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Encompass® Insurance Insights & Articles

What Is a Power Surge and What Is Its Impact on Electronics?

A typical lightning bolt is about 300 million volts of electricity, making lightning one of nature's most fearsome forces and a risk to your electronics inside your home. The good news, though, is that there are a few simple measures that you can take to help prevent your electronics from being impacted.

Person's hand plugging cord into a surge protector outlets.

What Is a Power Surge?

Power surges are defined as a massive spike in an electrical system's current, causing every device plugged into that current to receive far more electricity than it was designed to handle. These surges only last a fraction of a second, but they can render everything from laptops to washing machines inoperable.

Another common cause of power surges is electrical overload. When you attempt to draw too much power from a single circuit, you can create an electrical overload that causes a spike in current. Faulty wiring can also cause power surges (along with potentially starting a fire in your home). When the insulation around a wire is damaged and the wire itself is exposed, any contact with a conductive material can cause the wire's current to spike.

Lastly, power outages and blackouts can sometimes cause power surges. Once power is restored following an outage, there is sometimes a spike in current that can create a power surge.

Why Do Power Surges Destroy Electronics?

The simple answer is that power surges force electronic devices to receive many times more electricity than they were designed to draw. Most electronic devices are not able to handle any more than 169 volts. When the flow of electricity spikes above this level, it creates an arc of electrical current within the device that generates a large amount of heat, melting the sensitive components and circuit boards within the device.

How To Protect Your Electronic Devices From Power Surges

The easiest way to ensure that power surges won't destroy your devices and appliances is to plug them into a surge protector instead of plugging them directly into the outlet. Surge protectors contain a metal oxide varistor (MOV) that is able to detect high voltage levels. When voltage levels spike, the surge protector diverts the excess electricity back into the outlet's grounding wire so that the devices plugged into the surge protector are kept safe. Along with the small surge protectors that plug into an outlet, you can also install a whole-home surge protector that is hard-wired to your home's electrical box.

Unplugging your devices during a storm is another surefire way to help protect them from power surges caused by lightning. Likewise, it's advisable to unplug your devices during a power outage and plug them back in after power has been restored.

Ensuring that your home's wiring is in good condition can help prevent power surges caused by faulty wiring. Be on the lookout for signs of faulty wiring such as burn marks on your outlets or a burning smell coming from them, circuit breakers that frequently trip, and a buzzing or vibrating sound coming from your outlet. Power surges caused by electrical overload, meanwhile, can be prevented by not plugging too many devices into the same circuit.

Power surges can spell doom for any electrical device or appliance in your home. With a little precaution, you can help ensure that these surges in electricity don't end up costing you a small fortune.

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