I’ve always been a believer in using a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) to protect my desktop computer and surge protector strips to protect my computer peripherals (printer, etc.). For the computer, power hiccups can do anything from scramble data to damage the hardware. I don’t want a surge to leave me with lost work or ruined investments.
But what about everything else electrical or electronic in the house which a power surge could damage? After all, today’s flat-screen TVs can easily cost more than a computer. And everything today from microwave ovens and stoves to washers and dryers have electronics in them. If you’ve got home automation/control and/or security systems, they, too, are vulnerable.
But putting a surge strip at each wall outlet quickly gets expensive and complicated — not to mention some outlets are hard to get to, and some things, like the furnace and the air conditioner, are hard-wired, keeping you from plugging them in via a surge strip.
Answer: a whole-house surge protective device (SPD), installed at the circuit breaker box. (Note: before considering this approach, you should either be a homeowner or have a good relationship with your landlord.)
Have we had any whole-house surges since then? I don’t know. Have our neighbors? Ditto. But it seemed like an affordable investment, as long as we were having the related work done.
Steven Krasner, the owner and founder of OnlyConnect, a Belmont, Mass.-based electrical contracting company, says, “A whole-house surge protector helps, among other things, if the power line gets hit by a lightning bolt… or if the power from your utility company has surges. And it deals with surges that can occur within your house, like when you turn off something that has a motor.”
According to NEMA Surge Protection Institute statistics cited by HouseLogic.com, “60% to 80% of power surges start inside the home, typically from major appliances and systems that cycle on and off, such as air conditioners, refrigerators, and clothes dryers.”
This doesn’t replace all the little surge protectors inside your house, Krasner stresses. “It’s another line of defense. The surge protector in front of your computer won’t stop large current surges, like from a lightning strike.” Does this make a difference? Says Krasner, “Anecdotally, I’ve talked to people who have lost a few devices, where a neighbor who had a whole-house surge protector didn’t.”
How much will this cost you? As a starting point, Home Depot’s website has twelve products listed under “Whole-House Surge Protectors,” ranging in cost from about $30 to $250. You may also need a circuit breaker. Depending on how your current electric panel is set up, and whether there’s enough additional room readily available, it could take a professional electrician only an hour or less to install.
After the initial cost, if your home gets hit by a big surge (or many little ones)little ones, you may need to replace one or more components — but this will be much less than the initial expense.
Like many of the surge protectors and UPSs you plug into a electrical outlet, many of the whole-house SPDs will also protect your coaxial (TV/Internet) and land-line connections from surges that can come in through these wires.
As you invest more money in — and rely increasingly on — electrical and electronic products in your home, it makes sense to invest a small amount — probably an average of less than $100/year over time — to protect them from harm. You’d spending more than that on insurance, why not go a step further and spend some on protection?