A Whole House Surge Protector is a device that protects the electronics and appliances in your home from sharp spikes in electric power, called “surges.” Electric surges can fry the electronics in computers, phones, thermostats, TVs, microwaves, fridges … any appliance that has computerized components. Today, that's most appliances.
When Do Power Surges Occur? Minor surges can occur when appliances in your home turn on and off. These won't destroy your electronics in one fell swoop, but they can shorten the lives of your computers and appliances. Anytime the power from the electric utility company accidentally fluctuates, a large surge can flood through your wiring. Downed utility lines, a car hitting a power pole, a nearby lightning strike, or power returning after an outage can all cause surges. These can wipe out your computers, entertainment centers, and appliances. Damage can be in the thousands of dollars, and in some cases, tens of thousands.
Guaranteed Protection A Whole House Surge Protector can protect all the electronic devices in your entire house. It's about as big as a toaster and attaches to your main electrical panel. Some manufacturers are so certain of your protection that they provide you with a warranty against damage. If your electronics or appliances suffer any damage due to a surge, the manufacturer will cover the cost of replacement.
Aren't Power Strip Surge Protectors Good Enough? Quality surge protectors in power strips for computers and entertainment systems are important supplementary protection and are required for validation of the warranty on your whole House Surge Protector. However, the quality of power strip protection varies considerably, with some giving no real protection. Of course, they give no protection at all for your TV, washer, or other appliances. A recent article on the “This Old House” website summarizes the situation: “Many homeowners believe that adequate surge protection begins and ends with plugging their computer into a power strip. Unfortunately, that's seldom the case.”
Which Whole House Surge Protector Should I Buy? Surge protectors vary in degree of protection offered, warranties, and price. If you live in Florida or another area where lightning is common, you'll want a higher level of protection than in other parts of the country. As you'll need an electrician to install the protector, you can consult with your electrician or the manufacturer to determine which level of protection makes sense for you.
As a note, the biggest challenge to a surge protector is lightning. In fact, manufacturers won't generally warranty against damage due to a direct lightning strike to your house. However, this would be a rare event and could cause a lot more damage than simply the loss of your electronics. Most frequently, power surge damage is due to a nearby lightning strike (rather than a direct hit) or to fluctuation in power. That's where a Whole House Surge Protector will pay off.
Aren't Whole House Surge Protectors Expensive? Whole House Surge Protectors have been available to home owners for over 25 years, but their cost has been prohibitive, about $ 800- $ 1,200, depending on the level of protection. Fortunately, due to improvements in technology, prices have halved, with the less expensive ones being in the $ 400 range.
Over the years, homeowners have become accustomed to buying smoke alarms and fire insurance. They would rather be safe than sorry. Protecting home electronics against power surges is a newer idea. Considering the cost and the grief of replacing home computers, entertainment systems, and appliances, here too, it makes sense to be safe rather than sorry.