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How To Protect Your Electronics From a Surge

Within this modern world, we’ve become very reliant upon our electronic gadgets. We use personal computers to work, communicate with buddies, loved ones or company associates.

DVD PlayersHDTVs (e.g., LCD and Plasma)Video Recording Equipment (for those among you upload your videos on to YouTube)Gaming Systems (e.g., Nintendo, Wii, X-Box, etc.)Central Ac Setup, Heat PumpsMicrowave Ovens

And yet, incredibly, we do very little to safeguard our electronics from damage or effort to generate them survive (and serve us) more.

This informative post is just one of a chain of three (3) articles that discusses the way to safeguard your electronic equipment from its operating life that is shortened by the following destructive mechanisms.

Heat Electrical Surge/Spike Events, andElectrical Noise

In this special post, we’re going to talk about “Electrical Surge/Spike Events”.

In particular, we will talk about the following issues connected with “Electrical Surge/Spike Events”.

What exactly are Electrical Surge/Spike Events and How are they produced?

How will you protect your electronic equipment from Electrical Surge/Spike Events?

What exactly are a few guidelines that you ought to use while choosing a Surge Protector?

2.0 What Are Electrical Surge/Spike Occasions?

Electrical Surge/Spike events are commonly defined as a “big current/voltage transients that happens in an electrical signal or the power-line”.

Spike events generally last for some microseconds and are then gone. Likewise, spike events will generally continue for some nanoseconds and are then gone.


a. 1 microsecond = 1 millionth of the second, andb. 1 nanosecond = 1 billionth of a second.

Both electric surge and spike events can cause significant damage to any electronic systems which are electrically connected to these powerline or signallines which are carrying this transient current and voltage.

To get a person that lives in a house and possess some consumer electronics, electric surge / spike events can fall into one of two classes.

Outside Surge/Spike Events, andInternal Surge/Spike Events

I’ll briefly define all these kinds of Surge/Spike events below.

2.1 Outside Electrical Surge/Spike Occasions

External Surge/Spike events are called “External” because they happen “External” to (or outside of) your house.

Outside Surge/Spike events commonly originate from one of two sources.

Lightning Strikes (during an Electrical/Thunderstorm), andChanging events within the Grid

Outside Surge/Spike events are usually quite big and damaging (particularly should they originate from lightning strikes).

They’ll ruin pretty much any piece of electronic equipment that’s connected to an electrical outlet at home), if these outside surge / spike events were to come in your house (through the circuit breaker panel and via the chief power line.

NOTE: These bits of electronics don’t have to get powered on to get ruined.

They just must be plugged into an outlet in your house in the time when this devastating electrical surge/spike event happens.

Luckily, the Outside Electrical Surge/Spike events don’t happen very frequently (e.g., a few times per year depending upon what part of earth you live in).

2.2 Internal Electrical Surge/Spike Occasions

Internal Surge/Spike Events (as the name indicates) are generated “internal” (or within your house).

Internal Surge/Spike events are usually much smaller than Outside Surge/Spike events.

However, Internal Surge/Spike events happen considerably more frequently than do Outside Surge/Spike events (several times a day).

With time, these smaller (though more regular) internal surge/spike events will do damage to your own electronics too.

Internal surge events will shorten the running life of any electronic gadget that’s plugged into an electrical outlet in your house.

NOTE: The electronic equipment gadget does not require to get powered ON for it to endure some damage from such internal surge/spike events.

3.0 How To Safeguard Your Electronics From Electrical Surge/Spike Occasions

Among the most typical methods for protecting a lot of your own electronics from damage (due to electric surge/spike events) is with the utilization of “power strips” that comprise “surge protection” circuitry within them.

Many power strips have surge protection built in, and in the majority of cases, these kinds of power strips are plainly marked to represent this.


There are several power strips which don’t provide surge protection for your own electronics.

Often times, people will still (erroneously) refer to these items as “surge protectors”.

If you’re looking to buy a Power strip that comprises “Surge Protection” circuitry, ensure that the labeling (on the box which you have in your hands) certainly indicates “Surge protection” or something similar to that.

If you fail to fast find those words to the box, then I advise that you simply put that Power-Strip box back to the ledge and go find a Power-Strip that has “Surge Protection” plainly marked on it.

3.1 How Do Surge Protectors Work?

To be able to make them much more robust many Surge Protectors may have several of these MOV devices.

Under normal operation, these MOV devices can do nothing at all and don’t change the operation of the appliances or electronic systems.

For you electrical engineers out there, I’ll let you know that these MOV devices presents an extremely high impedance between the “power-line” and “electric ground”.

If a spike event happens such that the “powerline voltage” exceeds a particular “brink” voltage level, then the MOV devices will begin to conduct current (and will present an extremely low impedance path) between the “powerline” and “electric ground”.

At this point, all of the excessive energy (from the electrical surge event) will be “routed” through the MOV devices (to electrical ground) and will be redirected away from your precious electronics.

Once the “powerline voltage” returns to a standard level, the MOV devices will subsequently return to their “high-impedance” state and certainly will stop to conduct current between the powerline and electric ground.

