Does my home need a surge protector?
Whenever my clients ask me this question, I usually ask “do you need a seatbelt or insurance to drive your car?”. The answer is no, BUT it is a good idea to have those things so you are protected from the unexpected. Surge protectors are much like seat belts and insurance for your home.
I like to explain what an electrical surge is and what harm it can do. An electrical surge can be described as electrical fluctuations in your home. An electrical surge is usually caused by a motor that is starting up but there are other ways of causing surges such as lightning hitting near your home. The harmful side effects of electrical surges are seen in anything that has a circuit board. Most people know that circuit boards are sensitive but don’t know that electrical spikes can jump across the circuit board which can instantly wreck it or deteriorate the life span of the circuit board.
The way I like to describe electrical surges for my clients, is by taking them to their electrical panel. When you are looking at your electrical panel there is a left column of breakers and a right column of breakers. Say you have a vacuum plugged into a circuit that is powered by a breaker on the left column of the panel, when you turn on the vacuum, it needs an extra boost of electricity so what it does is takes electricity from the right column of breakers. The side effect of this is the right column of breakers will have a drop of electricity and the left column will have an increase of electricity. It is common to see this in older homes when a dryer or furnace turns on and some lights in the home brighten or dim.
Now we know what an electrical surge is and what harm it can do, the next question is how can we protect our electronics from electrical surges? The absolute best way to protect electronics from surges is to unplug the electronics when you are not using it but, in most cases, it is inconvenient either because it is hard to reach the cords or because the electronics are hardwired. That is where surge protectors come in, they come in the form of a power bar or a hardwired device. A surge protector is basically an electrical filter, it will stop electrical spikes from coming through, they will not stop electrical drops but the harm is only caused with electrical spikes.
A surge protecting power bar is great for computers, T.V.s, and plug in appliances. Be sure to invest in a good power bar because that cheap $10 surge protector might only protect your electronics from huge electrical surges such as lightning hitting near your home but the common surges are from minor fluctuations in your home. A good surge protecting power bar is usually around the $60 range in Canada.
A hardwired surge protector is in my opinion the most effective and biggest bang for your buck. This device can be wired into a specific device but it is recommended to be installed to your main electrical panel. If a hardwired surge protector is installed properly then it will do the same thing as a surge protecting power bar but will protect your entire home, that means all your receptacles, light fixtures, and hard wired appliances. If you have an expensive T.V. or computer, then I would still recommend installing a surge protecting power bar just because you can have surges within one circuit where the panel installed surge protector will stop electrical spikes from jumping across different circuits.
I hope that helps you understand surge protection. Of course, there is a lot more going on than what I am saying in this article but to the common home owner, I have to describe it this way just to grasp the basics.