Protecting Expensive Electronics From Mother Nature

This week I thought I’d talk about something close to home. It “hit” me last week and reminded me of just how important it is to protect computer equipment as well as other electrical devices plugged into a wall outlet.

As folks on the South Shore can attest, we’ve had some pretty severe storms and power outages these past few months. Just yesterday, WATD reported that West Plymouth was without power for most of the day.

What “hit” me last week was the inevitable power surge that comes when NStar attempts to restore power to a neighborhood. When the power first went out, there was a power surge moments after the loss – we knew this because the wireless telephone in our bedroom lit up like ET’s finger for a few seconds – then all was black for hours. It was “very early” in the morning when power was restored (thank god – air conditioning….) but as I stumbled around in the semi-darkness, I realized we only had power in certain areas of our home.

Ok – it’s off to the cellar to check the circuit breakers. There was no power in the cellar and no flashlight could be found in any lighted area so I stumbled blindly to my workshop where I knew there was a fully charged flashlight. A few minor stumbles, a couple of mumbled curses and I “saw the light” as it were.

Arriving at the circuit breakers, I recognized the problem immediately – 6 or so circuits were tripped. Easy, I thought, just flip them back on and back to bed for a little more shut eye.

It was not going to be that simple – none of the breakers would reset – now what? Let me say one thing here – I’m usually pretty adept when it comes to things mechanical but at this point, all I could think was – OK… call the electrician in the morning and have all these blown circuit breakers replaced. A few more curses and back upstairs to the bedroom which was cooling down nicely as Pam and Glenda were now fast asleep.

As most folks who know me can probably guess – I couldn’t get back to sleep wondering how so many breakers would be bad but not ALL of them were bad… So, back to the cellar I go, flashlight in hand to investigate further. Once I deciphered which rooms and outlets were affected by the tripped breakers I started visiting them. Lo and behold, the first was the Laundry room and plugged into the wall outlet was an inexpensive surge protector. Getting closer to it, I recognized that it smelled kind of weird and there was a distinct “brown mark” near the on/off switch. There was also a matching brown mark on the formica counter it was sitting on. Obviously, the surge protector was burned out. I unplugged it from the wall and like magic, the circuit breaker would reset and power was restored to that room.

I repeated this process in all the other areas still without power. A few were simple re-sets of the GFI outlets and a few more were burned out surge protectors. Soon power was fully restored so now my thoughts went to the devices that were plugged into the surge suppressors.

In every case, even though the surge suppressors were burned out – they did their job and adequately protected televisions, telephones, radios and everything else that was plugged in to them. Talk about a happy camper.

So here’s some information that just might save your bacon when a power loss and surge happens to you. Surge suppressors are an inexpensive insurance policy – one you really need to take advantage of. Here’s a re-print of a post I made last year at this time.

Protecting Your Computer From Mother Nature
August is bad weather month here on the South Shore and it’s not uncommon for a severe storm to hit without warning. That’s why protecting your computer and printer with a surge suppressor is more than a good idea—it’s an absolute must.

While a home circuit breaker can protect some of your appliances, they were not built to protect the sensitive electronic equipment in a computer. If a high electrical surge hits your computer, it could fry your motherboard and CPU in seconds causing you to lose data AND the use of your computer.

The biggest mistake most users make is thinking that their power strip will protect them, when in reality, it won’t. To adequately protect your sensitive electronic investments, you need a quality surge suppressor designed to handle the job.

There are 2 main things to look for in a surge suppressor:
First is response time. This is the amount of time it takes this device to react to a power surge. This should be 10 nanoseconds or less; any longer and you run the risk of damaging your PC.

The second thing to look for is the amount of energy it can absorb and dissipate before it blows, measured in joules. I recommend at least 800 joules or higher.

Another feature to look for is a failure indicator light. This light will come on when the suppressor is fried and no longer protecting your computer. Most surge suppressors will have this.

If you’re using a dial-up modem (hopefully only for your fax machine), be sure the suppressor blocks electricity that can come in from the phone lines. If you have a fax or cable line, make sure the suppressor you chose handles those too. You also want to make sure the suppressor you choose meets the UL 1449 specifications (this will be listed on the box).

Finally, if at all possible, unplug your computer and all computer equipment, telephone, and modem lines during a lightning storm. This is the ultimate protection against sudden and devastating power surges.

For more information, visit one of my favorite websites – How Stuff Works

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