Four Reasons We Experience Power Surges and How to Protect Ourselves

Posted on Oct 10, 2014

When the power grid experiences a sudden increase in current, your home gets an electrical surge. Like a dam breaking, this sudden inrush of electrical current exposes unprotected equipment to damaging voltages. It can overheat motors, burn out lights and damage electronic components. Surge protectors, such as those used in power strips, safely absorb the excess energy in an electrical surge.


  • A lightning strike delivers very large currents. Though equipment in the electrical grid has some protection from lightning strikes, it can still cause surges. Lightning can also produce surges from secondary effects such as by hitting a transformer which then fails. If you see a storm coming, turn off sensitive equipment and leave them off until after it passes.

Blackouts or Intentional Power Outages

  • When a large area loses electricity, the current in the power lines goes to zero. When power comes back on, the lines experience a large inrush surge of current. This surge can damage electrical and electronic equipment. Fortunately, this surge is both predictable and manageable. As with electrical storms, you can prevent damage by switching lights, appliances and computers off during a blackout. When the utility restores power, wait a few minutes for the current to stabilize, then you can switch the equipment back on.

Internal Surges – Equipment Operation –Motors turning on/off

  • Equipment can draw large amounts of electricity when it first turns on, causing a brief drop in current for neighbors. Air Conditioner Compressors, Refrigerators, Dryers, Garage Door Openers, When it shuts off, it causes the current to surge. While this seldom poses enough of a problem to damage most appliances, over time it can cause problems with sensitive electronics.

Grid Infrastructure Problems – Downed or damaged Utility Lines – Utility Grid Transfers

  • The modern electrical grid is a complex network of distribution equipment and power plants. If a community experiences high electricity demand, the utility may decide to switch in additional power plants. The switching action can make the line voltage surge. Problems with electrical distribution equipment, such as overheated transformers and broken power lines can also cause surges. These kinds of surges are impossible to predict, though a surge protector will prevent major damage to sensitive equipment.

Holzmacher Electric Recommends Using a Two-Tiered Complete Home Surge Protection System from Eaton.

The Two-Tiered Approach Point-of-use devices can protect particular appliances in your home, but a more comprehensive approach to surge protection is to combine point-of-use devices with another device, like an electrical panel surge protector. By installing two tiers of surge protection, you’ll be able to protect your home from all but the most powerful surges. Service Entrance Surge Protection Devices usually mount in or on your main electrical panel. Using a service entrance surge protection device provides protection for your entire electrical system; they protect things such as motors, lights, outlets, light switches, and all the other “hard wired” items in the house that do not plug into an electrical outlet and can’t be connected to a point-of-use surge protection device. And if the power surge is created by a lightning strike or power fluctuation on the utility lines, the service entrance surge protection device can reduce the power surge to a lower level before it gets to the point-of-use surge protection device.

Eaton’s Type 2 Complete Home Surge Protection (CHSP) prod­ucts are UL® 1449 3rd Edition Listed and provide the highest level of surge protection and safety. Type 2 surge products are per­manently connected devices that are installed on the load side of the service entrance over-current protective device.

Eaton’s CHSPT2ULTRA is a surge protector device that provides superior protection for your sensitive electronics and appliances in your home from voltage surges caused by various sources. The most common causes are lightning, utility grid switching, other users on the power line, and internal surges from air conditioner and power tools. Apply surge where service enters the home. CHSPT2ULTRA is safe, reliable, and tested to the highest industry standard.

  • Installation is simple, type 2 surge products are permanently connected devices that are installed on the load side of the service entrance over current protective device
  • CHSPT2ULTRA is best in class with 20kA nominal discharge current, nominal discharge current is the current that the device can withstand for 15 impulses
  • CHSPT2ULTRA is best in class with 108kA surge current capacity per phase rating, surge current capacity is the maximum amount of surge current the device can shunt to ground during a surge event on one phase
  • CHSPT2ULTRA provides AC power protection
  • CHSPT2ULTRA has LED status indication that lets you know the product is working
  • CHSPT2ULTRA is suitable for indoor or outdoor applications when properly installed
  • CHSPT2 family of products require a dedicated 2 pole 50 Amp thermal magnetic breaker
  • Single phase 120/240 VAC rated line voltage 60 Hz
  • Joules Rating 2820


Secondary Surge Protector, 15A, 12 Outlet, 6 ft, Gray

Product Description

Surge Protection Outlet Strip, Number of Outlets 12, Cord Length 6 ft., Rated Joules 4320, Voltage 125, Max. Amps 15, Color Gray, Length 12-39/64 In., Width 2-1/4 In., Depth 7-9/32 In., Telephone/Fax Surge Protection Yes, Coax Surge Protection Yes, Circuit Breaker Yes, Mounting Style Strip, Housing Material Plastic

Eaton offers a $75,000.00 limited warranty on any equipment damaged by surges when both the CHSPT2ULTRA and the SULT12TC secondary strips are used together for whole house and downstream protection.


