Power surges are brief spikes in electrical power that can burn up the electrical circuits inside appliances and electronics. They often occur during power-grid switching from an electric-utility company, if there’s a malfunction in a nearby transformer or transmission line. Notably, the most powerful surges can result from lightning strikes.
Power surges can cause thousands of dollars in damage to your electronics and appliances, so it’s best to defend against them before they occur. Surge protectors are the way to do that. You can sometimes integrate surge protectors into your home if you are using smart-home technology. And some systems actually allow you to get alerts or details of a power surge on your phone or other personal device.
There are three types of surge protectors — classified by the National Electrical Code (NEC) and ANSI/UL 1449 standards — to consider for your home.
1) Type 1 Devices
Type 1 surge protectors offer the highest level of protection from external threats and provide protection from internal power surges. These surge protectors are installed at the “line side,” where the supply from the utility company meets the main circuit breaker of a home. This means power cannot get into the home without flowing through the device, ensuring that only safe levels of electricity make it through.
2) Type 2 Devices
Type 2 surge protectors, also permanently connected like Type 1 protectors, are generally the most popular type of surge protector, and are installed inside or near the main breaker panel of your home. Type 2 protectors can protect an individual circuit or all the circuits within a panel, plus secondary panels connecting to it. Many provide similar levels of protection as Type 1 devices, but can vary to some degree. Both Type 1 and Type 2 surge protectors are referred to as “whole-house protectors.”
3) Type 3 Devices
Type 3 surge protectors are generally called “strip-surge protectors” or “individual circuit protectors,” and are low-cost devices that plug into outlets in your home. Similar to a power strip, they typically have anywhere from four to 12 additional outlets and protect low-power devices like TVs and computers. Unlike Type 1 and Type 2 surge protectors, these don’t absorb excess power but, rather, transfer it to the ground wire. Experts agree that Type 3 surge protectors are not sufficient alone to protect from major power surges. But when combined with Type 1 or Type 2 devices, they add an extra layer of protection against potential damage.
Additionally, there are a few key things to look for when deciding which surge protector is the best option for your home:
Number of Ports. Consider how many ports you’ll need. More ports are generally favored, as you can use them all comfortably spaced apart and not have to link multiple surge protectors together.
Clamping Voltage. Clamping voltage is the voltage amount “that triggers the diversion of electricity to the ground," and it’s ideally around 400 volts or less, This Old House explains. You get better protection when the number is lower. The circuit protector’s job is to reduce the impacts of a surge, sending away excess energy from connected devices — that’s how it prevents further damage to your equipment.
UL Certification. Make sure that the surge protector you buy is certified by Underwriters Laboratories, meeting current UL 1449 standards. UL 1449 standards specify what’s required for surge protective devices (SPDs), previously known as transient voltage surge suppressors (TVSS), ensuring that the surge protector will protect the equipment you plug into it.
Joule Absorption. Look for a surge protector that absorbs at least 600 joules of energy for maximum protection and longer life spans.
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