Surge Protection… Is it Something I Need?

By Ron Houck, Technical Services Representative

Surge protectors can extend the lifetime of sensitive electronic equipment by protecting against many different types of electrical disturbances. Surge protectors can “smooth out the bumps” from everyday electrical fluctuations. "Invisible" power disturbances have a tendency to build up damage over time and can lead to early failure of the entire piece or part of the equipment. Many disturbances can originate from inside the home as well. Typical lightning strikes can also be tamed with these devices.

Depending on your homeowners and contents policy, surge protection may be suggested or required depending on your claims history. Even if you have a low deductible such as $250, several occurrences of losing equipment are costly and inconvenient. Purchasing surge protection for a one-time cost can prove to be just as valuable then paying your yearly insurance premiums.

When a lighting storm is near, the best way to protect your equipment from a lightning strike is to unplug them from the electrical, phone, cable, or satellite outlets.  We can’t always be home when a storm hits or unplugging certain items may be inconvenient. Having your equipment protected at all times gives you some peace of mind.

Using top quality surge protectors will give you a very high percentage of protection from everyday electrical issues and typical lightning strikes. But when lightning hits directly, all bets are off.

Helpful Hint: A plugstrip is not necessarily a surge protection device. It may be acting only as an extension cord  that  provides you with extra outlets.

The following descriptions seem to fit most situations that cooperative consumer-members encounter

Surge - A voltage surge is a temporary increase in "normal" electrical line voltage, which is usually not more than 500-600 volts.
Surges don't only travel through the electrical cables, but through TV antennas, telephone cables, or any other object that acts as a conductor.  Appliances and electronics aren't the only thing that surges can destroy.  They can ruin electrical outlets, light switches, light bulbs, air conditioner components, garage door openers...and more.

Spike-  Same as a surge but for a very short period of time - although it can measure in the thousands of volts can be caused by downed power lines, transformers, lightning, electric power grid switching, etc.

Voltage Sag- A voltage dip happens when higher-power electrical devices (air conditioners, dishwashers, and refrigerators) come on, and create sudden, brief demands for power which interrupts the steady voltage flow in the electrical system.

There are basically two types of surge protectors:


  • Service entrance surge protectors
    These are hard wired to the service panel (main electrical panel) where your circuit breakers are located, or installed in your meter base ahead of (before) your electric meter.  These devices are designed to stop harmful surges before they can travel towards the electronic equipment in your home.
  • Point-of-use surge protector
    These devices are used near the appliance that is being protected. It includes the type of surge protectors that plug into a wall outlet and contains protection for telephone, cable and satellite, which must be installed properly.

UPS - What is the difference between a surge protector and a UPS?
A UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) usually has surge protection built in. It also has a battery backup that offers you 10-15 minutes time (if not longer), to save your work and turn off your computer (or other device) properly.

*New Enterprise REC stocks the types of protection devices pictured above.


How They Protect

Proper grounding  is important for surge protectors  to work. Most  are made with Metal Oxide Varistors (MOVs). They are designed to "turn on" or activate at a given voltage level. When it detects voltages over a certain amount, it immediately tries to push the surge to the ground. Surge protectors must be plugged into three prong outlets and the grounding system must be in working order. If there are any grounding problems, a capable electrician should be consulted to make the necessary repairs and/or changes. Unfortunately MOVs will wear out.  The newer high quality suppressors come with lights and audible alarms that tell you when the MOVs have worn out. Both the "service entrance" and "point-of-use" surge suppressors are available with this convenient feature.


How You Can Protect Yourself

*No matter where you purchase surge protection equipment, you should look for the following information

  • Transient Voltage Surge Suppressor (TVSS): TVSSs are rated and designed to be used after the main disconnect (main breaker or switch)  In the US, they are tested according to Underwriters Laboratory standard (UL 1449). UL 1449 assigns a clamping voltage to the TVSS which can be used for comparison from one product to the next. The clamping voltage is the maximum amounts of voltage that a surge protector will allow through itself  before it will try to “squash” the  surge. The plug strip styles fall under this category.
  • Diagnostic lights: Diagnostic lights are very helpful in monitoring the effectiveness of the surge protector. For instance, a ground indicator light displays whether or not the device is properly grounded - because you will not be protected if it isn't.
  • Telephone and Coax Protection: Look for a surge protector with telephone and coax cable jacks for protection of those lines. Remember, surges can enter through the telephone, or cable / satellite lines.
  • Response time: This rating indicates how fast a surge protector can react. The faster, the better.
  • Circuit breaker: A breaker stops the flow of electricity when a circuit is overloaded and is not related to surges or spikes.


Member Experiences:

Co-op member Dave Potchak of New Enterprise has experienced equipment losses in the past.  After his third television was damaged, Dave visited the cooperative to investigate the surge protection equipment available.

Dave decided upon plug strips with phone and TV cable protections to use in the areas where most of his critical electronic equipment was kept.  Dave has experienced many severe lightning strikes during the past several years.  None of the connected equipment was damaged.  Potchak states, "I have been very pleased with the protectors.  They have proved themselves at least three times over the past several years.  Others nearby, unfortunately, had problems during these events."

    Hopefully the information can help you when faced with the question…. Do I need Surge Protection?

Please call or stop by the office for if you have questions or would like information regarding the products available through the cooperative.


Ron Houck ( 814) 766-3221 or 1- 800-270-3177 extension 4610