A couple of weeks ago, we had a thunderstorm at our house with lots of lightning. The next morning, our two-year old washing machine went on the fritz. The repairman told us both circuit boards were fried and it would actually make the most sense to replace the $800 machine rather than fix it. I ordered a $125 Intermatic whole-house surge protector the next day.
What does a whole-house surge protector do?When there’s lightning in the area, it’s very common to get power surges through the power lines and then into the house’s electrical system. Since nearly every appliance—along with video, audio, computers and many other things—are filled with delicate circuit boards these days, a power surge can cause lots of expensive damage.
A whole-house surge protector will help protect all of that electronic gear against almost anything short of a direct lightning strike. The protector acts as a sacrificial “shock absorber” for the voltage spikes. It wears out and will need replacing eventually. A green light tells you it’s working, and a red light lets you know it needs replacing. Usually that’s several years' worth of protection, but that depends on the number of voltage spikes it has to suck up for the team.
This is really important if you live in a rural area. Here’s why. Urban areas are heavily grounded: Every 50 or so feet, each house has a ground rod. But if you live in suburbia or on some acreage or a farm, the ground rods are few and far between. A lightning strike near a power line will send voltage spikes long distances and arrive at your house with little to mitigate its impact. And the closer you are to the end of a power grid, the more susceptible you are to a power surge.
How do you install a whole-house surge protector?Surge protectors are surprisingly easy to install, but if you’re not comfortable working inside the main service panel, leave it to a licensed electrician. (To find out what the job is like, check out this DIY electrical wiring article: Breaker Box Safety: How to Connect a New Circuit.)
In my case, I needed to buy a separate two-pole 20-amp breaker to wire it. I just screwed the protector to wall framing outside the box, and used conduit to route the wires into the panel. Once there, the two hot wires connected to each pole of the breaker, and the neutral and ground wires attach to the neutral buss. Aside from wiring the unit at the top of the box, the other important part is to cut the wires as short as possible and avoid coils and sharp bends. Directions come with the unit, and they’re very easy to understand. I’m not exactly a proactive, worrywart type of guy, so if I actually take a precaution like this, pay attention. Especially if you live out in Timbuktu! — Travis Larson, Senior Editor
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Thank you for the tip i am going to get one for my home! I have a story of my own to tell you. I live in central Florida they call us the lightning capital of the world. Well a few weeks ago my home got hit. It was right on my pool deck right outside of my office where all my computer equipment is stored. It put a 3 inch round by 3 inch deep hole in my concreate deck and cracked the stucco siding of my house. The really strange thing is it did not get into my electrical system. Beleave it or not it hit my telephone line and burnt out everything hooked to it. My computer, wireless router, cable modem, alarm system and telephones. I am glad it did not get my electrical system it could have been a lot worse. But this is just a caution to make sure you ad a surge protector to your phone line to.
Great article and information! Surge protectors are crucial to protect all of our electronic devices from serious damages. It is so important to select a surge protector with the right features and ratings to match the equipment you want to protect.
As a licensed electrician, I recommend a combination of inside and outside protection products. Outside surge protectors, often called surge arrestors, can be installed on the electric meter, by your utility, or breaker box, by a licensed electrician, to protect large appliances from being damaged by power surges. Permanently mounted surge arrestors should only be installed by qualified, licensed electrical contractors. In addition to a surge arrestor, inside plug-in surge protectors are important for equipment that communicates, such as computers, modems, cordless phones and burglar alarms.
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