Our homes now overflow with expensive
electronic gadgets and gizmos, all of which can benefit from surge protection.
But buy the wrong equipment, and all you'll get in return will be a false sense
All surge protectors and uninterruptible power supplies,
or UPS, are not created equal. To get the right protection, you need the right
equipment for the job.
spikes and surges
When most of us hear the terms
"spike" or "surge," we think of electrical problems associated
with violent weather. It's true that severe storms do take their toll on power
lines, transformers and electrical substations. Not only can they deprive us of
electricity for hours, days or even weeks, they can damage the sensitive electronic
devices that dominate our lives.
The typical lightning
bolt contains several hundred million volts of energy. Should that massive discharge
strike a nearby cable, power or telephone line, it will fry anything that's plugged
into an unprotected outlet.
Neil Bradshaw operates a home-based
business in Windsor, Ontario, an area susceptible to lightning strikes. "We
have lots of new housing developments and much open land," says Bradshaw,
who had the foresight to buy a quality surge protector to safeguard his PCs. "We
were hit with lightning two months later. All of my electronics were fried, however
the computers that were plugged into my APC surge protector survived. The computers
that were not ... were damaged."
Bradshaw says he was
unable to recover data from the hard drives and calculates a loss of nearly $13,000
in unprotected equipment.
Storm winds can be equally damaging.
Powerful gusts can easily down or stress electrical lines, causing otherwise-stable
line voltages to fluctuate wildly. The resulting swings in AC current can damage
unprotected electronics just as effectively as lightning.
work in a data center. I have seen firsthand the kinds of damage power interruptions
can cause," says Jan Craddock of Tampa, Fla. His home electronics experienced
no ill aftereffects from the surges and spikes generated by the winds of last
year's hurricanes. He attributes that to surge and battery backup protection.
equipment has also kept Craddock protected from a host of nonweather-related electrical
problems. "My Back-UPS units have saved me from incurring thousands of dollars
of electronic equipment damage as a result of the constant Tampa-area power surges,
brownouts and power failures."
Foul weather isn't the
only spike and surge producer. During summer heat waves, the atmosphere might
be tranquil and unchanging for days on end, but the electrical grid is anything
but, thanks to all those air conditioners, fans, pool filters and whirlpool tubs
switching on and off. Even though the resulting fluctuations in current might
not immediately damage unprotected equipment, they will wear on sensitive circuitry
over time, shortening the lifespan.
Even the building boom
can generate its share of localized spikes and surges.
sites are a problem," said John Drengenberg, an engineer and consumer affairs
manager for Underwriters Laboratories. "Any time you have a large quantity
of electricity being used, such as by a hoist-motor or a large salamander-type
heater or an arc-welder or any other major power tool going on and off, well all
this activity can send surges down the electrical line that can interact with
AV equipment or any sophisticated electronic."
So no place
is really safe, that's why many recommend whole-house surge protection to shield
sensitive equipment from external power problems. These units are generally attached
to the main breaker box and are designed to handle spikes and surges of up to
20,000 volts -- standard outlet surge protectors typically can't handle more than
6,000 volts. They can be a sensible option for those living in areas where utility
or weather-related problems are common.