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The Trouble With Surges

Power surges are responsible for millions of dollars of property damage each year, and over time they can cause cumulative damage while decreasing the lifespan of TVs, computers, stereo equipment, and anything else plugged into a wall outlet.

A surge is a boost in the electrical charge over a power line. This can be caused by lightning, but it’s more commonly caused by electric utility “recloser” operations, which are designed to improve reliability and protect the utility power system. Surges can also be caused by faulty wiring.

Frequent, small power surges tend to shorten the life of home appliances and electronics.

“Power surges come in all shapes and sizes—the most extreme case being a lightning strike because it can destroy equipment and sometimes set your house on fire,” says Alan Shedd, director of residential and commercial energy programs for Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, the national brand for America’s electric cooperatives. “But less severe power surges are rooted in hundreds of different causes.”

He continues: “The severity of a surge depends not only on the voltage and current involved but how long the event lasts. Most surges are very short in duration.”

A surge protection device mounted at your home’s main electrical panel or the base of your electric meter protects equipment inside your house or business from surges coming through “ports of entry,” such as an outside electric, telephone, and cable TV or satellite dish line.

Point-of-use surge protection devices are designed to protect your electronic appliances, and resemble a regular plug strip. However, don’t assume your plug strip offers surge protection unless it specifically says so.

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