From flat-screen televisions to microwaves, the typical American household is filled with electronics that are just one large surge away from being completely destroyed. Having to replace these gadgets is more than an inconvenience for most homeowners. By investing in a whole-house surge protector now, you can safeguard your home and your wallet from any unexpected expenses.

The Basics About Surges

Power surges are lengthy overvoltage spikes that boost electrical charges, which can have harmful effects. There are two types of power surges: internal-source surges and external-source surges. With internal power surges, the source is usually a high-powered electronic appliance that you switch on or off (like air conditioner units). With an external power surge, the source could be lightning or a faulty power line. A power surge can occur within microseconds. Small power surges are hardly noticeable, but there are signs, like the lights flickering on and off when a major appliance or device starts up. Over time, these little power surges can damage your electronics, and a strong surge can cause immediate damage.

Plug-ins vs. Hard-Wired Devices

To protect against surges, most common protection devices use metal-oxide varistors, or MOVs. MOVs allow electric currents to flow at normal levels, but they prevent excess voltage from interfering with connected electronics by redirecting the energy. There are two common types of surge protectors: plug-ins and hard-wired devices. Most people are more familiar with plug-in surge protectors. They usually have multiple outlets to protect numerous devices at once. Of the two options, plug-ins are the cheapest and easiest to install. Unfortunately, they aren’t the best solution for external surges. Plus, you’ll need multiple devices at various locations in order to secure all the electronics in your home. On the other hand, hard-wired devices can protect electronics all over your home from one location. Whole-house surge protectors are wired to the breaker panel and can protect against large surges better than most plug-ins.

Picking the Right Surge Protection Device

When choosing a whole-house surge protector, pay close attention to the voltage protection rating (VPR), the noted response time, and the joule rating of the device. The voltage protection rating will tell you how high a surge must be (in volts) before the surge device stops the excess voltage and protects your electronics. You may also see the voltage protection rating listed as suppressed voltage rating (SVR). The noted response time indicates how many nanoseconds it will take for the device to divert the extra voltage. And the joule rating, or the surge capacity, indicates how much energy the surge protection device can take before it malfunctions. Remember, whole-house surge protectors can die after a large surge or a succession of smaller surges, so less powerful devices may need to be replaced more frequently.

Beneficial Surge Protection Features

The market for surge protection has been growing recently, so there is a variety of surge protection devices to choose from. There are special features to consider when buying whole-house surge protectors. Automatic warning signals can help you determine if your home has experienced a surge or if your device is still operational. This is why many of these devices have LED indicator lights. Your surge protector may also come with ground-fault circuit interrupter protection (or GFCI protection), which can prevent fires if a circuit shorts. Other features to consider include power shutdown protection and resettable circuit breakers. Most surge protectors also come with warranties that can cover thousands of dollars of damage for a number of years if the device fails. Be sure to read the warranty carefully before purchasing your device.

Installing Whole-House Surge Protectors

Installing a whole-house surge protector can be dangerous work, even if the main breaker is off, so consider calling a Best Pick electrician for installation help and for questions about your personal home protection needs. For further protection in your home, experts suggest that homeowners use hard-wired and plug-in devices. To learn more about whole-house surge protection, visit the National Electrical Manufacturers Association’s website.

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Sources: Belco Electric; Casteel Heating, Cooling, Electrical & Plumbing; The Family Handyman; Mr. Electric; National Electrical Manufacturers Association; NEMA Surge Protection Institute; This Old House; The Wall Street Journal.

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