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Surviving Power Surges

Article was added on Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Why your hair dryer may be out to get your microwave

By Angela Perez

High-tech gadgets, appliances, and computers all have one weakness in common: deadly power surges. Too much electricity coursing through connecting wires can fry circuitry inside sensitive electronics, reducing them to expensive trash.

Unfortunately, electric current coming from your wall outlet doesn't always remain at a steady, optimal 120 volts. Electricity can spike for a number of reasons, including lighting strikes on power lines, which can send millions of volts searing through your wiring. Motor-driven appliances that use large amounts of power-like washers and dryers-will cause surges, too, when they kick on and off. But power spikes aren't always dramatic or obvious, notes Adrel Langley, Santee Electric Cooperative Manager of Community Relations.

"Smaller electrical products, like your hair dryer, have more subtle power cycles than large items like a central air-conditioning unit," Langley says. "When you use your hair dryer every morning, it could be gradually damaging the circuitry of, say, your microwave, as each small surge hits its circuit board."

All is not lost

Homeowners can protect digital electronics with surge suppressors. As the term implies, these devices suppress a fluctuating power supply by diverting excess voltage to a ground wire. There are several types of whole-house surge suppressors available, although none of them are able to fully stand up to the enormous power spike caused by lightning.

Some protectors mount on your circuit breaker panel indoors or are built into a specific circuit breaker. Others are designed to mount at the base of your electric meter. Suppressors are available for a multitude of applications, from single-plug wall units to  rack-mounted setups that cover an entertainment system  

For those who don't like continually stooping to flip the switch on a power strip, some models even include remote controls. You can also find pivoting protectors that adjust to accommodate a variety of adapters, letting you plug all of your gadgets into one strip.

 Finally, keep a few things in mind before you buy.

"It's important to remember that many of your devices may be connected to other outlets, like satellite, cable, phone, and Internet lines," Langley adds. "Surge protectors are available with options for to protect these conduits as well. And make sure the manufacturer guarantees to cover the cost of replacing any damaged equipment that was attached."

Angela Perez writes on technology issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation's 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

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