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PUD perspective: Surge suppressors help clamp down on power surges

No one buys insurance with the desire to use it, but the relief it provides is well worth the cost. No one buys a burglar alarm and hopes that it goes off one night, but it helps you sleep easier. Most insurance is invisible until you need it, but there is one form of protection that can be seen every time you plug in an electronic device — surge protectors.

Televisions, stereos, computers and games systems are all common place devices in the average home. The combined cost of these items can total thousands of dollars. Just as you do with your home, car or health, it’s good sense to take steps to protect your home electronics. A potential threat to those devices is a sudden surge of energy above the standard 120 volts, technically called transient electricity, but more commonly known as a power surge. Nearly impossible to predict, power surges can send your home electronics to an early grave by making them the end of the road for thousands of volts of electricity.

Power surges can come from many sources, such as lightning strikes, foreign objects making contact with the power lines and power coming back on after an outage. All can send a surge of energy through electrical, phone or cable lines and into your home, and if you don’t have some sort of surge suppressors the effects can be damaging, and potentially very expensive.

While there are few surefire ways to stop all surges, there are methods that can lessen the impact. Many power strips feature surge-suppression capabilities and geographically speaking are the last line of defense before a surge of electricity enters your television or computer. So, in addition to more outlet capacity, you can provide an extra blanket of protection. Be aware that all plug-in surge suppressors are not created equal. The range from bottom to top is quite extensive, going from $5 to $10 all the way up to the hundreds, or even thousands of dollars. It’s up to you to determine just how solid you want your level of protection to be.

For those wanting to take home surge protection to the next level, several companies offer whole home surge protectors. If a wall plug suppressor is the last line of defense, consider a whole home suppressor the first line. These electrical panel-mounted devices can absorb larger amounts of energy, helping to spare your home the damage associated with power surges. Even if you choose to install a whole home suppressor, it’s not meant to take the place of plug-in devices. Using both types of suppressors can provide a great combination of protection. The PUD is researching the benefits of a pilot program to provide and install whole-house suppressors in a few areas that have seen higher numbers of power surges, but for now the district does not provide suppressors or install them. While plugging an in-home suppressor into a wall outlet is a relatively easy task, whole home suppressors are considerably more complex. Don’t tackle that task on your own; contact a licensed electrician. It means a little more money, but always remember: safety first. The PUD is available to disconnect your service while your contracted licensed electrician performs the installation, if required.

Once they are in, it’s wise to check surge suppressors on a regular basis. Surge suppressors are sacrificial; in the event of a large surge, they may have but one live to give and after absorbing that large surge may need to be replaced; they may also fail over time due to multiple smaller “hits.” Most surge protectors have lights on them which are illuminated if they are working as advertised. If that light is out, the suppressor may only be functioning as a splitter or a power strip, providing no protection in the event of a surge. Get into the habit of checking your suppressors and determine if it’s time for a replacement.

It’s up to each homeowner how much they want to invest in home protection, but some is better than none. Your PUD is not responsible for the damage caused by power surges, so it’s up to you to provide what barriers you can. Many homes can get by on a wall plug protector, but customers in areas prone to outages or that have multiple electronics may want to spend a little extra. Chances are you’ll never need it, but insurance in the form of protection is worth looking into.

Dave Ward is the General Manager of the Grays Harbor Public Utility District #1