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How to Protect Your Electronics from Electrical Surge Events

In this modern world, we have become very dependent upon our electronic gadgets. We use personal computers to work, communicate with friends, family members or business associates. We often times store valuable files (such as financial documents, memos, reports, *.mp3 files, and now we also store important personal pictures) onto the Hard Drives of our Computers. And yet, amazingly, we do very little to protect our electronics from damage or attempt to make them last (and serve us) longer.

In this article you'll learn: What are Electrical Surge/Spike Events and How are they generated? How do you protect your electronics from Electrical Surge/Spike Events? What are some guidelines that you should use when selecting a Surge Protector?

What are Electrical Surge/Spike Events?

Electrical Surge/Spike events are typically defined as a "large current/voltage transients that occurs in an electrical signal or the power-line". Surge events typically last for a few microseconds and are then gone. Similarly, spike events will typically last for a few nanoseconds and are then gone.

Note: 1 microsecond = 1 millionth of a second,
1 nanosecond = 1 billionth of a second.

Both electrical surge and spike events can cause considerable damage to any electronic systems that are electrically connected to these power-line or signal-lines that are carrying this transient current and voltage. For a typical person that lives in a home and own some consumer electronics, electrical surge/spike events can fall into one of two categories: External Surge/Spike Events, and Internal Surge/Spike Events.

External Electrical Surge/Spike Events

External Surge/Spike events are called "External" because they occur outside of your home. External Surge/Spike events typically originate from one of two sources: Lightning Strikes (during an Electrical/Thunderstorm), or Switching events within the Electrical Grid.

External Surge/Spike events tend to be very large and damaging (especially if they originate from lightning strikes). If these external surge/spike events were to enter your home (via the main power line and through the circuit breaker panel), they will destroy pretty much any piece of electronics that is connected to an electrical outlet in your home. NOTE: These pieces of electronics do not need to be powered on to be destroyed. They need only to be plugged into an outlet in your home at the time when this catastrophic electrical surge/spike event occurs.

Fortunately, the External Electrical Surge/Spike events do not occur very often (e.g., a few times a year depending upon what part of the world you live in).

Internal Electrical Surge/Spike Events

Internal Surge/Spike Events are generated within your home. Internal Surges/Spike events typically occur whenever the motor or an appliance (such as an Air Conditioner or the Refrigerator turns ON or OFF). Internal Surge/Spike events tend to be much smaller than External Surge/Spike events. However, Internal Surge/Spike events occur much more often than do External Surge/Spike events (several times a day). Over time, these smaller (though more frequent) internal surge/spike events will do damage to your electronics as well.

Each time a motor of an appliance (such as an Air Conditioner or a Refrigerator) requires surge current (for it to turn on), or anytime the magnetic field (within the motor of an appliance collapses) whenever it is turned OFF, a damaging surge or spike is generated and can propagate throughout some of the power supply lines in your home.

Internal surge events will shorten the operating life of any electronic gadget that is plugged into an electrical outlet in your home. NOTE: The electronic gadget does not need to be powered ON for it to sustain some damage from these internal surge/spike events.

How to Protect Your Electronics From Electrical Surge/Spike Events

One of the most common ways of protecting many of your electronics from damage (due to electrical surge/spike events) is through the use of "power strips" that contain "surge protection" circuitry within them. Many power strips have surge protection built in, and in most cases, these types of power strips are clearly marked to reflect this.

Caution: There are some power strips that do not provide surge protection for your electronics. Often times, people will still (incorrectly) refer to these products as "surge protectors". If you are looking to purchase a Power strip that contains "Surge Protection" circuitry, make sure that the labeling (on the box that you have in your hands) clearly indicates "Surge protection" or something like that. If you cannot quickly find those words on the box, then I recommend that you put that Power-Strip box back on the shelf and go find a Power-Strip that has "Surge Protection" clearly marked on it.

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