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View Full Version : Whole house surge protection- any thoughts?



Malcolm Schweizer
12-27-2017, 9:09 AM
With power being restored to the island bit by bit, a lot of folks have lost expensive appliances to the surges. We bought surge protectors for the expensive stuff, and my wife asked if there was a surge protector for the whole house you could get. I googled it, and it appears there is.

https://www.homedepot.com/p/Leviton-120-240-Volt-Surge-Protection-Panel-51120-1/205743344?cm_mmc=Shopping%7CTHD%7CG%7C0%7CG-VF-PLA-D27E-Electrical%7C&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIweaQ8ayq2AIVz7jACh3YWAANEAQYByAB EgKoGvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds&dclid=CMr4p4itqtgCFYcBPwodQeMFIQ

At this price, why wouldn't every house have them as a standard thing? Anyone want to give me any pointers on selecting a good model?

Edit: By the way, I told my wife, "Let me ask the folks on SMC." She said, "Isn't that a woodworking forum?" I replied, "They know a little of everything."

Ole Anderson
12-27-2017, 9:26 AM
I have had one for probably 10 years, inexpensive model, I think it is an InterMatic. Haven't lost anything to a power surge, but then I don't know if I have ever had a power surge since it was installed. Probably not as both LED's are still burning red. Cheap insurance that just may help. Couldn't hurt. Our cruise ship stopped at the USVI one week prior to the hurricane, so sad for all of your losses.

Malcolm Schweizer
12-27-2017, 10:36 AM
I watched a video and now I'm confused- it appears it hooks to the bus bar- I thought it would hook between the main service line and the box.

Steve Jenkins
12-27-2017, 10:50 AM
Mine just snaps in like a two pole breaker and I believe has a wire that goes to ground. The directions said to put it closest to the incoming line

Dave Anderson NH
12-28-2017, 12:30 PM
I had an electrician install one for me. It is a separate box upstream of the breaker box. I did this after losing 2 supposedly surge protected modems and some other electronics 3 years ago. Surges are a regular occurrence in my rural area.

Dan Friedrichs
12-28-2017, 12:44 PM
I watched a video and now I'm confused- it appears it hooks to the bus bar- I thought it would hook between the main service line and the box.

It absorbs transients - so a voltage above the expected value "trips" something inside it and it absorbs the energy of the surge. It doesn't disconnect the service.

Stan Calow
12-28-2017, 12:54 PM
I've often wondered why lightning rods on homes were not more common.

Brian Henderson
12-28-2017, 2:04 PM
I've often wondered why lightning rods on homes were not more common.

My last house had one. Someone, probably decades and decades ago, drove a phone pole into the ground next to the house and put a lightning rod on top of it. The discharge wire ran down the side and into the ground. So far as I know, in the 17 years I lived there, it never took a hit.

Lee Schierer
12-28-2017, 4:26 PM
I've often wondered why lightning rods on homes were not more common.

Mostly because they really don't work. They were intended to bleed the ground charge into the atmosphere thereby making the house a less likely target. However, unless you keep the tips sharp and clean they tend not to discharge the static charge.

There are newer systems that do work, but they are very expensive. We installed such a system on the Biofuel Plant that I helped build in NW PA and they have recorded hundreds of hits. It consists of a ground plane and a number of domed receptors mounted at the high points of the facility.

Jerome Stanek
12-28-2017, 5:24 PM
We had them on the house I grew up in I remember it getting hit twice. We also had a 60 tall steel smoke stack that would get hit about once a year. I remember one time I was going into the service building when it got hit I thought I went deaf.

John Ziebron
12-28-2017, 9:56 PM
There are two different kinds of surge protectors. The larger, more expensive ones that get connected directly to your main breaker box are intended for protection against incoming service line surges like from lightening and sometimes when power gets restored. But we all have items in our homes that create surges, mostly items with motors like refrigerators, washing machines, sump pumps, etc. And for those surges internal to the house surge protecting AC strips or special surge protecting individual circuit breakers that supply power to sensitive, expensive electronic devices like computers, TVs and audio equipment should also be used.