The average home could have over $15,000 worth of valuable electronics and sensitive electronics within appliances, which are susceptible to the damaging effects of external and internal surges. Here are some examples:

Televisions – $2,000.00           Electric Ranges – $1,000.00               Electric Ovens – $1,000.00

Home Office – $1,700.00        Stereo & Entertainment Centers – $1,500.00

Refrigerators – $1,500.00        Microwaves and Countertop Appliances $600.00

Washers and Dryers – $1,500.00     Dishwashers – $750.00     Garage Door Openers – $500.00

Air Conditioners/HVAC – $4,000.00    Portable Gaming and Mobile Devices – $1,000.00

When to Use a Surge Protector

In the last section, we saw that power surges are a regular occurrence, unavoidable with our current system of providing electricity to homes and offices. This raises an interesting question: If power surges are an inherent part of our electrical system, why didn’t we need surge protectors in our homes 50 years ago?

The answer is that a lot of the components in sophisticated modern electronic devices (such as computers, microwaves, DVD players) are much smaller and more delicate than components in older machines, and are therefore more sensitive to current increases. Microprocessors, which are an integral part of all computers as well as many home appliances, are particularly sensitive to surges. They only function properly when they receive stable current at the right voltage.

So whether or not you should get a surge protector depends on what sort of device you’re hooking up to the power supply.

  • There’s no reason to hook up a light bulb to a surge protector because the worst that is likely to happen due to a power surge is that your light bulb will burn out.
  • You should definitely use a surge protector with your computer. It is filled with voltage-sensitive components that a power surge could damage very easily. At the least, this damage will shorten the life of your computer, and it could very easily wipe out all of your saved data or destroy your system. Computers are very expensive items, and the data they hold is often irreplaceable, so it’s only good economic sense to invest in a quality surge protector.
  • It’s a good idea to use surge protectors for other high-end electronic equipment, such as entertainment center components. A surge protector will generally extend the life of these devices, and there’s always a chance that a big power surge will causes severe damage.

One problem with surge protectors is that the MOVs can burn out with one good surge. This is why it’s good to get a protector with an indicator light that tells you whether or not it’s functioning properly. Without an indicator light, you have no way of knowing if your protector is still functioning properly.

Even if you connect surge protectors to all of your outlets, your equipment might be exposed to damaging surges from other sources. Telephone and cable lines can also conduct high voltage — for full protection, you should also guard against surges from your telephone or cable lines. Any lines carrying signals into your home can also carry a power surge, due to lightning or a number of other factors. If your computer is connected to the phone lines via a modem, you should get a surge protector that has a phone-line input jack. If you have a coaxial cable line hooked up to expensive equipment, consider a cable surge protector. Surges on these lines can do just as much damage as surges over power lines.

Surge Protection Levels

All surge protectors are not created equal. In fact, there is a tremendous range in both performance and price of protection systems.

  • At one end, you have your basic $5 surge protector power strip, which will offer very little protection.
  • On the other end you have systems costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars, which will protect against pretty much everything short of lightning striking nearby.

Most systems have limitations of some sort; picking out a protector system that suits you is a matter of balancing the cost of the system with the cost of losing data or electronic equipment. As with insurance, you find the level of coverage you’re comfortable with.

To protect your equipment from surges, you need individual surge protectors for each outlet. These power strips range a great deal in quality and capacity (as we’ll see in the next section). There are three basic levels of power strip surge protectors:

  • Basic power strip – These are basic extension cord units with five or six outlets. Generally, these models provide only basic protection.
  • Better power strip – For $15 to $25 you can get a power strip surge protector with better ratings and extra features.
  • Surge station – These large surge protectors fit under your computer or on the floor. They offer superior voltage protection and advanced line conditioning. Most models also have an input for a phone line, to protect your modem from power surges, and may feature built-in circuit breakers. You can spend upward of $100 for a more advanced model.

Surge Protector Ratings

On a listed surge protector, you should find a couple of ratings. Look for:

  • Clamping voltage – This tells you what voltage will cause the MOVs to conduct electricity to the ground line. A lower clamping voltage indicates better protection. There are three levels of protection in the UL rating — 330 V, 400 V and 500 V. Generally, a clamping voltage more than 400 V is too high.
  • Energy absorption/dissipation – This rating, given in joules, tells you how much energy the surge protector can absorb before it fails. A higher number indicates greater protection. Look for a protector that is at least rated at 200 to 400 joules. For better protection, look for a rating of 600 joules or more.
  • Response time – Surge protectors don’t kick in immediately; there is a very slight delay as they respond to the power surge. A longer response time tells you that your computer (or other equipment) will be exposed to the surge for a greater amount of time. Look for a surge protector that responds in less than one nanosecond.