Whole-house electric surge suppressor tips

Dear Jim: With all the electronic items I have, I thought about installing a whole-house electric surge suppressor. What are the various types, how can I compare the various models and do they save energy? – Ricki J.

Dear Ricki: Today’s homes have more sensitive electronic devices than the most people realize. Everyone thinks of televisions, computers, DVD players, etc., but even most modern clothes washers and dryers, toaster ovens and other small appliances have sophisticated electronic components.

It is wise to install a whole-house voltage surge suppressor to protect entire branch circuits throughout your home. This does not eliminate the need for also using a plug-in point-of-use surge suppressor for the most sensitive electronic devices. Using these two levels of protection is best.

Voltage surges in your home wiring are actually called transient voltage surges by professionals. There can be hundreds of these voltage spikes every day. They are very short in duration, but can exceed many hundreds of volts in magnitude. Instead of burning out the electronics with one surge, they typically slowly degrade components and wiring insulation. This causes the electronic device to fail prematurely.

There are many more sources of these voltage spikes than just lightning. If you live near commercial operations with large motors, such as large refrigeration units or pumps, surges occur when these motors switch on and off. Even the smaller motors in the clothes washer or vacuum cleaner inside your home can generate destructive surges throughout your house wiring.

Most whole-house surge suppressors use MOV (metal oxide varistors) components which absorb the electrical energy from the surge when it gets above a certain level (clamping voltage). Below this voltage, the surge suppressor has no effect. Some companies claim a surge suppressor can lower electric bills, but the primary purpose of one is protection.

If a very powerful surge comes through, it may burn out the surge suppressor and it must be replaced, but your electronic devices are saved. When selecting a surge suppressor, consider the manufacturer’s protection warranty. Some will replace any of your electronic devices, up to thousands of dollars, which are damaged by a surge that gets through.

The most common design of whole-house surge suppressor is mounted in the breaker panel. Another design is used as a base under the electric meter. If you are adding new circuit breakers, some include surge suppression.

Larger maximum surge current and total energy dissipation are better when comparing surge suppressor specifications. This means they can block a more powerful surge without being burned out. Generally a lower clamping voltage is better.

The following companies offer efficient surge suppressors: Asco Power Technologies, (800) 288-6169, www.ascopower.com; Belkin, (800) 223-5546, www.belkin.com; Eaton, (800) 386-1911, www.eaton.com; Intermatic, (800) 391-4555, www.intermatic.com; and Meter-Treater, (800) 638-3788, www.metertreater.com.

Dear Jim: I see ripples on the water in the toilet bowl, so I think that means water is leaking. I installed a new flapper valve in the bottom, but I still see the ripples. What could be causing this problem? – Mike R.

Dear Mike: If there is a slow leak through the flapper valve, you should be hearing the water flow start and shut off every hour or so. Check if there is some appliance, such as a clothes washer, running which might be causing the ripple from vibrations through the floor.

If you hear the toilet water running at times and you know the new flapper valve seals well, check the height of the water in the tank. It may be running down into the overflow tube.

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