Power Surges and Surge Protection in Huntsville, AL

When you flip a light switch on or plug in a vacuum cleaner, electricity is ready and available. But you might not realize the electricity coursing through your home ebbs and flows. Small power surges occur all the time, as major appliances cycle on and off. As our homes become more automated and even refrigerators have computers and video screens, these small power surges can add up and damage electronics.

Serious power surges can destroy electronics and appliances. Lights get extremely bright and then go dark. A serious power surge can exceed the 120-volt limit that most home wiring supports. If you smell burnt plastic smoke after a power surge, that means the wiring overloaded and electricity burned through the plastic insulation.

There are two options for protecting your appliances and electronics from power surges: power strips with surge protection, or whole home surge protection. You can buy good power strips with surge protection from home improvement stores or office supply stores. Or, Mr. Electric can install a whole home surge protector that can handle the everyday power surge cycles as well as major power surges.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s learn about what causes power surges and how surge protectors work. Then you can decide which combination of surge protection your home needs.

How Does a Power Surge Happen?

The everyday power cycling happens as major appliances turn on and off. In extreme temperatures, the heating or air conditioning system may never turn off. Because the HVAC system requires so much power, other small appliances you might not expect may cause power surges or circuit breakers to trip. A warning sign might be if the lights flicker when the air conditioner comes on. Also, old electrical wiring and electrical panels could cause power surges. Damaged utility power lines and transformers cause power surges just before a full power outage. Most often, we think of power surges happening when lightning strikes near the home. Lightning certainly causes irreparable damage when it strikes, but it is more rare than the power surges that happen every day and slowly damage your sensitive electronics.

How Does a Surge Protector Protect?

Think of a multi-outlet power strip with surge protection. How do you know it’s working? It should have an indicator light that is lit. If the light is not on, then the surge protector has burned out from a major power surge, and it is useless. The power strip will still work, but the surge protection is gone.

Why do surge protectors break? A basic power strip surge protector has a capacitor that has a certain voltage limit. When that line is crossed, the extra electricity is sent back into the wall outlet and carried out of the system by a grounding wire. This returns the voltage back to a safe limit level.

If you are considering power strip surge protectors, check the packaging for three ratings:

  • Clamping voltage: This is the voltage limit that makes the surge protector route surge electricity to the outlet’s grounding wire. The UL approved surge protection devices have three ratings: 330 Volts, 400 Volts and 500 Volts. Since most home electric wires safely hold 120 volts, purchase the surge protector power strip with the lowest voltage limit.
  • Electricity absorption/dissipation: This rating tells the level of electricity the surge protector can handle before it fails and the indicator light goes out. A higher “joule” rating protects more than a low rating. A surge protector rated at least 600 joules offers good protection.
  • Response time: A good surge protector should respond in less than one nanosecond. The longer the response time, the more appliances and electronics will be damaged. Sensitive microchips in a computer or HDTV can burn out in the blink of an eye.

A surge protector power strip is good for standard outlets, but not for outlets with major appliances such as clothes dryers. You also might want to consider:

  • Equipment Warranties
  • Automatic Warning Devices
  • Power Shut Down Protection
  • Resettable Circuit Breakers
  • GFCI Protection

Devices that are interconnected will be affected by power surges through other wires you might not even think about right away. USB wires, coax cables, phone lines and HDMI computer networking lines all conduct electricity that passes through devices during a power surge. Some power strip surge protectors include plugs for these different lines as well. But they may not prevent all power surges from damaging appliances.

For example, your satellite TV coax cable runs from the satellite dish receiver to a controller box near the HDTV. A power surge from the home outlet power cord could send too much electricity into the box. The surge electricity travels through the coax cable to the dish receiver. More electricity goes through the HDMI line to the HDTV. Now a surge has damaged three components, but only one was connected to the power supply.

Why Whole Home Surge Protection?

Major appliances can be damaged in much the same way, especially because they cannot use power strip surge protection. Because their motors and compressors require so much electricity, major appliances have dedicated electrical circuits and breakers in the electrical panel. They must be plugged into the correct wall outlet directly. A whole home surge protector is connected to the electrical system at the source, so every major appliance is protected.

Mr. Electric offers free home energy inspections for surge protection. Our licensed electrician will determine how much power your home requires for all of its appliances and electronics. After selecting the right surge protection capacity and ordering the equipment, Mr. Electric will arrange for a convenient installation appointment. The electrician will hard wire the surge protector into the main electrical panel.

If you are not ready for a whole home system, you can protect one room or one major appliance with a dedicated circuit surge protector. You can purchase power strip surge protectors for other electronics and appliances, but to be completely safe Mr. Electric recommends a whole home system.

Mr. Electric of Huntsville installs, services and repairs whole home surge protection equipment throughout the metro Huntsville area, including Albertville, Arab, Athens, Brownsboro, Capshaw, Decatur, Harvest, Madison, Meridianville, New Market and Tanner. Call Mr. Electric today to schedule a free home energy inspection – we have the power to make things better!