Surge Protection 101 – What Surge Protection is, and why you need it

The world of surge protection can be daunting for those not in the know. We, at Sunburst Electric, are here to help simplify matters for you.

Why do I even need surge protection?

Good question! It seems like an unnecessary expense and budget drain. They’re far more useful than you’d think, though – particularly when faced with the realities of load shedding. According to a blog published on the John C. Flood website, “[s]urge protectors absorb excess voltage into metal oxide varistors, which then divert it safely to the ground wire, so your electronics don’t get zapped with too much voltage. You need surge protectors to prevent the surge from traveling downstream to the devices plugged into the surge protector.”

Simply put: in countries where there’s a stable power grid, surge protection isn’t that much of a requirement. In places like South Africa, though, we have regular and frequent load shedding. When the power is finally restored, there’s often a surge of electricity. If your cool appliances and equipment – like that nice new flat screen TV or that shiny new laptop – are plugged in to the mains, there’s a chance that the resulting voltage fluctuation will damage them (or even fry them). An alternative is to unplug devices during load shedding, but you aren’t always home when that happens. And load shedding isn’t always predictable. This is where surge protection offers a modicum of reassurance and peace of mind.

A few things to consider when buying surge protectors

Before you start shopping for your devices, there are a few things you should know about surge protection. “Whether you’re just looking to add more outlets, or want to add a layer of protection between your gear and the outside world,” says Geoffrey Morrison, “you’ll eventually want to buy a surge protector.”

Not all surge protectors are created equal, and surge protectors are not the same as power strips. Power strips are essentially just an extension of your plug points, but are insufficient when dealing with power surges. For these, you’ll definitely want to get your hands on a surge protector.

How to choose the right surge protection

According to Schneider Electric, there are three rules of thumb for when you choose surge protection devices (SPD):

Surge Protection
  1.  “Familiarise yourself with types, or category, of SPD.
  2. “Assess the risk of lightning strikes and discharge capacities.”
  3. “Use devices to protect the surge arrester itself.”

Their blog outlines a number of ways in which you can do this, as well as detailing the technical specifications of different devices.

Surge protectors don’t last forever!

Keep in mind that your surge protector is not a permanent addition to your home. Once the joule threshold of a particular surge protector has been reached, it cannot absorb further joules from power spikes. Morrison explains that “[s]ome will give you a warning or shut off when their protection drops below a safe level. Many will just keep working, without protection, and you won’t know it until a power spike damages your gear. If you know you’ve had a serious electrical event … it’s probably worth replacing your surge protector just in case.”

It’s worth noting that these devices are also subject to the wear and tear of age, like any other device or appliance in your home.

Additional resources

For those of our readers who appreciate a more technical approach, the EE Publishers website has a very comprehensive blog on type III surge protection for SAN 164 products.

Sunburst Electric is standing by to help you install your surge protector. While we’re at it, we’re happy to check for any pesky faults or provide you with some friendly chatter. 

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