Is It Worth It Having A Whole-House Surge Protector Installed?

Electrical surges can wreak havoc on pretty much anything that happens to have a circuit and is connected to the wall outlets throughout your home. Power strip-type surge protectors are commonplace, but they only offer a limited amount of protection for appliances that are directly plugged into those strips.

This is where whole-house surge protectors come into play. These devices are supposed to safeguard your home's entire electrical system from damaging spikes and power surges. However, is it really worth the hundreds of dollars you may end up spending to have one installed in your home?

A Quick Note on Power Surges

Although lightning-induced surges are the Big Bad of electrical failures, they only represent about 20 percent of surge incidents. The other 80 percent comes from surges caused by your own actions. Every time you turn on or shut off an appliance, you're introducing small surges to your home's electrical wiring. These surges are small, but they add up over time and shorten the lifespan of your electronics.

Surge protectors are designed to deal with these power spikes by suppressing the surge, either by shunting the excess voltage to ground or neutral (shunt mode) or absorbing the excess voltage and blocking high currents (series mode). Some surge protectors use both modes, the former for high-energy surges and the latter for low-energy surges.

Weighing the Benefits and Caveats

Whereas your electronics plug directly into a typical power strip surge protector, whole-house surge protectors are directly installed at the electrical service panel. The presence of a working whole-house surge protector can help mitigate surges from refrigerators, air-conditioning units and other major appliances located on dedicated circuits.

Whole-house surge protectors are surprisingly affordable, making them a sensible investment for protecting your home's electronics. According to Angie's List, a basic surge protector can cost as little as $150, while a comprehensive surge protector with provisions for phone and cable line protection costs $475 or more. These prices may differ depending on labor fees, the age of your home and if it needs any prior grounding work before the installation can commence.

At this point, you might think that whole-house surge protectors are all you need to keep your home safe from power surges. However, chief electrical engineer J. Rudy Harford warns that whole-house surge protectors may not be as effective on their own as homeowners might think. According to Harford, power strip-style surge protectors and other "point-of-use" surge protection products often receive the brunt of the surge current while "upstream" whole-house surge protectors receive relatively little surge.

For this reason, it's a good idea to pair whole-house surge protectors with power strip surge protectors and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems for the best possible protection against surges.

It Won't Protect against Direct Lightning Strikes

Contrary to popular belief, there's nothing that a whole-house surge protector or even a power strip surge protector can do to prevent your electronics from getting zapped by a direct lightning strike. A lightning-induced voltage spike can easily result in hundreds of thousands of volts sent through your electrical lines and wiring, resulting in major damage to electronics and appliances. No surge protector is built to deal with that kind of power surge.

While having comprehensive surge protection can help protect your electronics from the effects of small daily surges and brownouts, you may have to take stronger measures to protect your home. For instance, a lightning rod can help draw lightning strikes away from vulnerable areas of your home. During a strike, the energy transferred to the rod is instead safely channeled into the ground.

Nevertheless, having a whole-house surge protector can benefit your home, especially if it's full of expensive and difficult-to-readily-replace electronics. You can discover more here about protecting the electronics in your home from surges.