It’s storm season in The Mitten, and that means an increased likelihood of thunderstorms – and lightning – that could put electrical equipment at an increased risk of power surges. A power surge is essentially a spike in the electrical energy entering your home. These surges are often associated with severe weather, but you may be surprised to learn severe weather isn’t the only thing that causes them.

Power surges can occur year-round due to various factors, including large appliances turning on and off. In fact, according to the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), 60 to 80 percent of all power surges result from devices/appliances – e.g., refrigerators or air conditioning units – turning on or off. There are also times when energy companies need to temporarily shut down parts of the energy grid to safely upgrade and/or repair equipment; when power is restored, the initial flow of electricity can create potential for a power surge as well.

With these situations in mind, we created a list of tips to help you protect your home – and your belongings – against power surges.

  1. Install surge protectors. Installing surge protection devices (SPDs) is an easy and cost-effective way to protect your electronic devices. When shopping for surge protectors, it’s important to understand these products are typically not created equally. Generally, you’ll want to purchase a surge protector with a greater joule energy rating since these varieties can withstand a higher number of small-voltage surges or a larger high-voltage surge. If you can’t afford to buy surge protectors for the entire house, buying some to power your most expensive items (computer, television, kitchen appliances, washer, dryer, etc.) can help you protect the devices you value most.

Keep in mind surge protectors can reach end of life and eventually fail. In fact, plugging in a device with a motor, like a hairdryer, vacuum, even pencil sharpeners, can shorten the lifespan of these products. While some surge protectors alert you when they’re no longer active, many don’t have this feature. If you know your home sustained a power surge recently, replacing your old surge protectors is often a precaution worth taking. If your home hasn’t sustained any power surges, try to replace surge protectors every three to five years given the average lifespan of these devices. And remember, you typically get what you pay for. More costly devices will generally last longer and feature an indicator light, alerting you when the surge protector is no longer active; be sure to research products and read reviews before buying. Typically, if the light isn’t shining, the unit is no longer operational.

When purchasing a surge protector, the following labels will ensure the equipment has been properly tested:

      • The Underwriters Laboratories (UL) name, symbol or 1449 code.
      • The words “Surge Protection Device (SPD).”
      • A Voltage Protection Rating (VPR).
  1. Unplug devices (when possible). If you’re anticipating a thunderstorm or if your energy company will interrupt power to upgrade or repair the energy grid in your area, unplugging your devices is always a safe way to ensure protection – even if you’re using a surge protector. 
Whole-house surge suppressors

Another option, which requires a more significant investment, is safeguarding your entire home with the help of a qualified electrician. Whole-house surge suppressors are installed directly into or next to the home’s electrical box and work to protect all outlets within a home. Proper installation of this device is essential to ensure it operates as intended and typically takes up to two hours for an electrician to complete. Working with electricity is extremely dangerous and can be deadly; do not attempt to do so without proper training and protective equipment.

Can you use one device without the other?

Using a whole-house surge protector and single-outlet surge protectors is known as a two-tiered approach and is highly encouraged. A whole-house surge suppressor typically has a clamping voltage of 600 to 660 volts. This means that a device, which typically operates within a range of 106 to 127 volts, will still receive at least 600 to 660 volts of electricity if your home sustains a power surge. Combining whole-house surge protectors with individual surge protectors, which have lower clamping voltages, will result in better protection.

Please note: There is no such thing as 100% protection.  If a major power surge occurs (such as a direct lightning strike), your surge protection devices will probably reduce the resulting damage but may not be enough to fully protect all devices.  Some SPD products include a “Connected Equipment Warranty” which might be worth looking in to.