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Surge Protection

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Surge Protector FAQs



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The electronic equipment found in most homes of today is sensitive to lightning, which can destroy your expensive computer system and digital big-screen television. Anything with microcircuits is at risk, including security systems and portable phones. Lightning traveling through phone lines can melt your modem. To make matters worse, a single flash of lightning can consist of several discharges, increasing the odds for damage. To protect against a power surge, it is necessary to stop the surge from entering the house wiring at the main panel. This can be accomplished by installing a whole-house surge suppressor and using individual surge suppressors, or suppressors, at points of use that protect each device or appliance at its outlet.

Regardless of the quality of your whole-houses surge protector, it cannot be effective unless it is connected to a good grounding system. An ideal grounding system will typically consist of one or more approved grounding rods and clamps. Be certain that the grounding wires are buried deeply enough not to be cut by your lawn mower or otherwise disconnected from the grounding system. Check local code for grounding-wire depths.

    What is a surge?
    A surge occurs when the power line voltage goes higher than nominal, and stays there longer than 10 milliseconds. The three main forms of power interference include: voltage dips, electromagnetic interference and surges.

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    What causes power surges?
    Most surges occur when devices with motors - hair dryers, refrigerators, water pumps - shut off. Suddenly the energy these devices were consuming is diverted elsewhere in the form of excess voltage. Surges also happen when the electric company switches power from one geographic area of the grid to another as supply and demand in the region changes. Thunderstorms and lightening are the most dramatic and destructive causes of power line problems.

    Only 40% of the problem is generated outside the home or office by events such as lightening, utility grid switching, line slapping, mis-wiring, etc. 60% of all electrical surges or transient voltage activity is generated within the home. Surges are caused by elevators, air conditioners, vending machines, copiers, large computers, even lights turning on and off will cause rushes of power and transient voltages back up the line.

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    Can surges cause damage?
    Yes. Today's computerized appliances and electronics can be damaged or destroyed by over-voltage surges or spikes. This includes computer equipment and peripherals; electronic equipment such as stereos, TVs and VCRs; household appliances including washers, dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers, microwave ovens, food processors, blenders, and can openers; and other electronic devices such as fax machines, telephones, and answering machines. Any electronic device that contains a microprocessor is susceptible to damage from transient voltages.

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    Can a surge harm my equipment if I am not using

    it?
    Yes. Many electrical devices have electronic timers, clocks, or remote controls (TV, VCR) which remain in operation even when it is not in use. Also, some appliances cycle off and on at random like air conditioners, water heaters, pumps, or refrigerators and they could be on during a surge.

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    Why do I need surge protection?
    There are several reasons why power quality has become such an important issue: (1) Today's computer chips are far more dense than they were even a few years ago, and subsequently, much more sensitive to even slight surges. (2) Clock speeds, or operating frequencies, have increased and reached the frequency range of high-voltage transients. Slower processors ignored them, but high-speed processors may actually interpret a transient as a command sequence. (3) Most homes and offices are using more pieces of equipment than ever before. Each time an electric device is turned on, transient voltages may be generated. (4) More microprocessor technology is being used than ever before. Microprocessors are showing up in personal computers, TVs, stereos, VCRs, refrigerators, washers, dryers, microwave ovens, dishwashers, etc.

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    Won't my circuit breakers protect my equipment?
    No. Circuit breakers are only designed to protect against over-current, not a voltage spike or drop.

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    How do surge suppressors work?
    Suppressors work by absorbing some of the electrical surge and diverting the rest to ground. The top brands use sophisticated components that allow them to react quickly (surges often last just millionths of a second) yet endure high voltages. Surge suppressors are not lightening arresters. They may not survive direct lightening strikes or sustained line over-voltages (broken neutral).

    The first line of defense against incoming high-energy, high-voltage transient surges is the Whole House surge protector. These devices shunt away the energy of the initial surge and reduce it considerably before it reaches electrical appliances. In many cases, this level of protection is enough to protect hard-wired appliances such as dishwashers, heating systems and florescent lighting.

    The Point of Use surge devices supply the second line of protection by further reducing the surge to an acceptable level for sensitive electronic devices to which they are connected. The combination of Whole House and Point of Use surge protection provides the best possible protection.

