How to Safeguard Against Lightning Strikes
There are a lot of rumors about how lighting strikes affect your home. From the fact that it takes a direct strike on your home to damage anything to the idea that simply turning off devices or using a power strip with built-in surge protection is enough to protect your devices. Often this can lead to some strange damages. One home video game console suffered from frequent electrical surge damage. The common fault would burn out a chip in the display driver when a power surge travelled into the TV and back to the unit via the HDMI port, damaging the HDMI chip but leaving both TV and console intact otherwise. When it comes to dangerous surges, it’s not just lightning storms that you have to worry about. So today we’re going to look at what causes power surges, how inrush current can damage devices, and the differences between power strips and whole-house surge protection.
What Causes a Power Surge?
A power surge occurs when current in a circuit spikes above normal operating levels. This is more common than you might think (which is why surge protectors need to be designed to account for small surges, more on that later). Common sources of surges are:
Inrush Current: Whenever a high-impedance (resistance) load (e.g. your microwave, hair dryer, vacuum cleaner, or air conditioner) is turned on, the initial rush of current used to start the device is higher than the operational current needed. Everything on that circuit experiences increased load which is why appliance circuits are used to separate most high-impedance loads. This inrush current can sometimes spike to high enough levels to cause breaker trips and damage to sensitive equipment. This also occurs when power is applied and is why you should disconnect sensitive equipment during a power outage.
Electrical Shorts: When a ground fault or other short circuit bypasses a portion of a circuit, there’s a rush of current on the remaining portion. The increased energy surges and can damage equipment not isolated from the short.
Sudden Energy Increases: Caused by lightning strikes or frequency imbalances in the energy grid, an increase in available power is what we typically think of as an ‘energy surge.’ Power increases on the line can affect the entire grid, which is why a lightning strike that is three blocks away can affect equipment in your home.
Surge Protectors: Power Strip vs Whole Home
We all know to put sensitive equipment on a surge protector. Many PCs are even connected to a battery backup system to allow for safe shutdown in the event of a sudden outage. But reliance on power strips alone is not enough for sensitive electrical equipment.
Power Strip Surge Protectors are effective at protecting against mild surges and grid events. Standard inrush current and after-outage startups are manageable, but many power strips and typical ‘surge protectors’ cannot handle the load or trip fast enough to be effective against lightning storm grid events or major grid surges. In many cases, a small defect in a cheap power strip can leave you with a bricked or damaged device. It’s never a good idea to rely on a power strip alone for expensive equipment. Always unplug expensive appliances during an electrical storm! And don’t forget that microwave ovens and your washer/dryer units count too.
Whole-House Surge Protection is designed to handle the surges that a standard surge protector can’t handle. While more expensive than a power strip, these surge protectors are nowhere near as flimsy either. They’re able to take the brunt of a lightning-strike grid event or any major grid outage that would otherwise damage the electronics in your home. They do require professional installation, but the cost is well worth it (and readily makes itself back as soon as lightning strikes).
If you’re worried about any type of surge, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. It’s never a good feeling with a $1,000 device is rendered useless because of a cheap $2 power strip. Make sure you take precautions, especially if you’re going to be away from home for multiple days or during a storm. A little work and expense now can save you a lot of money and heartache down the road.