Use a Surge Protector for Electronic Devices

Surge protectors are a must

Surge protectors are a must for any electronic device, whether it’s a digital clock, a computer, a dishwasher or a home theater system. The best protection is a whole house surge suppressor backing up a plug-in surge suppressor.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

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Two levels of protection

Any device with a computer chip, whether it’s a $20 digital clock or a $5,000 home theater system, is vulnerable to sudden voltage spikes that routinely travel through your electrical wiring. If the spike has enough energy, it’ll punch through the chip and ruin it, forcing you to either junk your TV or spend hundreds of dollars for repairs. Lightning during storms causes most damaging surges, but smaller surges, many generated within your home (by vacuum cleaner motors, refrigerator compressors, etc.), also gradually degrade and destroy computer chips. Homes with long lines from the utility pole (rural and “outer ring” suburban homes) and in regions with lots of thunderstorms are especially vulnerable. For an expensive TV and any other electronic item you value highly, we recommend two-stage surge protection.

Stage 1: Mount a simple plug-in surge suppressor at the electronic device

This is the bare minimum. This gives good protection from surges generated within your home wiring system and fair protection from large surges from outside, like lightning. You’ll find a wide range of plug-in surge suppressors at electronics stores and on the Internet.

Here’s what to look for:

1. Choose a surge suppressor that will handle both the electrical plug and any coaxial (TV) and data (telephone) lines that serve the component. We show one that has both electrical power and coaxial cable protection.

2. Check the technical specifications for these minimum features: 330 volts (or less) clamping voltage, 5 nanoseconds (or less) clamping speed and 500 joules (or more) energy dissipation. The packaging on the surge suppressor usually lists these figures. If in doubt, ask a store clerk for help. Generally, the lower the clamping voltage, the faster it responds to the power surge; and the higher the joule rating, the better the suppressor and the higher the price. Expect to pay $30 to $50.

Note: The biggest hassle of installing a wall-mounted TV is hiding the wires. Running wires to new outlets behind the TV is one way to handle this, but the wall bracket that you buy for the TV must allow enough space for the surge suppressor.

Stage 2: Mount a whole-house surge suppressor at the electrical panel

A whole-house surge suppressor intercepts surges from outside lines, mainly from lightning strikes, before they get into your home’s electrical wiring. It not only adds much stronger protection (higher energy-absorbing ability) for your expensive TV and computer but also protects your microwave, dishwasher, range and any other device in your home that has a computer chip. Since so many household appliances now have chips, consider adding whole-house surge protection even if you don’t have an expensive TV. Mount this device as close as possible to the incoming wires inside your electrical panel. We recommend that you hire a licensed electrician for this task since it’s extremely hazardous to work near the live wires inside the panel.

At a minimum, look for a whole-house suppressor with 400 volts (or less) clamping voltage; 5 nanoseconds (or less) clamping speed; and 1,000 joules (or more) energy-absorbing capability. Prices begin at about $80 and rise with higher energy-absorbing capacities and faster clamping speeds.

Note: All surge suppressors should have indicator lights that show that they’re working. As they absorb surges, they gradually wear out and will need to be replaced. Some more expensive whole-house suppressors have replaceable modules so you can replace the modules as they burn out, rather than the whole unit.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Plug-in surge suppressor
  • Whole-house surge suppressor

Shopping List