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Do You Really Need Surge Protectors?

Late-afternoon summer thunderstorms are to be expected this time of year. You might look out the window and see blue skies and less than 15 minutes later it’s a lightning storm. Unfortunately you won’t always be able to unplug all your valuable electronics to safeguard them from power surges. You need surge protectors to ensure your most expensive home electronics aren’t destroyed by a disruption of the electric current in your home. We’re diving into what a power surge is and what surge protectors do to protect your electronics.

A power surge occurs when the current of electricity is interrupted and then resumes. A power surge can range from five or ten volts when you turn on your hair dryer to thousands of volts if lightning strikes a transformer. There are two different types of power surges: internal and external.

 

  • Internal power surge: The majority of household power surges occur internally. These internal power surges occur dozens of times per day and are often unnoticed. They occur when motors start or stop and divert electricity to and from appliances, such as an air-conditioning unit or refrigerator.

 

  • External power surge: Surges that stem from an occurrence outside of the home are external power surges. A broken power line, a lightning strike on utility equipment, or a blown transformer can cause an external power surge.

 

Both internal and external power surges can impact the performance of electronic devices in your home. Anything containing a microprocessor is at risk of being damaged by a strong fluctuation in voltage. A small power surge won’t fry your devices or even leave any visible damage, but it can cause electronic rust. You need surge protectors to prevent the degradation of internal microprocessors on your electronic devices.

young child playing video games

What do surge protectors do?

Surge protectors absorb excess voltage into metal oxide varistors, which then divert it safely to the ground wire, so your electronics don’t get zapped with too much voltage. You need surge protectors to prevent the surge from traveling downstream to the devices plugged into the surge protector.

Over time your surge protector will need to be replaced. Every power surge your surge protector absorbs decreases the amount of future joules (a unit of measurement for energy) it has the ability to withstand. For example, a 1,000 joule surge protector can absorb a single 1,000-joule hit or 10 hits of 100 joules.

Surge protectors don’t display a numerical value of how many joules of protection are available. However, most models include an LED light that indicates whether or not it is still effective in providing protection to your electronic devices.

 

What's the difference between a power strip and a surge protector?

A power strip looks very similar to a surge protector. Both allow you to plug in multiple electronic devices. A power strip plugs into an outlet — which typically only has two sockets — and allows for many more devices to be plugged into one outlet. The only function of a power strip is to be an extension of your wall power outlet.

A surge protector functions similarly to a power strip, but in addition to allowing more devices to be plugged into one outlet, it protects electronic devices from power spikes and power surges. Both spikes and surges can be caused by lightning strikes, power outages, tripped circuit breakers, short circuits, etc. Regular circuit breaker overloads could be signs of electrical problems at home and indicate you need a professional electrician.

  • Power Spike: A brief increase in voltage lasting less than three nanoseconds.
  • Power Surge: A brief increase in voltage lasting more than three nanoseconds.

thunderstorm city skyline

What products should I use with surge protectors?

The most important products to plug into a surge protector are expensive electronic devices with microprocessors. Desktop computers, laptops, televisions, gaming systems, and charging phones should all be plugged into a surge protector.

 

Although items like coffee pots or alarm clocks can feel like the most important items to protect in your home, they do not need surge protectors. While it is beneficial for all electronics to have the protection of a surge protector, only items that have sensitive microprocessors need surge protectors. If a summer storm turns your whole home dark, follow these tips for what to do when the power goes out in Northern Virginia.

 

Surge safe and storm smart.

Be prepared when lightning strikes. Protect your expensive electronics from power surges. A surge protector is a roughly $20 insurance policy for your most valuable home devices. Purchasing surge protectors are certainly cheaper than having to replace a fried flat screen or Xbox. 

It’s easy to purchase and utilize surge protectors, but regular electrical outlet inspections are important to prevent long-term, more serious issues.If you have an electrical issue in Washington D.C. or Virginia, give the experienced electricians at John C. Flood a call at (202) 794-6179 or schedule service online.