Whole Home Surge Protection (Podcast)

In this podcast, Tim Kent talks with John Maher about whole home surge protection. He talks about the benefits and the installation process. He also explains how they work compared to power strips.

John Maher: Hi, I am John Maher and I’m here today with Tim Kent. Tim is the electrical field supervisor with NETR Inc, a heating and cooling company in Massachusetts, and today we’re talking about whole home surge protection. Welcome, Tim.

Tim Kent: Thank you for having me, John.

What is a Voltage Surge?

John: Sure. Tim, what’s a voltage surge and how can they damage appliances and electronics?

Tim: A voltage surge basically is what it sounds like. It’s a rapid increase of voltage on your electrical system. Basically it can come from inside the home from maybe faulty appliances, aging appliances. Or it can come from outside your home, sometimes from the utility or even lightning storms.

They can cause serious damage to a lot of your appliances or a lot of your new gadgets that you have in your home. Everything nowadays has some sort of circuit board in it, no matter how basic it is. So, all of it is susceptible to a surge and it doesn’t take a lot to have that surge damage an appliance or a stove or even now the big thing is car chargers. You’re now plugging your car into your electrical system. That is susceptible to the surge just like a laptop or a TV, except it has a massive price tag next to it.

You want to make sure that you’re properly protected from that. A lot of the questions I get asked, will this surge protector protect against the lightning strike? If lightning directly hits your home or right next to your home, unfortunately, there really isn’t anything that will be able to absorb that amount of power. It’s just, it’s way too strong. If you get a direct hit, there’s really nothing it can do. Chance is it can kind of mitigate some of the issues, maybe save some things, but very rarely do homes get direct lightning strikes, so it’s mostly the appliance part of it and the utility company causing issues down the line.

Power Surges and Blackouts

John: When you have a blackout, do you have to worry about having a voltage surge when the power comes back on? I know that I usually go around the house whenever there’s a blackout and unplug my computers and some of my TVs and things like that. Just figuring that when the power does finally come back on, it might surge. Is that accurate or am I ridiculous for doing that?

Tim: No, I don’t think you’re ridiculous. There is always that chance. It doesn’t happen that often, but there is a chance that something could happen with the utility companies working on something. I actually don’t unplug my stuff when power goes out. Not for any particular reason or any insider knowledge, it’s just I haven’t had a problem with it.

John: It would be pretty uncommon, I guess, for when the power comes back on for there to be the type of surge that might break an appliance or something like that.

Tim: Yeah, it doesn’t happen that often. It can happen, but it doesn’t happen that often. I definitely say do what makes you feel comfortable because definitely if something is unplugged it’s not going to get a surge. So, you’re definitely clear of that.

But most things that I would worry about is if the power is, sometimes you get power outages that just instantly everything goes out. Sometimes it’s like flickering, flickering, flickering, then dimming up, down. It’s almost like fighting to stay on. That’s what I worry about because that can cause… That’s basically surges happening.

It might not be a massive overload of surge, but it’s voltage going up and down, up and down because of something that’s happening down the street or somewhere else. That can kind of cause damage to your client’s appliances. Unfortunately, there’s really no way to predict that and usually it lasts for a couple of seconds so you’d never be able to unplug everything as it is, which is why it’s good to have a surge factor in place because then you don’t need to if something like that happens.

Surge Protector Power Strips Vs. Whole Home Surge Protection

John: Okay. So, talk a little bit about the difference between these power strips that everybody has that have surge protection built into them that we plug in some of our appliances, like maybe our TV into a surge protector. Talk about the difference between that and what we’re talking about here, which is a whole home surge protector. What is that?

Tim: Your power strip or your surge protector strip that you use for TVs or computers, it’s the same technology except what happens for a surge. When you get a surge, the earlier you catch it the better. It won’t hurt to have multiple surge protections on a circuit. Or if you have a really nice TV, it doesn’t hurt to put in a surge protection power strip and plug it into a surge protection outlet. All that doesn’t hurt anything.

But usually we want to catch the surge as soon as possible because once it gets down the line to where it’s coming out to an outlet or your surge protector power strip, there’s a good chance that it’s going to bypass all of that.

Those surge protectors aren’t rated at the same standard as a whole home surge protector are, right? It’s kind of all a surge protector does… how it operates is that you have that extra voltage and it is designed to attract that voltage and trap it. The surge protector, the whole home ones are one-time use devices. So, what that means is you get a surge and if the surge protector does its job, it will take all that extra power and basically funnel it into itself and then seal it in there. Doing that kind of destroys the surge protector internally. Nothing’s going to blow up or explode or anything like that, but…

John: It’s not like a breaker switch that just breaks and then you can turn it back on again. It actually destroys the unit itself?

Tim: Yes. It locks in that power from getting back out because you don’t want… That power wants somewhere to go, right? It’s going to find the quickest path to ground. The surge protector is designed to give it that way. The engineering of it is above my pay grade, but the engineering of that basically makes it the easiest path to ground.

And then so any surge will go to that first, the path of least resistance. So, when you have the extra power strips, it is good to have, but they will not offer the same amount of protection as a whole home surge protector and I doubt they’ll have the same warranties that come with whole home surge protected devices.

