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THE SENSIBLE HOME

A Surge Suppressor Can Save Appliances

April 04, 1999|JAMES DULLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: It seems like my answering machine, VCR, microwave, telephones, etc. don't last very long. I spend a lot buying new ones. I use plug-in surge arresters now. Would a powerful whole-house suppressor help?

Answer: Nearly every electrical device in today's homes uses sensitive solid-state components. Although you are not aware of it, there are hundreds of very short duration 1,000-plus-volt surges in a typical home's wiring everyday. Some get as high as 5,000 volts.

Your small plug-in (point-of-use) surge arresters do not provide adequate protection. Even if none of the voltage surges is strong enough to destroy the electronic components, these frequent smaller surges can slowly break down wiring insulation. This causes premature device failure or faulty operation.

A high-quality whole-house surge suppressor provides the best protection for your expensive electronic devices and appliances. If you have a computer, VCR or any newer appliances, you should definitely install one.

Several companies include free $10,000-damage warranties when you buy their whole-house surge suppressors. If any of your major electric appliances are damaged by voltage surges, they will repair them free up to a $10,000 maximum.

Lightning is not the only source of these high voltage surges. Just the switching on and off of your refrigerator or washer motors generates voltage surges. These surges can also be generated externally from nearby restaurants or businesses with electrical equipment running.

There are three basic styles of whole-house surge suppressors. Those that:

* Mount on the circuit breaker box with wires (this is the type that I use in my home).

* Are built into a snap-in circuit breaker.

* Mount directly under the electric meter.

To understand how they work, think of a large "electric balloon" with a small outlet hose. When a voltage surge hits, instead of burning out your equipment, the balloon quickly fills. Since the surge is of short duration, the balloon slowly deflates through the small hose and is ready for the next surge.

There are significant differences in the level of protection of the many surge suppressor models available. The key factors are the magnitude of the voltage surge that it can dissipate without burning out itself, the speed with which it reacts and the clamping voltage at which it begins to block the surge.

Some of the newest models also protect your telephone and TV cable lines. Many modems have been fried by surges through the telephone lines. As a second line of defense, continue to use your plug-in suppressors too.

Write for (or instantly download http://www.dulley.com) Update Bulletin No. 405, a buyers' guide to the 10 best whole-house and plug-in surge suppressors, designs, reaction times, maximum surge, clamping voltage and features. Please include $3 and a business-size self-addressed stamped envelope and mail to James Dulley, Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.

All Is Groovy: New Floor Can Flex to Fit

Q: We are remodeling an older house. We want to install new hardwood floors for the warm feeling of real wood, but the old subfloor is not perfectly flat. How can we lay new flooring over it?

A: This is not an uncommon problem with older houses. Real hardwood flooring not only feels comfortable, but the wood is a natural insulator and does not exacerbate allergies as carpeting can.

A simple method is to use one of the types of hardwood flooring with grooves milled in the back. This allows it to flex just enough to accommodate the unevenness. The grooves also provide more adhesive area.

An on-line tour of James Dulley's house shows the money-saving improvements and products that he tests. There are nearly 100 pictures with links to the various columns that describe the improvements and products. Go to http://www.dulley.com/house/.

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