What Are The Things You Should Do Before/After a Power Surge?
Electricity has become a vital component of our life. Without it, we’ll have trouble doing even our simplest tasks. As such, we have devices and appliances plugged in and drawing power almost all the time. But while each utility company strives to provide a reliable electricity supply, a power surge can disrupt the process. Because we rely on electricity, we need to understand why these surges occur and how to protect our homes from them.
What is a Power Surge?
A power surge is a sudden spike in electric current. It can last for only a fraction of a second but can damage your electrical devices. The outlets in typical American homes usually supply 120 volts of AC power. However, the voltage can rise way beyond 169 volts during a power surge. That’s because of the increased electrical power flowing through the wires. Lightning strikes, short circuits, or overloads on the electrical system are the common causes of such an event.
What Happens During a Power Surge?
When power surges happen, they can cause real damage to your appliances and high-power electrical devices. Surges can be very damaging because they raise the electricity voltage to the point that they melt and fuse equipment and wires.
During power surges, the voltage of the electrical current increases many times over what is normal for that appliance. An electrical arc and heat may occur when the electrical current passing through an electrical device exceeds its operating range. When the appliance has too much voltage to handle, its electronic components can get seriously damaged. In extreme cases, power surges can even start fires. That’s why it’s important to protect your home from spikes in voltage by using surge protectors.
Causes of Power Surge
There are several reasons why power surges happen. Knowing the causes can help you handle the situation and prepare your home’s electrical system.
An electrical overload occurs when you try to draw excessive power from a single circuit. The overwhelmed circuit may receive an enormous surge of electrical current resulting from too much power being drawn into it.
The common causes of electrical overloads include:
- Plugging in too many devices in a wall outlet
- Connecting a large number of extension cords in one circuit
- Using an appliance that’s above the circuit’s amperage rating
Improper grounding of your home’s wiring can cause electrical surges. This is more likely to happen if you have an old house and appliances. That’s because your old wiring may have worn insulation, exposing the wires inside. Damaged wiring offers very little electrical resistance. As such, any conductive material that touches it can hike up the wire’s current.
Faulty wiring can be challenging to detect, but some signs point to its existence. These include:
- Burning smell coming from the outlet or wiring
- Tripped circuit breakers
- Buzzing sound coming from the outlet
Lightning can cause power surges, especially if it strikes somewhere near your home. When lightning hits an electrical system, it disrupts the flow of electricity in that system. If you are using any appliances during this time, there is a good chance the power surges will damage them. This is because lightning strikes create massive amounts of heat. The heat can cause blackouts or melt electrical equipment. If you don’t have surge protectors, make sure you unplug your appliances during a thunderstorm.
Power Outage (Blackout)
If your power goes out but then comes back on again quickly, you may have experienced a power outage. Problems with the grid or power line are some of the possible causes of such an event. The sudden loss of electricity may not present a problem. However, when power returns, the sudden jump in current can lead to power surges.
The Effects of a Power Surge
When power surges occur, there is a good chance that at least one of the appliances plugged into the affected circuit will get damaged. The heat created during these surges can cause wires to melt or circuit boards to burn out. This is often true if you have an older appliance with worn insulation around its wiring. If the surge starts an electrical fire, you can be sure that it will damage many of the plugged-in devices.
How Frequent is a Power Surge?
Power surges occur quite frequently. An average American home experiences many small voltage fluctuations, mostly internal power surges. Internal power surges are usually caused by any large appliance kicking on. These are transient or temporary surges. In most instances, they don’t exceed the voltage threshold of most appliances.
It’s when the jump in power exceeds 170 volts that the risks of damage to your electrical appliances increase. Also, repeated power surges can have the same effect.
Most power surges occur during the summer months when many people use their air conditioning units simultaneously. They can also happen when there is a problem in the electric grid.
Who Shoulders the Damages?
Who shoulders the damages resulting from the voltage spikes depends on the situation and the type of insurance you have. Some insurance policies cover damages arising from lightning strikes or external power surges, such as a tree limb falling on power lines or problems with the power grid. However, if the power surge damage stemmed from overloaded circuits or faulty electrical wiring, you will usually have to shoulder the expenses.
Power Surge Prevention
The best way to prevent damage during a power surge is to have your home’s electrical system meet all necessary safety requirements. You can have it inspected by an independent inspector. The inspector can ascertain whether the equipment in your home is up to code. These include your circuit breakers and outlets. On top of that, you can implement several measures to protect your electrical components from voltage spikes.
