Every day, power surges wipe out TVs, video games, phones, appliances and other electronic devices. Power surges have been around as long as electricity in homes, but they’ve become more of a concern in recent years, thanks to our increased use of electronics. Low-power devices with sensitive circuit boards, such as tablets or smartphones, are more vulnerable to a power surge than larger devices such as appliances.
What is a surge?
A power surge is a short burst of electricity that can range anywhere from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of volts. A sufficiently powerful surge can damage or destroy electrical equipment.
A variety of things can cause a power surge, including downed power lines and lightning strikes. Sometimes, variances from utility companies can produce surges as electricity is delivered.
Any metal entering your home can carry an electrical current — like electrical wires, telephone or cable wires, and metal pipes. So, it’s impossible to completely stop a power surge. The circuit breakers in your electrical panel offer a small amount of protection, but it’s not particularly robust. Your best bet is a surge protector, which diverts the power surge away from your home and into nearby ground.
How can I protect against a surge?
You can block surges at various points in the process. The least expensive and easiest method is a power strip, which includes a circuit breaker that flips in the event of an excessive surge. Some power strips are marketed specifically as surge protectors which protect against a certain level of energy spiking. These strips offer a level of protection that is better than nothing, but you can’t rely on them solely to protect against power spikes.
You’ll get a better defense via installing a whole-house surge protector at your electrical panel. Many electricians call this a must for keeping your home safe. This job will likely cost between $300 and $500 and should be performed by a licensed electrician. This monitors electrical spikes and dissipates them safely into the ground before they can do any damage. For an additional fee, you can have them added to your phone and cable boxes. (Spikes through those lines are less common, but still possible.)
One bonus of surge protectors: Pros say they add life to things you never even thought about by stopping minor surges you probably rarely noticed. Light bulbs tend to last longer with such protection, for instance.
If you have multiple electrical panels, such as a separate one for your pool, each panel requires protection.
Paul F. P. Pogue is a reporter for Angie’s List, a provider of consumer reviews and an online marketplace of services.