Power surges are responsible for hundreds of millions of naira of property damage every year. Surges can instantly overload and shut out the circuitry of home electronics. Over time, surges can also cause cumulative damage to your property, incrementally decreasing the lifespan of televisions, computers, stereo equipment, and anything else plugged into the wall.
Learning more about surges; causes and prevention can help save money and keep your property safe.
A power surge is one out of four forms of electrical power disturbances, and is generally considered to be the most destructive of the varying types of electrical power disturbances.
Simply put, power surge is an unexpected and uncontrolled increase current or voltage in an electrical circuit; otherwise, referred to as spikes in voltage. They are very brief, usually lasting millionths of a second. Power surges can vary in duration and magnitude, varying from a few hundred volts to several thousand volts. No matter where you live, your home experiences power surges.
How does a power surge cause damage?
In Nigeria, most homes use electrical power in the form of 220-240 volts, single phase and alternating current. However, the erratic and unpredictable power supply in the country by the Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria ensures that voltage is not delivered at a constant 220 volts. With alternating current, the voltage rises and falls in a predetermined rhythm. The voltage oscillates from 0 to a peak voltage of 280+.
Usually, during a power surge, the voltage exceeds the peak voltage. A spike in voltage can be harmful to appliances and electrical devices in your home. An increase in voltage above an appliance’s normal operating voltage can cause an arc of electrical current within the appliance. The heat generated in the arc causes damage to the electronic circuit boards and other electrical components.
Smaller, repeated power surges may slowly damage your electronic equipment, too. Your computer or stereo may continue to function after small surges occur until the integrity of the electronic components finally erode and your television, home theatre, cordless phone, or any other electrical appliances suddenly stop working. Repeated, small power surges shorten the life of appliances and electronics.
Where do power surges come from?
There are several sources of power surges. They can originate from the Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria. However, a common cause of power surges, especially the most powerful surges is lightning. Power surges can originate inside home when large appliances like air conditioners’ and refrigerators’ motors turn on and off.
Power surges can enter a home through several pathways. In the case of lightning, it can take the path of the cable TV or satellite dish cable, through the incoming telephone lines, or through the incoming electrical service line.
How can power surges be prevented?
The first line of defence against power surges is prevention. While most external surges can’t be controlled, you can eliminate some common causes of internal surges.
- Unplug devices you aren’t using
The easiest way to avoid power surge problems is to unplug devices that aren’t being used. Take a look around your home, and you’ll likely find dozens of idle items plugged in. There’s no need to leave toasters, power tools or other small appliances plugged in; if you rarely use the programming features on your microwave or VCR, unplug those as well.
- Upgrade inadequate wiring
If you have an older home, inadequate wiring could be the cause. Electrical systems in homes built before the 80s’ weren’t designed to handle large-capacity refrigerators, entertainment systems and computer equipment.
Some visible signs of inadequate wiring are frequent blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers, or lights that flicker or dim when the refrigerator or another large appliance kicks on. Don’t ignore these symptoms – they’re a signal that something is wrong, and the problem may become a fire hazard.
- Fix overloaded circuits
If your home is newer, you may have a problem with an overloaded circuit. Look for two (or more) large appliances drawing power from the same circuit, especially in the kitchen. Another trouble spot might be a circuit with many smaller devices, such as a family room filled with computer and entertainment equipment.
Ask your electrician to establish dedicated circuits for each large appliance, and to divide rooms with multiple devices into separate circuits.
More to consider
- Select a point-of-use surge protector that has an indicating light and/or audible alarm to show when it needs a replacement.
- Direct lightning strikes are powerful enough to overwhelm even the best surge protection; that said, the ultimate surge protection is to unplug equipment from the wall if you suspect a surge might be coming.
- When deciding on what type of and how much of surge protection is needed, each house and its contents should be assessed individually. An electrician knowledgeable about power surge protection systems and the history of problems in your area would be a valuable resource.