QUESTION: A high-voltage surge damaged my TV and microwave oven. I plan to get surge suppressors to protect them. How do I select among the many surge suppressors available, and do they use much electricity?
ANSWER: Electric surge suppressors are a must for today's homes. Almost every electric device, including your radios, TVs, furnace, air conditioner, clothes washer and dryer, cordless telephones, etc., has electronic circuitry that can be damaged by common super-high-voltage surges.
These high-voltage surges in your house wiring can reach 6,000 volts and occur thousands of times each year. Although the surges occur for only a few millionths of a second, they can instantly burn out or slowly destroy any electronic circuit. Even if the television or microwave is turned off, a strong surge can jump the switch and still harm the electronics.
High-voltage surges are generated both from outside and inside your home. External surges come from lightning, accidents involving electrical poles and nearby businesses. Inside your home, they occur when a clothes washer, air conditioner, refrigerator, any device with a motor, turns off.
You should mount a whole-house surge suppressor on the circuit breaker box. This blocks external surges from getting into your home. Plug small surge suppressors into outlets where you plug in electronic equipment. These protect it from internal surges. You can also get surge suppressors to protect your telephone line and TV cable from high voltage.
The level of protection varies significantly among similar-looking surge suppressors. Different types of electronics require different levels of protection. Good suppressors should respond within 1 billionth of a second to block surges. The shortest response time specification is best.
Another important specification is the clamping voltage. This indicates at what voltage level the surge suppressor begins to block the surge and dissipate it harmlessly. It can range from about 330 volts upward and should meet Underwriter's Laboratories standards. A lower clamping voltage offers better protection.
The total surge energy capability indicates how powerful a surge the suppressor can dissipate. A higher number is better. A whole-house suppressor is highest, up to 400 joules, to block the very powerful external surges. A surge suppressor uses very little electricity itself.
When you purchase surge suppressors, compare the specifications. Some also offer a guarantee covering your electronic equipment repair costs if it is damaged by a surge. You can get whole-house kits containing suppressors for the breaker box, wall outlets, telephone and TV antenna or cable.
You can write to me for Utility Bills Update No. 356 listing manufacturers of surge suppressors, types of suppressors they offer, specifications, guarantees and information on the whole-house suppressor kits. Please include $1 and a self-addressed stamped business-size envelope. Send your requests to James Dulley, c/o Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244.