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What You Need to Know When Buying Surge Protectors

surge-protector-wilcox-dc-450x250You’ll find them tucked behind most televisions and computer setups, but do you know what surge protectors really do? More importantly, do you know how to choose and properly use one? The right surge protector can mean the difference between destroyed devices and safe ones, so it pays to learn the basics.

What Are Surge Protectors?

The first step to choosing the right surge protector for the job is to understand the difference between an actual surge protector and a simple power strip. Power strips are usually inexpensive extension cords with several receptacles, offering no more protection than plugging things directly into an outlet. Surge protectors, on the other hand, provide protection in measurements called joules. The more joules a surge protector can handle, the better the protection.

When a sudden increase in power lasts for one or two nanoseconds, it’s known as a power spike. Three nanoseconds or more and it’s a power surge. Either can be enough to cause damage to appliances and devices, if the voltage is high enough. Even if those devices aren’t immediately rendered useless, the fluctuations can put increased strain on vital components. Over time, and with enough voltage, these components can wear down. Surge protectors keep this from happening by diverting extra power. How they do it depends on the type of protector and how it’s made.

Choosing the Right Surge Protector for Your Needs

You've learned the difference between a power strip and an actual surge protector. Now it's time to choose the right ones for each area of your home. With some careful consideration, this task can be easier and less stress-inducing than you think.

What’s it For? – You can splurge on top-of-the-line protectors for every area of the house, or you can balance them a bit according to the needs of the equipment. For instance, you'll likely want to spend more on the protection of your expensive home entertainment center than your bedside lighting and charging ports. Speaking of ports, it's also a good idea to spring for a surge protector with a few more than you think you'll need. You should never daisy-chain them, so it's better to have too many than too few. Make sure the outlets are well-spaced to make room for clunkier plugs as well.

Types of surge protectors:

  1. Plug-in protectors
  2. Whole-house protectors that are installed in the electric panel and protect all branch circuits.  They do not protect against power surges that can come through low-voltage lines such as cable and telephone. 
  3. Surge protector receptacles,
  4. Low-voltage protectors that guard against surges that can enter through cable and telephone lines.  We have seen these surges fry modems, routers, comcast boxes, and even TVs
  5. In-line surge protection for specific circuits. For instance, HVAC contractors recommend surge protectors for AC compressors.

Seals, Certifications, and Ratings – Before you buy any surge protector, make sure it’s certified by Underwriter’s Laboratories and meets their 1449 standards. Look for the highest absorption rating you can find, and a lower clamping voltage rating. The more sensitive the clamping voltage, the better the surge device will protect. It’s also wise to look for a warranty. High-quality surge protectors will warranty devices connected to them against damages in the event of a power surge.

Is a Whole-Home Surge Protector Right for You?

Choosing the right protection for each area of your house can be stressful, and whole-home surge protection can be appealing. It may also net you a break on your homeowner’s insurance, not to mention the cost of replacing expensive devices. Hardwired directly into the electrical panel, a whole-house surge protector redirects extra electricity safely into the ground before it has the opportunity to fry your belongings.

For these systems to work properly, though, your grounding system must also be in good shape. Wilcox Electric has been providing high-end electrical services to DC-area customers for more than two decades, including whole-house surge protector installation and grounding system upgrades. Reach out today for an estimate for all your home electrical needs.