Jerome Stanek
12-29-2017, 7:18 AM
I had a lighting strike the ground near my shop and it took out a bunch of stuff all through the ground wire. My cnc controller was the worst the ground wire and most of the ground traces were burnt off my welder had scorch marks on the ground wire even though the breaker was off. ground wires on other equipment also showed signs of scorching.

Perry Hilbert Jr
12-30-2017, 5:59 AM
There is a small village near here, Collinsville, that sits a bit higher than most of the surrounding country. At least half the houses there have lightning rods, some have two or three. A friend that lives there has lost all his appliances twice in 20 years. The last time some of his wiring was fried. The lightning hit a tree next to his house and must have lit up everything with in 50 ft, because even the old water pipe to the barn a few ft under ground was blown up.

We have had some real window rattling close strikes to trees on the hill a couple hundred yards away. Even had a couple storms in which your hair stands straight up. When we built the new house, we had a surge protector put in but the electrician said they do not protect against certain kinds of strikes. At our old house, the well pump went twice in 20 years both times during electrical storms, but the well pump is on a different meter and electrical box because it is 450 ft from the houses

We have a very small (circa 1910) house on the farm and I had a licensed electrician rewire the house starting with a new service head, meter and box. He installed new energy saving fixtures, the LED ceiling lights in the bedrooms glow for hours, after an electrical storm. Not bright like they are turned on, but enough that they can be seen through a window. like a dim night light. Had him back out to check and he found nothing wrong. It's been like that for three years now.

Matt Meiser
12-30-2017, 10:42 AM
We had a breaker-style snap in one at our last house and an Eaton one that mounts off the side of the box. Do they work? Not sure, but knock on wood we haven't lost anything to surges. Maybe it works, maybe we are lucky.

Ole Anderson
12-30-2017, 11:03 AM
Many protection devices are designed to fail, similar to a fuse, when they are hit by a major surge. So it pays to check occasionally if the LED's are still lit. We just installed a 3 phase surge protector at church after a surge fried over $5000 in boards for our elevator, protector alone was over $1,000, but has a replaceable module for each phase.

Matt Meiser
12-30-2017, 11:22 AM
Yes, where ours is mounted you can see those LEDs when you go in the utility side of the basement so I've gotten in the habit of glancing at them and the radon detector mounted nearby.

Malcolm Schweizer
12-31-2017, 12:54 AM
Thanks for the enlightenment! (Pun intended). I picked up a whole house surge protector at Lowe's (awesome place, by the way) and headed home on the early flight this AM. I will hook it up before I flip the power back on. Yes- power was restored while I was away- for those following my situation. 113 days of no power.

By the way, surges are so common where I live that when you buy a television they won't let you leave the store until they open the box, plug it in, and you sign off that it was working when you left the store. I guess a lot of folks were returning TV's that got fried. Every major electronic in my house will now be protected by a whole-house and a plug-in surge protector. Computers, TV, and camera system will have UPS's because dips are also an issue. My fridge has a thing that keeps it shut off for 5 min after any power interruption in case of on/off/on/off blips after a power interruption. It keeps the compressor from undergoing multiple cycles.

Jerome Stanek
12-31-2017, 7:39 AM
My sister in law had one of those 10 ft satellite dishes that was hit by lightning and even though the post was 5 feet in the ground the charge came trough the wire and blew the knobs off the receiver across the room and they stuck in the wall.

Malcolm Schweizer
01-01-2018, 4:14 AM
My sister in law had one of those 10 ft satellite dishes that was hit by lightning and even though the post was 5 feet in the ground the charge came trough the wire and blew the knobs off the receiver across the room and they stuck in the wall.

That's kinda cool... And scary.

Al Launier
01-01-2018, 9:07 AM
After some minimal research, including a couple of electricians, I concluded a whole house surge protector was better than lightning rods as the rods tend to attract lightning strikes. And even though they may ground a charge, I'd prefer not to attract the strikes in the first place.
Had a lightning strike about 15 years ago though the wires from the electrical wires buried about 3" in the ground for the dog fence. The charge found its way into the house & caused about $10,000 damage. Decided to get the whole house surge protector then. Better late than never.

