Power Surge Causes | How to Protect Your Devices?

Power Surge Causes | How to Protect Your Devices

by | Educational, Electricity, Energy Topics

Could you make it through your day without using a single electronic device or electrical appliance? We’ve come to rely heavily on electrical devices not only for work but for everyday living. That’s why it’s vital to ensure you protect them from potential power surge-related damage.  

Every home that uses electricity experiences power surges now and then. If you haven’t already invested in electrical surge protection, you’ll want to make it a top priority. Without it, you risk not only losing valuable data stored in your computer, but you also risk losing entire electrical appliances or devices. And no one wants to be put in a position where they unexpectedly have to replace a large appliance that they didn’t budget for.  

In this article, we’ll take a look at how power surges happen, the type of damage they can cause, and how to properly equip your home with surge protection.  

What Does Power Surge Mean? 

What is a power surge? Well, it’s a pretty straightforward answer. True to its name, a power surge, also known as a voltage surge or transient voltage, is a very brief spike in voltage. Now, the magnitude can vary quite drastically from a small-scale spike of only a few volts to a large-scale jump of several thousand volts. This variance in fluctuation is what makes some power surges virtually undetectable while others can be catastrophic.  

How Do Power Surges Cause Damage? 

Most wall outlets in U.S. homes operate on a 120-volt system. However, this doesn’t translate to a constant stream of 120-volts running through your home. What actually happens is that there’s an alternating electrical current that rises and falls from 0 volts to a peak voltage of 169 volts in a predetermined rhythm.   

The majority of electronics and appliances in the U.S. can’t handle voltage above 169. But when a power surge occurs, it causes a flow of electricity that spikes above 169 volts, resulting in an arc of electrical current. This arc generates heat that is damaging to electronic components and circuit boards.  

You may not notice damage to your devices after a small power surge. Still, even the slightest fluctuation makes an impact and slowly shortens the lives of your electrical appliances and electronic devices until one day, they mysteriously just stop working. 

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What Are the Common Causes of Power Surges?  

Power Surges Causes | Commons Reasons Energy Imagesource

You may be wondering what would cause a power surge? Well, there are many different sources for a surge. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of power surges. 

1. Internal Sources Within Your Home  

Internal sources within your home are responsible for up to 80% of power surges you’ll experience, making them the most common cause of power surges. When electronic devices with motors and compressors turn on or off, they interrupt the flow of energy to and from other electrical appliances.   

You’ll frequently see this circuit overload occur with hairdryers, space heaters, power tools, HVAC units or air conditioners, and large appliances. More often than not, these are smaller-scale power surges that occur regularly, causing what’s referred to as electronic rust or slowly emerging product damage.  

2. Outdated Electrical Systems 

Another cause for internally-caused power surges is outdated electrical systems and faulty wiring, particularly in older homes that don’t have updated wiring. Many homes built before the 1980s have cheaper aluminum wiring rather than today’s standard copper wiring. We now know that the old aluminum connections tend to loosen and cause power surges.  

3. Lightning Strikes 

Over 20 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes are detected annually across the nation. Lightning strikes can cause large-scale power surges that could instantly ruin any electrical devices you have plugged in (like computers and televisions). The electricity from lightning strikes can enter your home through your cable TV or satellite dish cable or the incoming telephone or electrical service lines. 

4. Fallen Tree Limbs, Car Accidents, and Wildlife 

Tree limbs and car accidents that take down power lines can cause power outages. Likewise, animals, such as squirrels, snakes, and birds, can sometimes interfere with electrical equipment by climbing into transformers which knocks out the power service. Then, when the utility company switches power grids to restore power after an outage, an excess of electricity floods the electrical system, causing power surges.  

How Do You Recognize If You’ve Had a Power Surge? 

Power Surge Demonstration Bad Outletsource

Some visible signs of faulty wiring are fuses that blow frequently or circuit breakers that trip regularly. Flickering or dimming lights when the refrigerator or other large appliances kick on are also signs of a problem.

Here are some other signs that you may have just had a power surge:  

  • Electrical appliances and electronic devices with flashing clocks are a fairly obvious sign that an electrical surge to the power strip or wall outlet occurred. 
  • Since power surges can cause burning, you might catch a whiff. If you suspect a power surge, smell around the wall outlet or power strip to see if you can detect a burnt aroma. 
  • Some wall outlets and power strips have reset buttons. These buttons will move to the reset position if the outlet has experienced an electrical fluctuation. If you have to reset this button manually, there’s a good chance there was a power surge. 

