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Appliance from the power surge protection

2 October 2009 1,714 views No Comment

When VCRs and digital clocks first started showing up in homes during the 1980s, they soon became the first visible symptom of a larger problem. People began to realize how many power surges they experienced in their homes. Their fancy new clock and VCR would be fine one minute, and then start flashing 12:00 after a surge. That would require you to re-set it, time after time, until most of us just got used to seeing that flashing 12:00.

Today, power surges are still the norm, but now with all the new hi-tech equipment we use, such as computers and home theater systems, those same overloaded circuits that weren’t designed for power-grabbing appliances in the first place could be more costly than ever. Just imagine if a surge damaged your computer hard drive or blew out your big-screen television.

Larry Kaufmann, an energy expert at DTE Energy, said power surges happen more frequently than people realize.

“Often, people assume a portable phone or garage door opener won’t work anymore just because it got old,” he said. “But it can be the result of a power surge that fried the phone or the circuit board in the garage door opener.”
Kaufmann explained there are two kinds of surges people experience: external surges caused by lightning strikes or even huge demands of power caused by things such as the power needed to start up factories each day; and internal surges caused by circuits that are simply overloaded.

These internal surges result in a lower quality of power that lead to a loss in voltage, which can cause the flashing digital clocks, dimming lights, overheating equipment or electrical hardware damage.

“The best way to be safe from power surges is first to get a whole-house surge protector and then plug all your appliances into good, individual surge protectors with a high joule rating,” Kaufmann added.

But remember, whole-house surge protectors only protect electronic equipment from some potential problems. Spikes and surges also can travel along cable and telephone wires, so you need to protect your electronic equipment from those as well.

Ditek, a surge suppressor manufacturer, (800) 753-2345, www.ditekcorp.com, offers a complete line of surge suppression equipment and limited warranties that will repair or replace some equipment that is damaged while using a Ditek product.

Another product to consider is the Kill A Watt Power Strip from P3 International, (212) 346-7979, www.p3international.com. This works like a standard surge protector, but it also provides protection against a drop in voltage or brownout conditions that can do serious damage to your electronic equipment.

“Most homes that were built 30 or 40 years ago feature circuit breakers that weren’t meant to handle a lot of today’s high-tech electronics and appliances such as toaster ovens, electric frying pans, curling irons, window air conditioners or portable electric heaters,” said Mike Bratcher of Bratcher Electric, (734) 722-0037, www.bratcherelectric.com. “If you have a couple of these appliances on the same circuit, the circuit can blow.”

Bratcher said that even if the circuit doesn’t blow, just using one of these appliances will often make your lights dim because it is overloading the circuit.

He said older homes were outfitted with 15 amp circuit breakers, and a few 20 amp breakers for larger appliances like stoves and refrigerators, or furnaces and central air conditioning. But, too often, people are plugging items into a 15 amp circuit that really requires a 20 amp breaker. In addition, the code for homes built 30 or 40 years ago also didn’t include arc fault circuit interrupters in bedrooms, which are designed to eliminate fire hazards and are part of state code in newer homes.

That’s why Bratcher agrees with DTE’s Kaufmann that adding a whole-house surge protector is the first step to safeguarding your appliances and equipment.

“It’s usually less than $500 to have a whole-house surge protector installed, and that’s a small price compared to the cost of replacing a sump pump, air conditioner or big screen TV because they were damaged by a power surge,” he said.

In addition to adding a whole-house surge protector, Bratcher also suggested upgrading your electric panel with 20 amp circuits for areas where you are using some of these power-hungry appliances and electronics.

Also, battery backup units can eliminate the need to constantly reset your equipment. And if you’re shopping for new appliances or electronics, make sure to consider models that feature their own internal battery backup.

When you consider the disaster you might have if your sump pump motor was damaged due to a power surge while you are out of town, or that your television blew when you were having everyone over for the big game, the cost of preventative maintenance by adding whole-house and individual surge protection is minimal in comparison. Thinking like that moves you to the front of the home improvement class.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, e-mail askglenn@masterhandyman.com. To talk to Glenn Haege personally, call hisHandyman Show on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The show can be heard on more than 130 radio stations nationwide.

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