

An appliance or system on a dedicated circuit, like an air conditioning unit, will send the surge back through the breaker panel, where it can be shunted to protect everything else in the home. Back-up power generators can be a big culprit. If they’re connected to the electrical service to provide power to many circuits in the home and turn on automatically when power goes out, they can send power surges through the electrical lines that a whole-house surge protection system can shunt.

Overvoltages on the utility lines can also harm systems in the home, which is a prime reason for whole-house surge protection at the electrical service panel.

What about a lightning strike?

There is virtually no surge protection for a direct lighting strike. If you’re concerned about that, you will want to consider a lighting rod.

Is there a “best approach” to whole home surge protection?

  • A good plan is having a two-pronged strategy: a whole-house suppressor to tame the big, dangerous power spikes and an individual circuit (or “plug-in”) surge suppressor for vulnerable appliances and electronic devices.
  • Both types essentially act like pressure-relief valves. Normally they just sit there, allowing electric current to flow through them, however with higher-than-normal voltage, the devices instantly divert excess voltage to the ground wire. (The best ones react in less than a nanosecond.)
  • As soon as voltage levels return to normal, the flow of electricity is restored, unless the surge was big enough to melt the fuse built into some units.
  • Whole house suppressors hard-wired to the service panel should be rated to stop a 40,000-amp surge, at minimum.
  • Features to look for include thermal fuses, and lights or alarms that indicate when a device has taken a hit.
  • Separate but smaller whole-house units are recommended for the phone and cable lines. These protect fax and answering machines, televisions, and modems.
  • By themselves, whole-house suppressors can’t stop surges completely; up to 15% of excess voltage may leak by. That’s where “plug-in” surge protectors come in. Most plug-in models fall into three basic categories: the familiar multi-outlet power strip; the multitasking surge station that can handle phone and cable jacks as well as power cords; and the UPS (uninterruptible power supply), which completely cleanses electric power of random fluctuations and provides a short-term battery backup in case the power dips or goes out entirely.

Do you feel more emPOWERed now to make a good decision about whole house surge protection? In about two hours, our licensed and experienced On Time electricians can upgrade your electrical service panel with the safeguards your valuable components need.  If the “amp math” seems daunting, don’t worry, we do it every day and we’re happy to offer you a FREE consultation on the best electric surge protection for your home or small business.

Call On Time Electrical today! Our knowledgeable professionals are available 24/7 at (704) 675-7400 or visit us online anytime at

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