As its name suggests, a power surge is a surge or increase in power. The brief jolts of electrical voltage range from minor to severe and can leave their mark. Large surges can damage or fry your computer or TV, while small surges may cause no apparent damage but take their toll over time.
Lightning is often the most thought of cause of power surges, but Mother Nature’s strike is not the most common culprit! Large surges are caused when large currents of electricity are suddenly interrupted. Power interruptions are often caused when circuit breakers at power substations trip, then automatically re-close. When objects such as trees fall on lines, lines slap together due to high winds, vehicles hit poles, or even birds’ wings cause a short between lines, breakers trip resulting in large surges that can damage electrical equipment, appliances and devices.
Other causes of small surges can be found at home. Devices that require a lot of power to switch compressors or turn motors on or off, air conditioners, refrigerators and space heaters for example, call for sudden, brief draws of power. These power demands upset the steady flow of volts in the electrical system. While the surges caused by these items are far less intense than a lightning strike, they can still cause damage. Faulty wiring and overloaded outlets or circuits can also cause surges.
Safe Electricity suggests these options to protect appliances and electronics:
Use surge protector strips or devices. However, most surge protectors are no match for lightning’s wallop. During a severe storm, it is best to unplug your computer, TVs and other electronics. * Be sure to check your surge protectors often and especially after storms. If they smell burnt, they have most likely been damaged and will no longer protect your electronics.
For electronics, consider investing in the surge protector’s big brother: uninterruptable power supply devices. They work like a surge protector but have battery backup to keep them running during surges, power reductions or brief outages.
Consider having a whole-house surge protector installed by a qualified electrician. Typically installed to the electric service box, it offers greater protection for your appliances than individual surge-protecting devices. Like in-home surge protector strips, whole home protectors will likely need to be replaced if hit by a large surge. These protectors typically have an indicator you can check to see if they are still functioning.
If you do not have them already, consider updating outlets with those that feature ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). Today’s electrical code requires them near a water source for new or remodeled homes. They help prevent electrical shock and fire and are reset with the push of a button after they’ve been tripped.