Electrical surges are a major concern since they can cause extensive damage. This is why surge protection is so useful. Using surge strips is a good idea, but they do have their limitations. That’s why experts recommend also investing in whole-home surge protection. This article will explain how whole-home surge protectors work and everything else you should know about electrical surges and surge protection.

Understanding the Difference Between External and Internal Power Surges

There are two distinct types of power surges that can affect a home: internal and external. An internal surge is when the power in one of the home’s electrical circuits spikes. This can happen due to a damaged or malfunctioning appliance or electronic device. An internal surge can also occur because there is a loose or damaged wire somewhere in the circuit. This second issue results in a short circuit that allows the electricity to flow unimpeded, causing the current to massively spike.

An external surge is when the power flowing through the local electrical grid spikes, resulting in a dangerous amount of current flowing into every home in the area. This type of surge can commonly occur due to a downed power line in the area, a tree branch coming into contact with a power line or because a transformer in the neighborhood blows. In places like Kansas City that often experience severe thunderstorms, lightning strikes are also a common source of external power surges. If lightning strikes your home or another home in your neighborhood, it can send thousands of volts of electricity surging through the grid and then into your home. The same can also happen if lighting strikes a power pole or a transformer. These issues are why external power surges are a much bigger concern in spring and summer when thunderstorms are more common.

External power surges are extremely dangerous since they have the potential to cause an electrical fire in your home. The high voltage will surge throughout your entire electrical system, which can cause the wiring to get so hot that it causes nearby building materials like wall studs or insulation to catch fire. Although it’s rare, should this happen, the fire will quickly spread and could result in your house burning down.

The bigger risk with an external power surge is that it’s likely to do severe damage to your electrical system. It can also burn out the control board and other sensitive components in TVs, computers and any major appliances like an air conditioner, dishwasher, or refrigerator.

How Surge Protector Strips Work

If you’re like most people, you probably have your TV, computer and other expensive or sensitive electronics plugged into a surge protector strip. Many people think that doing so will prevent these devices from being damaged by a lightning strike or other external power surge. This is actually a myth, and surge strips only protect things from internal power surges.

The internal mechanism in a surge strip works by blocking the electrical current from flowing downstream if the current flowing into the strip exceeds its clamping voltage. It does this by channeling the current into the ground wire in the outlet it’s plugged into. A high-quality surge strip usually has a clamping voltage of less than 400 volts. That means the strip will block the current from flowing out into any devices plugged into it if the current ever equals or exceeds 400 volts. This is important since it should help prevent the devices from being damaged.

The reason that surge strips can’t do anything about external surges is that the internal mechanism fails after the strip has been exposed to a specific amount of current. The total amount of current a strip can handle before failing is determined by its joule rating. Joules are basically just a measure of the total amount of electrical current flowing per second. A quality surge strip will usually be rated to handle at least 2,000 joules. That means it would fail if it protects against 10 surges of 200 joules each since each surge has a cumulative effect. A lightning strike produces millions or even over a billion joules, which means it would cause the surge strip to instantly fail.

How Whole-Home Surge Protection Works

A whole-home surge protector won’t always protect your home if lightning were to directly strike your house or the power pole that supplies it. Nonetheless, it should protect against the majority of external power surges. A whole-home surge protector works exactly the same way as a surge strip. When it detects the current flowing through is higher than its clamping voltage, it activates almost instantly. It then blocks the current from entering your electrical panel and flowing into your house. It does this by redirecting the current so that it flows out into the ground wire in your electrical panel. The current then ends up flowing into the grounding rod outside, which results in the electricity safely dispersing into the ground.

A whole-home surge protector can stop the power from entering the home because it’s located between the wire that feeds the house and the electrical panel. Some units are instead installed on the power pole that supplies the house. That means the unit is located between the wire leading to your home and the grid. The issue with this type of unit is that it will only work if there is a major surge because its clamping voltage is much higher.

As with surge strips, a good whole-home surge protector should have a low clamping voltage. The best ones clamp at 400 volts or less, which means they’ll protect against even very small external surges. You also want to choose a model that can handle a surge of at least 40,000 to 50,000 amps. If lighting strikes the grid in your area, it will usually produce a surge of around 20,000 amps. A lightning strike can also produce a much higher amp surge, but a unit that can handle 40,000 to 50,000 amps should keep your home safe from the majority of surges.

Depending on the specific surge protector you choose, you should expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred to a little over a thousand dollars to have an electrician install it. This cost includes the unit itself and the electrician’s labor. While the price may seem somewhat steep, it’s nowhere near what you could end up paying if a major external surge strikes your home. It’s not uncommon for a lightning strike or other external surge to cause more than $10,000 in damage to a home’s electrical system, appliances and electronics. When you consider that, you should easily see why a whole-home surge protector is such a worthwhile investment.

As one of the Kansas City area’s top home service providers, MVP Air Conditioning, Heating, Plumbing & Electric is the company to turn to for all of your home’s needs. We specialize in whole-home surge protection as well as all other electrical, plumbing and HVAC services, and we’re available 24/7 for all of your emergency needs. For more information on our whole-home surge protection services or electrical repair, contact our team today.

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