3.2 Should You Use Surge Protectors for Each Electronic System/Electrical Appliance in the House?

In general, you ought to use surge protectors on all sensitive electronics which you desire to use and keep for some time period.

Then they will do a really good job guarding your electronics, for the duration that they (the Surge Protectors) function, for those who have Surge Protectors for all of the sensitive electronics.

3.3 What Are a Few Things That I Should Search for When Shopping Around for Surge Protectors in My Home?

In general, you ought to look for these parameters/metrics whenever you’re shopping around for Surge Protectors.

Clamping/Let-Through VoltageJoules RatingResponse Time (if available)

I’ll clarify all these items below.

3.3.1 Clamping Voltage:

The “Clamping Voltage” level is also (often times) referred to as the “LetThrough Voltage” level.

Essentially, this may be actually the voltage level that’ll cause the MOVs (inside the Spike Protect system/Power-Strip) to conduct electric current between the “power-line” and Electrical Ground.

At this voltage level, the Surge Protector will begin to shunt the electrical energy (from an incoming spike event) to Electrical Ground and can redirect it away from your precious electronics.

Like I mentioned before, the MOVs will continue to shunt electrical current (from your power line) to Earth for the duration that the “PowerLine Voltage exceeds this “Clamping” or “Let-Through” Voltage level.

In general, the lower the “Clamping” or “Let Through” Voltage level the better the protection for your own electronics.

Typical values for “Clamping” or “Let Through” voltage level are 330V, 400V, or 500V.

For 120V AC applications, I advise that you simply utilize a Surge Protector using a Clamping Voltage level of 330V.

3.3.2 The Joules Rating

The “Joules” Evaluation for a Surge Protector will generally define the accumulative number of energy that it (the Surge Protector) can consume (throughout its operating lifetime) without failing.

In general, the higher the number, the more the Surge Protector will last and keep to preserve your electronics.

Good Surge Protectors are ones that have a “Joules Rating” of 1000J or better.

NOTE: The “Joule” Evaluation doesn’t reflect the entire number of electrical energy the Surge Protector will shunt (to Electrical Ground) before failing.

The “Joule” Evaluation reflects the number of energy the parts (largely the MOVs) within the Surge Protector can consume without failing.

Generally, whenever an MOV shunts excessive voltage and current to earth (during a Spike Event), it (the MOV) is just absorbing a fraction of the energy.

The majority of the energy is “being dumped” to Electrical Ground.

Another 4 to 30 joules was harmlessly shunted in the Powerline to Electrical Ground) in case your Surge Protector is correctly installed, then for every joule consumed by the parts (inside the Surge Protector.

However, each time your Surge Protector reacts to a spike event, the MOV devices do consume some energy, along with the cumulative quantity of energy these devices have consumed moves closer and closer to the “Joules Rating” number and “failure”.

3.3.3 Response Time

Surge Protectors don’t react promptly to Spike Events.

There’s a little delay (or response time) before they react.

The longer this response time, the longer your electronic equipment sits exposed to the incoming spike event. By Good Fortune, most spike events don’t occur instantly either. Until they reach their peak voltage most surge events take several microseconds.

By that point, most Spike Protection schemes (notably those using MOVs) will “kick in” within nanoseconds following the voltage level has surpassed the “Let Through” Voltage.

3.4 Do Surge Protectors Last Forever?

Similar to the odor of the brand-new vehicle, Surge Protectors don’t last forever.

As these MOVs respond to Spike Events and “shunt electrical energy to earth” over time, they consume a number of this energy.

This procedure causes “degradation” and “wear and tear” on the MOV devices (and inturn) on the Surge Protectors in general.

Eventually these MOVs will fail in one of two ways.

a. The MOVs will fail to the point they will not shunt excessive electrical energy to earth. Within this event, the MOVs (are believed to neglect in an “Open” state).

Whenever this happens, all of your precious electronic equipment that is “downstream” from your Surge Protector are now “formally” un protected and are now exposed to another spike event that comes around.

b. At least one MOV device will fail into a “Short Circuited” Manner. In this instance, the MOVs may (though rarely) fail in the “Short Circuit” state.

Whenever this occurs, the “failed” MOV device would continue to conduct high currents (from the Powerline to Electrical Ground) even if the powerline voltage is less than the “Let Through” voltage.

This kind of failure mode might be quite dangerous.

By Good Fortune, most Surge Protectors will commonly have a fuse that will “blow” and will switch OFF the Surge Protector completely, rather than risk catching on fire.

The primary message here is this. Internal Surge Events happen many times each day.

Since these events happen, and as your Surge Protectors continue to operate and shunt the excessive electrical energy to earth, these Surge Protectors eventually wear out and should be replaced.


Your Surge Protectors should be replaced by you under these conditions.

1. Whenever the Green “Secured” Light (on the Surge Protector itself) goes OUT.

2. For those who have owned your Surge Protector for much more than three years.

NOTE: Getting the Green Light ON is encouraging but is not a guarantee of acceptable protection for the subsequent spike events.

Replacing your Surge Protectors every three years is an excellent practice to maintain your electronic equipment protected.

Meet the Author
Gary Lightfoot

With over 30 years of experience in the industry, Gary Lightfoot took over his family business and continues to run it with the values and standards set 35 years ago

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