Although it takes only a split second for a power surge to occur, this massive spike in electricity can wreak havoc – damaging electronic devices, appliances and electric outlets in a home. Since we get many service requests relating to power surges, we wanted to share some helpful information on this topic. Of course, it isn’t always possible to prevent a power surge. Some causes, such as power grid outages and weather, are impossible to control. However, by being prepared it is often possible to minimize power surge damage.
What Causes a Power Surge?
We mentioned previously that a residential generator is often a good solution for keeping a home powered-up in the event of a downed power line, a power grid going offline or a weather disaster. It is also helpful to be aware of a related occurrence: the power surge. A power surge is a very quick spike in voltage – much higher than the level that typically travels through the outlets of a home – and it can damage or destroy any electronic equipment that it travels through. There are a number of reasons why a power surge can occur:
- Lightning. It is not unusual for severe storms with damaging winds to travel through and also hover over the Baltimore area, particularly during the months of March through October. If lightning strikes a home’s electrical system, the system will accept the excess load, this extreme burden on the system will often cause a power surge.
- Power Grid Failure. Any damage to the power grid can, in turn, create a power surge. Particularly after a failed power grid is fixed, the jump in electrical current when the power is restored will often create a power surge.
- Too Much Electrical Load. Storms and power spikes can cause excess electrical load, but there are other reasons this can occur as well. Plugging too many appliances into one outlet, overloading an extension cord or plugging an appliance with greater amperage than is allowed for a particular circuit can also cause a power surge.
- Bad Wiring. Another big offender for electrical surges is faulty or damaged wiring. If wiring is damaged, exposed in any way or has been improperly installed, then it is more likely that a power surge will occur. Wiring problems within a home are often not readily apparent to the homeowner. If you find that your circuit breakers trip frequently, notice a burning smell, see burn marks on outlets or hear a buzzing sound coming from outlets, you should consult a licensed electrician right away.
Tips for Preventing a Power Surge
Most preventative measures will not fully protect against lightning strike damage. In addition, it is very important to understand that a power outage is always followed by a power surge. Therefore, during a massive storm, the best preventative measure is to unplug all appliances and electrical devices. You may not be able to predict every storm or power grid failure, but the following suggestions can be helpful to mitigate damage to home appliances and electronics:
- Unplug everything during a storm. This may be the single best way to protect your home appliances, computers and smaller electronic devices like gaming systems.
- Use appliance-grade surge protectors for sensitive electronics. Surge protectors with a high joule rating (2000+ joules) can help protect critical appliances in the event of a power surge. Consider purchasing appliance-grade surge protectors for your home’s computer, refrigerator, washer and dryer, air conditioning unit or home theater system.
- Consider installing a whole home surge protector. Using the same concept as smaller surge protectors, a whole home surge protector is installed on a home’s electrical box and acts as a barrier of protection between the home’s electrical system and the power grid. In the event of a power surge, a whole home surge protector will safeguard every outlet in the home.
- Have an electrician evaluate your wiring. If you live in an older home, it is worth having a licensed electrician evaluate your wiring. Old, outdated wiring can fall into disrepair and may cause surges. Even with newer homes, it can be helpful to have an experienced electrician “audit” your wiring to identify any potential future issues.
- Invest in energy-efficient appliances. Newer appliances, such as air conditioning units or refrigerators, are designed to be more efficient and result in a lower electricity bill. In addition, because they draw less electricity, they tend to be more resistant to power surges compared to older appliance models.
- Beware of the post-outage surge. As mentioned above, a power surge always follows a power outage. One minute, all the lights are out and then suddenly the electrical system experiences a large jolt of electricity as everything powers back up. If you find yourself in the middle of an outage, power down all electronics and unplug everything – including your air conditioner.
- Distribute your appliances. Since electrical outlets, extension cords and even power strips can easily become overburdened, it is wise to distribute appliances between outlets and surge protectors. For example, use dedicated surge protectors and outlets for the television and computer, rather than combining them. Distributing where appliances are plugged in can help prevent outlets from becoming overburdened.