When the electrical current quickly spikes in your home it’s known as a power surge. A power surge isn’t just an inconvenience that can knock out the power. It can damage devices, electronics, and appliances that are plugged in by overloading them and shorting out the circuitry. They can also cause degradation over time if it happens repeatedly. More concerning is power surges have been known to cause house fires.
What can you do to protect your home from power surges? You may not be able to stop them from happening but you can prevent damage by taking a few precautions.
Why Power Surges Happen
First, let’s talk a little bit about why power surges happen. Knowing how and why they happen can help you figure out what will be the best preventative measures.
The main reason power surges happen is that the voltage delivered to your home isn’t constant. Most home electrical systems use a 120-volt alternating current. The keyword there is alternating. Rather than constantly being 120-volt, the voltage ebbs and flows in a rhythm. The voltage ranges from 0 to 169.
When a power surge happens the voltage spikes well above 169 volts for just a fraction of a second.
Power surges usually occur for one of three reasons:
- The local utility is power grid switching
- The motor of a major appliance like the AC system switches on
- Tripped circuit breaker
- Short circuits in the wiring
- Downed power lines
- Lightning strikes nearby
Lightning is the common culprit of powerful power surges. When lightning strikes near a power line the electrical power travels into the home through connecting lines outside, like the ones used for cable or telephone service.
Ways to Prevent Power Surge Damage
There are a number of things you can do to prevent a power surge from causing serious damage. Experts agree that taking a multi-prong approach is the best course of action. Using a combination of surge protection outlets, surge protection devices and whole house surge protectors will give you the best coverage.
Surge Protection Outlets
Specialty surge protection outlets help reduce to flow of electricity when it spikes. You don’t have to change out every outlet in your home. Start by replacing the outlets that are constantly in use, such as the outlet that the refrigerator is plugged into.
Surge Protection Devices (SPDs)
You can also use surge protection devices to protect specific devices and appliances. SPDs don’t stop a surge. They absorb the energy and divert the power to grounding wires. Many surge protection devices look and operate like a power strip.
Another option is a surge station. It’s like an SPD but also includes the ability to connect phone lines and coaxial cables.
The third type of SPD, and the most expensive, is an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). It prevents damage from power surges and also has a backup battery in case the power goes out.
A general rule of thumb is that the higher the Joule rating is the more protection the SPD will offer. A rating of 600 Joules or higher is the recommendation, especially if more than one device is plugged into the SPD.
Whole House Surge Protectors
Surge protection outlets and SPDs are good to have but they offer limited protection. A whole-house surge protector will provide the most comprehensive protection for the entire electrical system. There are two main types of whole house surge protectors: service entrance surge protectors and electrical panel surge protectors.
Service Entrance Surge Protector
This type of surge protector is added to the base of your electric meter or the primary electric panel. When a power surge happens from outside of the home (lightning or utility power fluctuation) it lowers the intensity. It protects parts of the electrical system that don’t plug into an outlet such as hardwiring, light switches and motors.
There are two types of service entrance surge protectors: secondary surge arresters and transient volt surge suppressors (TVSSs).
Electrical Panel Surge Protector
Another option is using an electrical panel surge protector. This type of voltage suppressor is hardwired into the panel. You’ll need a licensed electrician to install the electrical panel surge protector, but it usually takes two hours or less to get the job done. Look for an electrical panel surge protector that’s rated to suppress at least a 40,000 amp surge or higher.
Rewiring and Circuit Breaker Replacement
If power surges are caused by wiring or circuit breaker issues it’s time to call a licensed electrician. You may need to rewire the whole house or portions of the electrical system. Replacing the circuit breaker may also be recommended.
Unfortunately, nothing can completely protect your house from an extremely powerful lightning power surge, although suppressors can absorb and divert around 85% of the voltage That’s why it’s best to unplug appliances and devices during a storm.
Provider Power can’t protect you from an unexpected power surge, but we can help protect you from rate fluctuations with our fixed electricity plans in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts. Check to see what plans are available in your area!