Wes Thom
01-01-2018, 12:06 PM
Mostly because they really don't work. They were intended to bleed the ground charge into the atmosphere thereby making the house a less likely target. However, unless you keep the tips sharp and clean they tend not to discharge the static charge.
Many know only what others have told them to believe. Lightning rods do not discharge air. That was roundly exposed even in famous lawsuits where Heary Bros tried to strongarm the NFPA (authors of the National Electrical Code) because honest technical people would not promote those ineffective ESE devices - that will magically discharge air.

Another popular myth is sharp rods. Nothing supports that myth. Meanwhile an IEEE paper describes a highly regarded experiment (if I remember in NM) where blunt rods were proven to be overwhelmingly superior to pointed rods.

However that is minor. Because a lightning rod's effectiveness is determined by THE most critical item in that protection 'system'. A lightning rod is only as effective as its connection to and quality of earth ground.

Same applies to many who foolishly believe a protector is effective when it absorbs a surge. Only ineffective protectors (with massive profit margins and plenty of subjective advertising) do that. Anyone can read its specification numbers. Apparently most did not. Subjective claims are necessary to protect scams.

How many joules does that expensive plug-in protector from APC, Belkin, Tripplite, Panamax, or Monster claim to absorb? Hundreds? Thousand? A surge that tiny is routinely made irrelevant by robust protection already inside appliances. Effective protection is about where hundreds of thousands of joules harmlessly dissipate. Always read spec numbers.

The informed do what was done routinely over 100 years ago. Properly earth a 'whole house' protector to protect from all kinds of surges (including the feared, tiny, and mythical motor generated transient - best called noise).

Only a properly earthed 'whole house' protector protects from all types of surges. A plug-in protector only claims to protect from a type of surge that typically is too small to damage electronics.

Your computer will consume a hundreds joule surge as electricity to power it semiconductors. It will simply convert such tiny surges into rock stable, low DC voltages. But that same surge may even destroy a near zero joule, plug-in protector. Where is protection? They hope consumers will make observations using junk science reasoning - ie observation. "My protector sacrificed itself to save my computer."

No it did not. Superior protection routinely found in electronics protected itself. Near zero joule protector (with an obscene profit margin) was destroyed by a surge too tiny to damage anything else.

Direct lightning strikes can be 20,000 amps. So a minimal 'whole house' protector must be 50,000 amps. That defines protector life expectancy over many decades and many surges. Protection during each surge is defined by what harmlessly absorbs hundreds of thousands of joules. A protector or a lightning rod is only as effective as its earth ground. Earth ground is THE most critical item in protection of household appliances and of structures. Necessary to even protect plug-in protectors.

How many feet from the breaker box 'whole house' protector to earth? If that hardwire goes up over the foundation and down to earth, then it complies with code and compromises protection. That hardwire is too long, has too many sharp bends (over foundation), and is not separated from other non-grounding wires. Best protection means that hardwire goes through the foundation and down to what does protection - single point earth ground. A protector is only as effective as its earth ground - just like a lightning rod.

Terry Wawro
01-01-2018, 4:19 PM
Since the house is full of electronics and gizmos, I've used them for years. Don't know if if they will protect you from a direct strike but I do know that they help. A few years ago we had a ground strike REAL close by. My very close next door neighbor lost several appliances and the garage door opener. I didn't lose a thing.

BTW, for those who have them, double check your led's color. Just because it's on does not mean it's still working. Some glow green when good, then glow red if it's died in service and can no longer protect the circuits.

Wes Thom
01-02-2018, 2:24 AM
A few years ago we had a ground strike REAL close by. My very close next door neighbor lost several appliances and the garage door opener. I didn't lose a thing.
So a dishwasher is on a plug-in protector? How did you protect each GFCI? Smoke detectors must be hardwired - not plugged in. What protected them? What protected the furnace? Many of these items are less robust; more easily destroyed by a surge. Those were not damaged? Then a surge never existed.

Plug-in protectors do less than what is already inside appliances. And in some cases have even made surge damage easier. Another problem with those expensive and near zero joule devices: fire.

All household appliances protected themselves from a surge that did not exist. Otherwise even damaged dimmer switches are listed.