Protect electronics from power problems



The danger is silent and undetectable. It travels invisibly at incomprehensible speeds. Victims don’t know they’ve been hit until it’s too late.

Protect electronics from power problems

The danger is silent and undetectable. It travels invisibly at incomprehensible speeds. Victims don’t know they’ve been hit until it’s too late.

The culprit is power surges, and while they won’t harm people in most cases, they can wreak havoc on your home’s electrical devices, especially expensive electronics like televisions, computers and stereos. Here are some tips to help you avoid finding a fried flat screen or immolated iMac.


Buy surge protectors

John Drengenberg, an engineer with Underwriters Laboratories, which certifies electronics for safety, said it’s a relatively obvious solution but one that can lead consumers into complacency unless they’ve read the fine print. He said some power strips, especially the less-expensive ones, provide no protection from power surges. “If there’s a $9.99 power strip and a $19.99 power strip that provides surge protection ... go with the $19.99 one,” he said.

 

Get maximum protection

Surge protection comes at different levels, but a higher rating isn’t a good thing. Like in golf, the lower the number of volts, the better. “It’s counterintuitive,” Drengenberg said. “If you get a surge protector that’s rated for 2,000 volts, and a surge comes in at 1,000 volts, it won’t help you.” He said a good voltage rating to look for is in the 300 range.

 

Keep abreast of technology

There are devices out there that can help protect every outlet in a home from power surges, but Drengenberg said it’s likely that only the newest and higest-end homes come equipped with them. Whole-house surge protectors can be retrofitted into existing circuit breaker boxes with the help of an electrician.

 

Be aware of the weather

If a lightning storm is in the forecast, it’s a good idea to unplug sensitive electronics such as televisions and computers. Merely turning the devices off won’t help, Drengenberg said. By being plugged in, the electronics maintain a connection to the power grid where the surges travel. While nothing can save electronics from a direct hit by lightning to a house, lightning strikes from a mile or two away can cause surges.

 

Don’t forget to unplug

Drengenberg said a simple way to prevent damage to electronics while you’re away is to make a habit of unplugging computers, televisions and stereos when leaving for any length of time, especially in the summertime when lightning storms are more likely.

 

Know what to protect

Power surges aren’t going to do much damage to simple electronics such as lamps, Drengenberg said. By purchasing surge protectors for areas such as the home theater or office, it’s easy to unplug just the most sensitive equipment, making it less of a chore.

 

Check the UL label

If it doesn’t have one, that means the device hasn’t been tested by Underwriters Laboratories, a not-for-profit organization that promotes safety standards. The label can also give you information such as voltage ratings for surge protectors and if a power strip has surge protection or not.

 

BREAKOUT

Did you know?

While lightning can cause the most damaging power surges, it isn’t the only phenomenon that causes damage. Surges within a home can be caused by something as simple as a large appliance, like a furnace or vacuum cleaner, turning on or off.