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Shield your valuable electronics with whole-house surge protection Circuit breaker I


T is a common misconception that only electronic gadgets such as computers, game consoles and televi- sions are at risk from electrical surges. Actually, nearly


every electric item in the home today has sensitive elec- tronics that can be damaged by a surge. This includes kitchen ranges, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, air condi- tioners, fans and more.


Lightning is the most identifiable source of electrical


surges. The voltage and current spikes from just a single lightning strike are enormous, and there are typically many during a thunderstorm. If your house and wiring experi- ence a direct hit—or one from a lightning strike very nearby—even a good surge suppressor may not be enough to protect all electronic items plugged into your home’s wiring. When a storm is forecast and you begin to hear thunder, unplug as many of your electronic devices as possible. Just switching them off may not be adequate protection from voltage and current surges. A large voltage can arc across an open switch and still fry the elec- tronic components in an expensive device. Often times, it’s the repeated


smaller electrical surges that damage electronic equipment. These can be generated from inductive equipment (usually electric motors) switching on and off. Some of these smaller surges may be generated by motors from your own vacuum cleaner, refrigerator compressor or washing machine and carried along your home’s wiring.


It may take some time for smaller surges to cause


failures. Wiring and circuit board insulation can slowly break down from each small surge, as well as normal aging. Eventually, a wire may short out, the electronic component begins to malfunction and the device fails. These surges can also reduce the life of many types of light bulbs.


Invest in whole-house protection There are several types of whole-house surge suppres- sors designed to protect all of the wiring circuits in a house. Some mount on the circuit breaker panel indoors or are built into a circuit breaker. Others are designed to


8 Northeast Connection


mount at the base of the electric meter. Professional installation is recommended for all whole-house protection devices.


A common design uses metal oxide varistors (MOVs) to dissipate the surge before it flows through the house wiring. Think of it as a floodgate. At normal voltages, the gate is closed, preventing leaks. But if the voltage gets too high, the gate opens, allowing the excess damaging current to pass to ground, protecting the equipment. Using the proper protection is important. If the compo- nents, including MOVs, in a surge suppressor are too small, they may not be able to handle the surge and could fail. Using components rated to handle more Joules (a measurement of energy), allows the suppressor to safely dissipate a larger surge. When comparing surge suppres- sors, a higher number is better for total energy dissipation. Clamping voltage is the voltage that is required for the “floodgate” to open and for the MOVs to conduct electricity. A lower number is usually better when measuring clamping voltage. Even while protecting your electronics, a large surge may burn out the MOVs. Many surge suppres- sor models have a light to indicate if they are still functioning. Be sure and check this indicator often, especially


after a thunderstorm. It is important to understand that electronic devices


like computers, game systems and media players have multiple connections, including satellite or cable, phone or network, in addition to the power connection. Any of these connections can serve as a pathway for a surge to cause damage. Surge suppression installed only on powerlines doesn’t guarantee protection.


For the most sensitive electronics, point-of-use surge


suppressors are recommended for additional protection. They are comparatively inexpensive and many models let you completely switch power off to save electricity when the device is not being used. Be sure and look for models tested for compliance with Underwriters Laboratories (UL).


For more information about whole-house surge protec- tion offered by the cooperative, phone 1-800-256-6405.


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