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Does Insurance Cover Power Surge Damage? 

Suppose a power surge zaps your computer, television, or any other electrical devices in your home. In that case, you may be left to wonder if insurance will cover the expense of replacing your damaged items. The answer is not entirely straightforward. Whether your insurance company will cover the expense depends on what caused the power surge to happen in the first place and the insurance coverage you have.  

With most standard homeowners insurance policies, there’s a chance you will be at least partially covered if:  

  • A lightning strike is the cause or 
  • An artificially generated electrical current is to blame (typically, this would be due to your electric company performing maintenance) 

In these cases, your homeowner’s insurance might help to cover the cost of replacing your damaged devices. For those who have coverage, the actual reimbursement amount you receive is based on whether you have a replacement cost policy or an actual cash value policy. An actual cash value policy will only provide reimbursement for the depreciated value of your damaged items. However, a replacement cost policy that specifically includes power surge damage coverage will provide funds for replacing your damaged items, providing as much as your personal property coverage limit allows.  

But here’s the twist. Some insurance companies make an exception and do not cover specific components of your electronics that allow them to work. For example, if a transistor is the part that’s damaged and leads to your electrical appliance no longer working, you’re out of luck. The bad news is that virtually all electronic devices use a transistor.   

To get around this, you may be able to add equipment breakdown coverage to your homeowner’s insurance policy. This added coverage offers you extra protection for all electronic devices damaged due to causes not covered in your standard policy. Examples of what could be covered are short circuits, power surges, mechanical breakdowns, or even improper installation.  

Even with the additional coverage, you may not be eligible for insurance assistance if:  

  • Specific maintenance issues caused your power surge 
  • You were negligent, or 
  • Your home has been left vacant for more than 60 days 

How Can Power Surges Be Prevented?
There Power Surge Protection? 

Power Surges Protection Surge Protectorsource

How do you prevent an electrical power surge from damaging your appliances or electronic devices? The best protection from power surge damage is high-quality surge protectors (also known as suppressors). Connect all programmable devices and appliances through a surge protector. This includes computer equipment, home entertainment systems, fax machines, telephones, and other digital electronic devices. 

Surge Protectors: How Much Surge Protection Do You Need? 

Power surges are inevitable, but you can avoid damaged electronics and appliances as a result of them. Surge protectors and surge protection devices are a necessary investment if you want to save your electronic devices and electrical appliances from being damaged. There are even various levels of surge protection devices to choose from.  

  1. Point-of-entry or whole house surge protectors: These devices are installed by the main electrical panel and protect your electronics by diverting external electrical fluctuations to the ground. Use these in combination with other surge protection devices. 
  2. Surge protector, or surge suppressor power strips: Most people are familiar with surge protector power strips. They are relatively common, but be aware that not all power strips have surge protection built into them. It would be such a shame to think that your electronics are protected when they aren’t, so make sure that yours has the surge protector feature. They’re easy to use as you simply plug the cord for these power strips into your standard wall outlets. They’re also convenient since you can plug multiple devices into one strip. They even help with energy savings. 
  3. Backup battery surge protectors: These devices come in handy when there’s a power outage since they instantly provide backup power to any connected devices. With these, your wall outlet power charges the battery continuously instead of powering your devices directly, further isolating your devices from power surges. 
  4. Outlet adapter surge protectors: These are similar to power strips, but they plug directly into your standard wall outlets (no cord). They save space while providing protection where traditional surge protector power strips are not ideal.  

Surge Protector Safety Tips 

Follow these simple steps to keep your surge protectors working and your home safe.  

  • Keep your surge protector uncovered. 
  • Unwind surge protector cords before use. 
  • Keep your surge protectors in dry spaces. 
  • Don’t use surge protectors with aquariums. 
  • Never exceed the surge protector’s electrical rating. 
  • Occasionally feel your surge protector to ensure it’s not hot to the touch. 
  • Never plug your surge protectors into extension cords or other surge protectors. 
  • Do regular inspections to make sure there aren’t any frayed wires or worn outlets. 

Protect Your Home From Power Surges Today  

Power Surge At Home | Diligence and Advicesource

Installing various forms of surge protection devices and replacing your surge protectors every few years is the best way to protect your home from power surge damage. It’s also important to check your home’s wiring and plugs periodically. For additional helpful at-home tips, check out more on the Energy Savings blog. 

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