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Surge Protection: Essential Information for Protecting Your Home

At some point you’ve probably experienced a power surge that affected the electricity flow in your home. It’s a major inconvenience, but one that can be avoided with the right preparation. This quick guide tells you about the basics of power surges and how surge protectors work so you can be prepared to keep the electricity flowing like normal. 

What is a Power Surge?

A power surge is when the voltage suddenly spikes. Home electric systems are designed to handle a certain voltage of electricity – the standard is 120 volts. When electricity flows through the wiring at a higher voltage it can heat the wiring up to the point that it “bursts” and damages electronics that are plugged in. Devices can get completely fried, but even small surges can cause extra wear and tear on components. 

The duration and amplitude of a power surge varies, mostly depending on the source of the power surge. The spike can be just a few millivolts or it can be as much as 10,000 volts. Most power surges only last a second or two, but they can last for hours or days. 

Technically, there are power surges and power spikes. A power spike lasts two nanoseconds or less. But a power surge is any voltage increase that lasts three nanoseconds or longer. Even though a spike doesn’t sound so bad, if the voltage increase is high enough damage can still haeppen in those few nanoseconds. 

How Do Power Surges Happen?

Some events cause a very brief power surge that lasts nanoseconds, and you probably won’t ever notice it happen. Other times it will be painfully obvious a power surge has happened, but it’s unclear why. There are a few common causes for power surges. 


Mother Nature is to blame for many power surges, especially the ones that cause huge spikes and significant damage. Power spikes and surges can be caused by direct and indirect lightning strikes. 

Starting Up a High-Energy System or Device (Electrical Overload)

If the electric system is already running at almost max capacity switching on the HVAC system or another device that uses high amounts of energy can cause a brief power surge. This is what’s known as an electrical overload. If this happens you should have an electrician inspect your electrical system to make sure circuits aren’t overloaded. 

Bad Wiring

Electricity flows through wires, so if the wiring is faulty it increases the risk of power surges. Faulty wiring includes wires that are damaged, exposed or not connected properly and therefore don’t have adequate electrical resistance. Without electrical resistance voltage spikes can easily happen. The only surefire way to know if the wiring is bad is to have an electrician inspect it. Indicators that it’s time to call the electrician include hearing a humming noise or buzzing coming from outlets, frequent circuit breaker tripping, burning smell around outlets and burn marks on outlets.

Power Coming Back on After an Outage

When the electricity comes back on after a power outage it can be a shock to your electrical system that causes major overload. That’s why you’ll want to turn off and/or unplug devices during an outage. 

How Surge Protector Devices Work

All electronic devices, including appliances, are built to handle a certain voltage strength. If the voltage flowing into the device is too strong damage occurs. Power surges are going to happen, but that doesn’t mean you have to be effected by them. 

A surge protector device is designed to limit the amount of voltage passing through to electronics and redirect the extra electricity away to the outlet’s ground wire. This redirection is done with a component inside surge protectors called the metal oxide varistor. 

The metal oxide varistor (MOV) is connected to both the hot electrical wire supplying the energy to whatever is plugged in and the ground wire. It has semiconductors with different levels of electrical resistance. When the voltage is too high the resistance is lowered so that the MOV can conduct more electricity and move it to the ground wire. Once that happens the voltage through the hot wire is normalized. 

Who Needs a Surge Protector

Just about anyone can benefit from having surge protection in place since we all rely on electricity in our day-to-day lives. That said, some people have a significant need for surge protection. They include:

  • Anyone who relies on medical equipment that needs electricity to function.
  • Anyone with expensive electronics in their home.
  • Anyone with a server or computer system set up at home. 
  • Anyone who lives in an area where storms are frequent. 
  • Anyone who has an older home that may not have an adequate electrical system.


Basically, anyone can benefit from surge protection since we all have electronics and appliances plugged in. The real question is what level of surge protection you need. 

What to do First for Surge Protection

There are a number of things you can do to add surge protection to your property, and some of the strategies don’t involve any investment or extra equipment. 

Use a Surge Protector Power Strip

One of the easiest ways to protect against power surges is to use a specialized power strip. A surge protector power strip is very useful in an office or for the entertainment system because you can plug in multiple devices to get comprehensive protection. Surge protector power strips are also affordable and super easy to install. Just plug them into the outlet and you’re ready to go. 

Keep Electronics Unplugged

Another easy way to prevent damage from a power surge is to simply keep electronics and appliances unplugged when they aren’t in use. If they aren’t tapped into the power outlet, then there’s no way for the surge to damage components. Plus, keep electronics unplugged prevents vampire energy from increasing your electric bill

Make Sure the Electrical System is Up to Snuff

As noted above, there can be things going on in your electrical system that make your home more susceptible to power surges. If it’s a frequent occurrence you’ll want to have an electrician check the system for faulty wiring, inadequate grounded wires and overloaded circuits. 

Install a High Energy Surge Protector at the Panel

If you want a single piece of equipment that will provide whole-home protection, consider installing a high energy surge protector at the panel. This solution is a bit more expensive since you need a licensed electrician to do the installation. 

Spark Energy helps keep homes powered with reliable fixed-rate energy plans. It’s one less thing you have to worry about so you can focus on surge protection and getting your home ready for power outages. Use your zip code to find out if Spark Energy plans are available in your area. 

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