The one that we use come from a company that I absolutely love called PSP Products. They do all of our surge protection. Their surge protector, we’ve been using it for years. It has one of the best warranties in the business that I’ve seen for homes for residential. So, they will pay up to, if their surge protection fails and it’s properly installed but fails to protect your appliances or your home, they’ll pay up to $100,000 worth of damages, which in most cases is enough to fix any home. But they basically, you want to make sure your surge protector is a good surge protector.

No, not the cheapest one. Not just because you know that name. Do your research on it. Most of us electricians will have our own preferred ones for various reasons. I like PSP, not just because of the warranty, but we’ve probably installed hundreds of them and I’ve yet to have an issue with any of them.

Types of Whole Home Surge Protectors

John: Are there different types of capacities of whole home surge protectors, ones that are built… Do you have to get one that’s built for your particular amperage that you’re getting in for your electrical service into your home or the type of electrical panel that you have in your house?

Tim: There’s none that matter about what size your surface is. There are different installation types. There’s some that go right into the panel, almost like a breaker. And then the more common ones kind of go on the outside of your panel and are basically, they kind of hang off of it and there’s wiring that goes into your panel that it connects to.

Definitely, there’s different types of protection, like how much protection it offers. There’s like the breaker ones basically can offer less protection just like a power strip would offer less protection.

The PSP one is one of the best protections that are offered basically. I think it’s a level two surge protection device, which is basically one of the best I’ve seen for residential. There are different ones that are designed for commercial and industrial applications, but you wouldn’t put those in your home. But most of the time, you don’t have to worry about installation. They’re pretty standard for whatever type of panel you have, for whatever type of amperage you have. That doesn’t really matter.

The key thing is the surge protection device will protect that panel. So, let’s say you have a sub-panel that you have your car charger hooked up to and you want that protected, so you put a surge protector in that. Now that surge protector will protect that sub-panel and things that feed off of that. It will not protect the main panel and what’s fed off of that. You need another one for your main panel if you want to do it that way. Because you could have a surge that originates from something that’s hooked up to your main panel, comes back to your main panel and goes on the circuits that are at your main panel. Does not hit or come across any surge protection because it’s located at the other panel.

Installation Process for Whole Home Surge Protectors

John: Right. That makes sense. Talk a little bit about that installation process then for a whole home surge protector. Obviously, like you said, if you have a panel and a sub-panel, you might even need two of them, but what’s involved in installing one of these?

Tim: The benefit of the PSP product is that it’s extremely simple to install. It’s quick, it’s easy, we can install it at multiple locations. It doesn’t even have to be at your panel. We can even install it outside of your meter socket and that would do the same thing, protect everything as well.

It basically can go outside. So, if you do have an outside panel… It’s uncommon to have an outside panel in New England, but a lot of parts of the country do have panels outside. This one is rigged to be outside in the rain, snow, dust, sand, basically anything.

Basically simply just goes right in your panel. We take an empty breaker spot and put kind of a breaker in that doesn’t power anything, but it allows the surge protection to have the protection on it by going through the breaker. Quick, easy, no mess, no fuss, no major cleanup, no major operating costs, which allows us to keep costs relatively low. And what’s good about this product is if you don’t have enough space to put a spare breaker in, it can splice onto an additional breaker or it’s even rated for it to go under the main breaker of your panel as well.

Maintenance for Whole Home Surge Protectors

John: Okay. And do whole home surge protectors require any kind of ongoing maintenance or inspections? You said that if it actually does stop a surge and it stops that electrical surge, do you have to replace the whole thing or is it just a part of it that needs to be replaced?

Tim: So, you’d have to replace the whole surge protector, which is kind of the benefit of it being so easy to install and replace. Basically, they don’t require any maintenance. So, what most surge protectors will have is some sort of indicator light. It’s usually green that says, “Okay, everything’s working fine.” And some of them also come with an audible alarm.

If you notice that the light is off, some of them even the lights will go red, most will just shut off. If the light is off for any reason and you know that you have power to your home and the breaker is on, that indicates that either it got hit with a surge or it’s a defective device in some way, or you’ll hear an audible alarm. It isn’t a deafening alarm or anything like that, but enough to just get your attention. Enough if you’re on the first floor, you’ll be able to hear it type of deal.

So, it’ll alert you when it happens so you don’t have to worry, “Oh, I got a surge and I didn’t know my surge protector was not functioning, because it got hit with a surge.” The technology is there that will definitely let you know in one way or another that okay, this needs to be replaced now or it needs to be addressed. And basically for NETR if that happens, we will come out and assess whatever happened. If you have no damage, which is what we prefer, then we’ll replace your surge protector as it comes with a lifetime warranty. So, we’ll replace your surge protector at no cost to you.

Contact N.E.T.R. to Talk About Surge Protectors

John: All right, well that’s really great information, Tim. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Tim: Thank you.

John: And for more information, you can visit the N.E.T.R. website at NETRinc.com, or call (781) 933-NETR. That’s (781) 933-6387.