Internal Power Surge
An internal power surge refers to voltage spikes arising from events within your home. These include the jump in voltage caused by a refrigerator’s motor kicking on. Faulty wiring can be another reason behind this event.
You can minimize the risks of internal surges through the following means:
- Don’t plug large appliances on the same circuit: Establish dedicated circuits for your air conditioners to prevent overloading.
- Replace or update your home’s wiring: Outdated electrical systems can’t handle the power requirements of today’s modern appliances. This can lead to frequent tripping of the circuit breakers or dimming lights when you switch on large-capacity devices.
- Fix overloaded circuits: High-powered appliances shouldn’t draw power from the same circuit. Instead, provide separate circuits for your electrical components that require a lot of electricity.
External Power Surge
Events that occur outside the home cause this type of surge. Examples of these are downed power lines and lightning strikes during severe storms. You may not be able to prevent power surges from the outside, but you can minimize the damages it may cause.
- Unplug your devices that are not in use: Look around your living space and disconnect idle electronics, such as toasters, power tools, and your entertainment system, from the wall outlets. This prevents them from getting damaged if overwhelmingly excessive current flows through your electrical circuit.
- Use a surge protector: A surge protector is like an upgraded power strip. It offers surge protection by absorbing the excess voltage running through it.
Indications of a Power Surge
You may not realize that you have been affected by a power surge until after the fact. For example, appliances will work fine immediately after turning on but might fail soon afterward. Equipment failure is perhaps one of the most common signs of a power surge.
However, there are some tell-tale signs of a voltage spike. These include:
- Warm or vibrating electrical outlets
- Flickering, buzzing, or dimming lights
- Burning smell near power sockets
- Sharp or acrid smells near your devices
How to Protect your Appliances or Electronic Devices
You can’t really prevent a power surge from happening, but you can take steps to protect your appliances and electronics.
For example, an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) will temporarily provide electricity during a blackout. It won’t last long enough for your devices to keep running through the entire outage, but it will provide a power supply for at least a few minutes.
Checklist After Power Surges
If you have noticed problems with appliances after a power surge, check the equipment for signs of damage. You can also take steps to prevent future power surge damage by having your wiring inspected and repaired if necessary.
You can also test your equipment with a multimeter to determine whether it still works properly or not after a voltage spike.
A surge protector is the most critical equipment that will reduce the risk of damage during a power surge. You can choose from many options for protecting your appliances and electronic devices, but some are better than others for specific situations.
Stand-alone surge protectors will provide a flow of electricity if your home’s power supply gets cut off. However, you can’t use them to power up other devices aside from what you have plugged into them. Some large appliances have some form of surge protection but this can be ineffective if there is a significant power surge.
Difference Between Surge Protectors and Power Strips
Power surge protectors are designed to protect your entire electrical system. They are the best choice for safeguarding essential home appliances that you can’t afford to replace or repair.
An ordinary power strip is much less expensive, but it doesn’t provide any protection against voltage spikes. These strips are essentially just extension cords. You use them if you need additional wall outlets. Surge protectors may look like power strips, but not all power strips offer surge protection.
What is inside a surge protector?
A surge protector consists of metal oxide varistors (MOVs) and a fire-retardant casing. MOVs are semiconductors that can absorb excess voltage, which creates heat during a power surge.
How do you know if there was a power surge?
You can’t always be sure that you experienced a small surge unless your appliances stopped working after powering on or before you turn them off. You may also notice that appliance lights flicker when there is activity on the line, such as during severe storms, high winds, and heavy rain.
Why does my electricity keep going off and on?
If your electricity keeps going on and off, you need to have an electrician investigate whether it is related to a power surge. Overloaded circuits, an overloaded fuse box, or high demand for electricity due to air conditioners or other appliances can also result in flickering lights throughout your home.
Can I shower in a power outage?
You can, but you’ll have to make do with the amount of hot water left in your tank. If you have a tankless water heater, you’re out of luck. You can still take a shower, but you’ll be using cold water.
Power surges can cause a lot of damage to your electronics, and in some cases, they can even be dangerous. It’s important to know how to protect yourself from power surges and what to do when one does occur. If you’re experiencing frequent power surges, it might be time to call an electrician.