This piece was originally published in the November 2016 issue of electroindustry.
Pankaj Lal, Senior Offer Manager, Advanced Function Breakers & SPD, Schneider Electric
Your home is your space in the world. For many, it is a lifetime investment, protected by insurance from possible damages.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spends a little more than $2,700 annually on entertainment; much of that entertainment is provided by household electronics. While electronics represent a huge investment in every household, are they protected?
In the United States, power surges are responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars of property damage every year. The Insurance Information Institute report for 2013 identified 114,740 insurer-paid lightning claims for residential locations. The average lightning paid-claim amount was $5,869. This, however, represents a relatively small percentage of the damage caused by surges. A major percentage of surges are generated internally within a network and are generally not covered by insurance.
Surge protection is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity in our electronic homes. A survey conducted by Kadence Communication in March 2016 revealed that, although many homeowners are aware of the term electrical surge, most are unaware of how, when, and why electrical surges occur; how they can be prevented; and the degree of damage they can cause.
What are electrical surges?
An electrical surge is a sudden and unwanted increase in voltage that can damage, degrade, or destroy sensitive electronic equipment in a home or business. There are two main sources of electrical surges:
The most familiar source of a power surge is lightning, but that is actually one of the least common causes. When lightning strikes near a power line, the electrical energy can boost electrical pressure by millions of volts.
Overvoltage generated by operations or incidents on the network
NEMA estimates that 60 to 80 percent of surges are created within a facility, such as when large appliances (e.g., air conditioners) turn on and off. This switching creates sudden, brief demands for power, which upset the steady voltage flow in the electrical system and cause repetitive surges. While these surges are nowhere near the intensity of a lightning surge, they can be severe enough to damage components, immediately or gradually, and they occur regularly in most building’s electrical systems. Other sources of repetitive power surges include faulty wiring, problems with the utility company’s equipment, and downed power lines.
Why should we care?
Repetitive surges can lead to premature aging and can even cause devices to malfunction, resulting in permanent damages and fires. Premature aging can cause a device to stop working one day, well before its intended life time. Unlike high-level surges, low-level power surges won’t melt parts or blow fuses, but they can cause “electronic rust,” gradually degrading internal circuitry until it ultimately fails. Electronic failure is often due to repetitive surges.
The damage caused by repetitive surges happens over a longer period of time. Because there are no visible signs, most people are unaware of the damage until it is too late. Therefore, energy companies will not claim responsibility for the damages, and insurance companies will not pay for it. The internet is filled with stories of homeowners who woke up to find equipment fried and a hefty bill that no one seems responsible for.
What can we do about it?
A very common misconception is that surge protection strips completely protect a home or business from power surges. This is not true. Although surge strips offer protection for devices connected to it, most of the heavy-duty electronic appliances in a home (e.g., television, cooktop, microwave, washer, dryer, and dishwasher) are connected to the main line, which remains vulnerable during power surges. This is not to say that surge strips are not useful —just that they offer a limited layer of protection.
A surge protective device (SPD) provides protection from surges entering the home from the power line when connected at the main electrical service. An SPD is a device that is installed in the load center of a house.
A surge, which lasts a few microseconds, can destroy memories, processors, capacitors, and screens. SPDs help to reduce the spike to a value compatible with connected appliances. By layering cord-connected surge protectors and panel-mounted SPDs, we can achieve a more reliable protection scheme for our homes and the appliances and electronics within them.
According to the Kadence Communication survey, fewer than seven percent of homeowners owned panel-mounted surge protection. In today’s system of electricity distribution, power surges are an unavoidable occurrence. It is the responsibility of homeowners to be aware of power surges, as well as the financial and safety risks associated with them.
Take the necessary steps to protect your home and property. Insure your electronic investment from the effects of the unavoidable power surges with SPDs.
For additional information, go to www.nemasurge.org.Read the November 2016 issue of electroindustry.