Keeping Your Electronics Safe in an Electrical Storm

Clients often ask me how they can protect expensive HVAC systems, electronics, and appliances from damage resulting from the frequent electrical storms we see in Vero Beach.  A comprehensive surge protection system offers good protection, at minimal cost, against loss (or damage) to appliances and electronics.

Lightning Strikes and Power Outages

As mentioned in one of my previous blogs, Florida is the “lightning capital” in the U.S. with thunderstorms occurring, on average, about 100 days each year. The area of highest risk for a lightning strike is between Lake Okeechobee (to the south) and St. Augustine (to the north) and between the east and west coasts of Florida – with Vero Beach being well within this area.*

Lightning strikes are a common occurrence in Vero Beach:
​​lightning strike

Lightning strikes and power outages are two frequent visitors to Vero Beach. Both have the potential to damage, or destroy, electronics (or any electrical device) connected to your electrical system.

Damage is caused not by the outage, but by the transient voltage, or surge, when the power is restored.  Another cause of transient voltage is the everyday cycling on-and-off of appliances or air conditioning units.  However, modern appliances are equipped with “snubbers” that redirect the excess voltage so this does not pose a real threat to your electronics or .

First, let’s review what happens with a lightning strike.  A lightning strike has significant potential for damage because the resulting transient voltage, more commonly referred to as a power surge, can be enough to fry the circuit boards of entertainment systems, computers, refrigerators, and HVAC units.**  A relatively new home had more than $11,000 in damage to appliances and electronics.  This expense could have been mitigated by having proper surge protection.  Lightning strikes need to be within about a mile of your home to cause damage.  Many homeowner insurance policies cover lightning damage, but it must demonstrated that lightning was the direct cause of the damage.  You can find more information on how and where to file a homeowner’s claim at Secure Harbor Insurance of Vero Beach.

While a nearby lightning strike is most damaging, there are other power spikes such as power outages that can also cause damage.  It’s actually not the power outage that causes the power surge – it’s the surge of voltage when the power is restored that causes the problem.  Here is a fact many people don’t know: even small surges cause damage over time which will require you to replace systems years before their service life would normally end.  Some of these systems are expensive:  think HVAC and HD televisions.

Surge Protection Devices and Specifications

What can be done to protect these integral, and valuable, parts of our lives?  Many people choose to purchase power strips with surge protection.  Note: not all power strips include surge protection.  If you are purchasing a power strip at least in part for its surge protection, be sure to carefully read the documentation on its features.

Surge protection is measured in joules, voltage protection rating (VPR), and response time.  You want higher joules which provides longer protection, a lower voltage protection rating which minimizes the voltage amount to the appliances the device protects, and a response time of less than 1 nanosecond.  In Vero Beach, which is within the highest risk area for lightning (and related power outages) in Florida, I recommend at least 1200 joules and a VPR of less than 400 volts.

​​surge protection specs

A better protection solution is to install a whole-home surge protector.  An electrical panel, snap-in surge protector will stop a voltage spike before it spreads through your whole electrical system.  The whole-home solution protects appliances that cannot be connected to a point-of-use surge protector such as a refrigerator or central air conditioning.  Anything installed within your electrical panel is best done by a licensed electrician.

The most comprehensive approach to dealing with all types of power surges is a combination of point-of-use surge protectors with a whole-home solution.  This protects from all but the most powerful surges.

As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions at ThisOldElectrician@yahoo.com or 772-473-5245.

Clifford Ruff is a Master Electrician in Vero Beach, FL.

* “When Lightning Strikes”
** To be clear, a direct lightning strike passing millions of volts, cannot be subdued with any sized surge protector. The purpose of the blog entry is to deal with more commonplace strikes that occur down the block or a half-mile away.

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