Whole house surge protectors are typically your first line of defense against any electric surges in your home. To understand the mechanisms behind these handy devices, it is important to first understand what you are being protected against. Let’s find out how these devices work and what benefits you can derive from them!
Table of Contents
- What are surges?
- How are surges created?
- Why are surges harmful?
- Why use a whole house surge protector?
- What does a whole house surge protector do?
- How does the whole house surge protector work?
- Can I install a whole house surge protector myself?
- Is a whole house surge protector fail-proof?
- Is a surge protector the only line of defense I need?
What are surges?
In an ideal world, the current would flow in smooth cycles of similar voltage. However, that ideal is not achieved, and most households will experience at least a hundred surges every single day!
These surges are additive to the optimal voltage. They are thus a higher voltage of current flow than what the normal should be. The higher current flow is called a surge or transient.
How are surges created?
So now that we know what surges are, we need to next understand what causes these surges. The causes can be classified into internal and external factors.
Internal surges are the ones caused by items within your house. This is especially true for heavy-duty items such as motors or air conditioners. When such items are turned on and off, or the power supply to them is changed in any other manner, the house can experience a surge. Smaller surges can also be caused by lights, fans, and other light-load household electronics.
These surges are typically less dangerous than the external surges but happen much more frequently.
External surges are those caused by factors outside of your household. These include power outages, gridline faults, neighborhood power supply disruptions, and lightning. The external surges tend to be much rarer. However, they can be much more disastrous, due to the transient being much higher.
Why are surges harmful?
So now we know what surges are and how they are created. Next, we need to understand why we should try to keep our homes safe from them. To understand that, we need to look into the basics of electronics.
Electronics use the voltage that flows through them to operate. They are able to handle small variations in this voltage fairly well. However, when the variation gets out of their range for extended periods or happens often, they can start to deteriorate.
The same is true for wires. Wires are made to hold a certain voltage and might get defective if a current of higher voltage flows through them.
This might not be harmful when it happens for nanoseconds, or happens infrequently. However, households often experience surges, and places in an area that has a lot of lightning will experience especially higher surges.
The higher, longer-lasting, or more frequent surges would be especially dangerous. They can start to deteriorate your wires, make your electronics last for shorter times, and in extreme cases, even start fires.
The dangers of surges are thus many-fold. These do not hold true for infrequent, short, and low-voltages surges, but would for any higher voltage or longer-lasting surge.
Why use a whole house surge protector?
We have already established that surges are not good for our electronics, but you may still not want to use a house surge protector. This might be because you face surges very infrequently, or because you prefer other forms of surge protectors.
We recommend a surge protector even if you face surges very infrequently. This is because the investment is bound to pay itself off sometime soon. While infrequent surges do not usually cause damage, they still would cause damage at some point or another under specific circumstances. For example, you may face an unexpected lightning surge.
In this case, it is way better to have had invested in a whole house surge protector rather than to leave your house exposed. If the surge ends up damaging your refrigerator or computer, you would have to invest a lot more to repair them!
Secondly, some people might consider investing in surge protectors for individual sockets instead of for the house. While that would work, it would mean the other sockets, as well as the wiring, is still susceptible to surges.
We thus highly recommend that you stick to a whole house surge protector instead.
What does a whole house surge protector do?
A whole-house surge protector acts as a voltage breaker. The principle behind it is pretty simple if you have followed our article this far.
The surge protector acts as a barrier that can dismiss the extra voltage that is passing through the house wiring. It is typically placed in the main switchboard or electrical panel and has multiple functions. The end goal is to protect your home from surges.
The whole house surge protector will continuously regulate the voltage that flows through your wiring. It will ensure that it remains within a stable limit and that it continues to flow in steady cycles.
This means that it has to ensure that the transient or the surge voltage does not run through the wiring. Let’s explore how this device manages to do that!
How does the whole house surge protector work?
A whole-house surge protector works by redirecting the surge. This is different from other types of protectors that may attempt to absorb the surge.
The protector is placed into the main electric panel and forms a redirecting line. The redirecting line grounds the current. This line would only start to carry current when the voltage is above a specific level.
There is a control panel in the surge protector that constantly monitors the level of voltage passing through it. It can switch voltage to the line that is redirected to the ground wire. This is done through a voltage-dependent resister. The resister will redirect the current after the voltage exceeds its resistance limits.
When the voltage reaches that specific level, any surplus is redirected to the ground wire. This means that the surplus voltage will be grounded, and only the amount of voltage that is permitted by the surge protector will be allowed through.
Another important benefit of this system is that the control panel does not stop working automatically. You don’t have to constantly reset it. However, you might have to reset it in certain products after huge surges, including those from lightning.
The protector will automatically let you know if a reset is required through an indicative light. You should check for the need for resetting after big surges, or after some time has passed to ensure that your whole house protector is working properly.
Can I install a whole house surge protector myself?
The installation process does not take long, and anyone should be able to install this device into their homes in an hour or so. However, there are some complications that must be considered.
No matter how great your protector is, it can not work properly if it is not properly installed. It needs to be connected to the main and ground line for it to work. This would be complicated, and any improper installation can be disastrous.
That is why we recommend that you leave the installation to the professionals. It will cost you a small amount but would save you a lot of hassle and ensure that your investment does not go to waste.
Is a whole house surge protector fail-proof?
If you are to install these devices, you may be wondering if they will be fail-proof. Sadly, despite the many high-quality variants available in the market, no product is technically fail-proof.
However, they will not be failing under normal circumstances. You can expect your surge protector to save you from very high surges, including those that result from lightning.
However, the surges might not be able to handle surges that are both large and last a long time. Most protectors have a certain upper limit that defines the voltage that they can handle. A voltage higher than that level would not be absorbed into the ground wire and can harm your equipment.
Most people do not need to worry about these levels, as they are significantly high. The best practice still dictates that you should unplug heavy-duty electronics during storms though!
Is a surge protector the only line of defense I need?
Whole house surge protectors are often called the first line of defense against surges. This is because they are the ones the current would interact with first and are thus the first ones to stop them.
However, that does not mean that they should be the only line of defense that you have. A secondary line of defense is essential for optimal protection.
There are two reasons behind the need for a secondary line of defense. The first is very large spikes or surges that may be over the limit of the whole house surge protector. The electronics would be harmed by any such spike, and so a secondary line of defense is necessary for them.
The second reason is that the resistor in the protector would allow a current that is within its limit. The limit is often referred to as the clamping voltage.
A number of protectors would have high levels of clamping voltage. This could be as high as 700 volts. We recommend that you buy a protector with lower clamping voltages if you don’t want to deal with higher voltage levels.
Nonetheless, the maximum amount of clamping voltage can pass through the first line of defense. Some electronics may be sensitive to the clamping voltage level, and could thus still be harmed.
Due to these reasons, a secondary line of defense is necessary. This comes in the form of point-of-use surge protectors, that can be put on every socket or outlet that you intend to use.