What is a Whole House Surge Protector, and Do I Need One?

August 3, 2022

When you think of power surges, what often comes to mind are lightning strikes, blown transformers, or downed power lines.Yet, these more dramatic external high-voltage surge events, though a risk, are a less likely threat to your home.In the rest of the blog, we’ll outline steps you can take to protect your home in the event of a power surge.Understanding whether whole house surge protection is worth it involves calculating the risk and potential cost of surge damage and weighing it against the investment needed to protect your home.First, it helps to understand what power surges and spikes are, how they occur, and what damage they can cause in your home.

What are power surges? Power surges are sudden increases in voltage running through electrical circuits that exceed the capacity the circuit was designed to withstand. US outlets are designed for 120 volts, and though they can usually withstand a little more, voltage above that causes damage.The damage caused by a surge or spike is directly proportional to the amount of excess voltage in the circuit and how long it lasts.A surge lasts longer than a spike, but we are talking mere nanoseconds in either case.What causes power surge damage?Smaller-scale surges generated inside your home are very common sources of damage to your appliances and a concern in modern-day homes increasingly full of sophisticated, smart appliances and devices. (With increasingly expensive and sensitive components too).Thermostatically controlled appliances like ovens, fridges, or air-conditioning that frequently turn on and off and are connected directly to your home’s service panel generate many of the surges that damage your devices and appliances.Electronic components become damaged when they receive a large power surge or constant smaller surges or spikes over time, causing them to deteriorate and malfunction.Without surge protection, these smaller invisible surges go undetected until it is too late, shortening the life span of your electronics, forcing you to replace them more frequently, and increasing your costs.Valuable data or photos could be lost from damaged drives.Assessing Risk versus Surge Protection InvestmentThe Multiplication FactorThe more thermostatically controlled appliances you have, the more often surges and spikes occur.To assess the potential for surge damage and understand how much is at stake, study how many appliances and devices are plugged into your system and estimate their total replacement cost.The more electronic devices plugged in without surge protection, the higher your potential replacement costs will be.Wiring & groundingAnother risk factor is the condition of your wiring and its load-bearing capacity.Modern wiring is copper-based and more reliable.If you still have older aluminum wiring, the risk to your electronics increases, as does the fire risk. (Check out our recent post on aluminum wiring safety here)Grounding is a vital line of defense against dangerous electrical events.Not grounding your home professionally is a considerable surge risk factor and increases potential damage from nearby or direct-hit lightning strikes. If your home is not grounded correctly, there is nowhere for a massive voltage surge to go.Whole-house surge protection works by detecting and diverting incoming excess voltage to the home’s grounding so adequate grounding is necessary before installing whole-house surge protection.If you are unsure about your home’s grounding, our professional electricians can help assess the situation.Your Weather Conditions Minneapolis weather is cold in the winter and hot and humid in the summer, so effective heating and cooling systems are a must. Efficient heating and HVAC units run with built-in automatic thermostatic control.These units frequently turn on and off to maintain the desired temperature, disrupting the flow of electricity and causing multiple small surges and spikes.Our twin cities are prone to frequent snowstorms and thunderstorms that damage transformers and cause power outages, which are additional risk factors to consider when assessing surge protection.Making your decisionInstalling whole house surge protection is an investment that barely exceeds the cost of a higher-end laptop computer. This type of surge protection monitors and prevents surge attacks, keeps your home safe, and protects your appliances, devices, and data.Your return on investment is guaranteed.Without it, your electronics are under constant attack from small undetectable surges and spikes that cause damage that your insurance policy will not cover.A qualified electrician should assess the more technical risks like the state of your wiring and grounding, advise you on what surge protection is best for your home and install it.Whole house surge protectors are connected directly to your home’s service panel and are quick to install. Disruption is minimal.If you have considered outlet plug-in surge protectors as an alternative to whole-house surge protectors to save money, your home will not be fully protected.One reason is that many larger appliances connect directly to the system and do not have outlets.Another is that, unlike whole-house surge protection devices which divert excess voltage, plug-in protectors absorb it.  However, their absorption capacity is limited and depletes with every surge.Plug-in surge protection strips cannot manage more significant surges.The ideal scenario is to have quality multilayered surge protection, particularly if you have many expensive electronic devices and appliances.Call one of our qualified electricians today to help you assess your risk and discuss the best surge protection options to keep your home safe.  Luckily, if you are looking for an "electrician near me," or "Minneapolis/St. Paul electricians," Randy's is here to help. Give us a call at 612.260.1964.