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Power Surges Can Fry Your Sensitive Electronics

Some call it a blip.

Others a surge.

Owners of electronic equipment have another name for it: trouble.

The sudden voltage reduction Ontario experienced Tuesday morning had immediate consequences across the GTA. Traffic links blinked out, some clocks went off, the subways slowed, and many of us ran to our computers, satellites and other sensitive electronic equipment to make sure they were still working.

Power bumps, which are often associated with lightning strikes during summer thunderstorms, happen all year long.

According to Toronto Hydro, they can be caused by a major electrical grid interruption or fault, the restoration of power after a blackout or even when a heavy use electrical appliance in your home – like an air conditioner or your furnace – kicks in.

A surge can range from 100 volts to thousands. And while the blip temporarily turns out the power for you, it can be lights out for your equipment.

Strong surges can fry electronics in a heartbeat, damaging or completely destroying unprotected computers or other gear with sensitive components.

And even if your gadgets still work, experts claim repeated surge exposure can take years off their performance lifetime.

In an age where electronics have increasingly taken centre stage, that’s one reason why officials suggest you have reliable surge protectors in your home.

Hydro claims you should look for protection that not only safeguards where you plug in the devices but one that stops the spike where electricity actually enters your home.

One is fairly expensive. The others are available at stores across the city.

The first is called a whole home surge suppressor. It’s installed between your hydro meter and your electrical panel to keep any errant voltage from heading up your power, cable or phone lines.

They’re usually available from an electrical contractor although some stores carry them as well. You should probably let a professional do the installation if you’re not sure about what you’re doing.

The other type is far more common and there’s really no excuse not to use one – or several. Power surge protectors offer multiple outlets, much like an extension cord, where you can plug in everything and anything from a PC, a monitor and a TV to a satellite receiver.

The sensitive components in some of the devices can be fried when a current suddenly spikes, causing them to either malfunction or simply burn out. That can leave you with a big repair bill or no machine at all.

Surge protectors are supposed to be able to stop the charge and keep the equipment safe. But don’t buy a cheap one.

Different strips provide different levels of protection from electricity, and that $1.98 model may not do you much good in the kind of incident that happened Tuesday morning.

They range in price from about $10 to hundreds of dollars. Somewhere in between is the one you want.

There’s also a device known as a UPS, and it has nothing to do with a delivery service.

An Uninterruptible Power Supply not only provides a level of surge protection but it will keep your computer running in the event of a blackout long enough for you to save your work and properly shut the machine down.

So what should you look for in a surge protector?

Here’s what Toronto Hydro suggests:

LED indicator lights

They should be telling you not only that the protector is working but that it’s properly grounded.

UL 1449 rating

UL stands for “Underwriters Laboratories,” which developed a standard for the devices. Each one specifies how much juice an individual unit will let through in the event of a surge. Yours should have a rating of at least 330 volts.

Response time

Not all surge protectors are built to kick in right away, although that’s a relative term. We’re talking nanoseconds here. Yours should list its response time on the box.

Is there a guarantee?

Some surge protectors come with an offer to replace any gear that gets damaged in the event of a power bump. But look at them carefully. A lot depends on the power of the voltage they pledge to safeguard you from. So make sure you read the label before you buy anything.

Source: Toronto Hydro


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