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    Why do I need one?
    The problems caused by disturbances in the power line may not surface immediately. They can cause the gradual breakdown of electronic circuitry. Any piece of electronic equipment that behaves in an erratic fashion may need a surge protector. However, new equipment should be protected when installed.

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    Do these suppressors handle all voltage problems?
    Maybe, though they do handle the most frequent and destructive ones. More sophisticated technologies, i.e. hybrid power conditioners and uninterruptible power systems are available to handle complex power problems.

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    What is the purpose of the phone jacks on surge suppressors?
    Some of the surge suppressors incorporate protection circuitry for the telephone line. There are two sockets on these products. By plugging a phone line through the sockets, you can minimize the effects of a surge coming into your equipment through the phone line. Facsimile machines, cordless phones and answering machines are especially sensitive, and computers with internal modems can be completely destroyed by spikes on the phone line.

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    What is the difference between a Point of Use and a

    Whole House surge protector?
    The Point of Use surge protectors are designed to protect sensitive electronic equipment and major appliances in the home. Point of Use suppressors are usually devices that plug into the wall outlet and can handle surges up to 6,000 volts. To encourage members to purchase quality surge protectors, Peninsula Light Company offers Leviton surge protectors at less than the suggested retail price. The Leviton product line offers eight various Point of Use surge protectors. The devices are either in outlet or strip form and come in basic, phone, or cable options. Additionally, there is a satellite surge protector and a heavy duty strip protector. The outlet surge protectors are ideally suited for use behind a refrigerator or microwave where accessibility is limited.

    The Whole House surge protector is designed to protect homes again transient surges that enter through the home's service entrance, but does not protect from surges created internally in the home when motors turn on and off. Whole House protectors are devices that are installed at the service entrance (meter or electrical panel) and can handle surges up to 20,000 volts. There are two Whole House products offered through Peninsula Light: the meter socket surge protector (for 200 amp services) and the panel-mounted surge protector (for services with 320 amps or greater).

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    Is the UL label an indication of a quality product?
    Surge suppressors should perform to a specific standard (UL 1449). It is important that the surge suppressor is "listed" as performing to this standard. Avoid suppressors with labels worded like:
      • Tested to UL 1449
      • UL Classified
      • Tested to IEEE C62.41
      • Meets UL 1449
      • UL Recognized
      • Temporary Power Tap
    Many manufacturers misrepresent their products. Some claim a UL listing for their products if they use a single UL listed component such as the power cord. Other products have never been tested as anything more than a temporary power tap, UL's term for an extension cord. Many claim they meet standards or have passed UL standards, when in fact, they have never been tested by UL.

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    How much should I spend on surge protection?
    Ten percent of the purchase price of a solid state system is a good value for insurance against power disturbances.

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    How big is the problem?
    According to one of the country's largest casualty loss insurers, over 63% of all loss-pay-outs on electronic equipment are due to power problems. Consumers can guard against these problems and prevent costly repairs only through the use of good quality surge suppressors.

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    What kind of warranty is available on surge

    protectors?
    The Point of Use Leviton products carried by Peninsula Light Company come with a warranty of up to $5,000 on sensitive electronic devices properly protected. The Whole House protectors are warranted for 15 years and up to $10,000. The Whole House warranty covers only the "white appliances" in the home: washer, dryer, stove, refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, and HVAC unit.

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    Other considerations:
      • Ensure the outlet that the surge suppressor is plugged into is properly wired, with a good ground.
      • Check your surge suppressor regularly to make sure it is working.
      • Coordinate the clamping voltage with other surge suppressors at the service entrance and in the equipment.
      • Do not plug a surge suppressor into an extension cord.
      • Do not plug one surge suppressor into another one.
      • Do not use a surge suppressor if it smells hot or burned.
      • Do not plug a surge suppressor into a circuit protected by a ground fault current interrupter (GFCI).
      • You can further protect your appliances by making sure all the appliances you use on the same electrical circuit are compatible. For example, do not use your hair dryer on the same breaker or circuit as your personal computer. Because computers are so sensitive, you might want to reserve a circuit just for the computer.
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Posted/updated: 09/06/2007

 

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