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Damage Control For Electronic Devices

Keeping electronic and other appliances safe from power sags, surges and spikes.



The recent Sandy-related power outage has reminded us (as if we really
needed it) that most electric power companies are inadequately prepared to
restore power in the wake of natural disasters in a quick and efficient manner.
In this regard, my previous blog on outage prevention discussed the benefits of
utility poles made of composite fiberglass and other resins over the standard
wood poles. They have proven to be more resilient to breakage and much lighter
and thus easier and faster to install. Today I would like to discuss what home
owners can do to prevent damage to their appliances, TVs computers and other
home electronics that rely on electric power.

Power failures can range from complete blackouts to fluctuations in the
amount of power delivered to a home's electrical system. These power
fluctuations usually occur as “sags,” “surges” or “spikes.”  Sags, also known as brownouts, occur when
start-up demands of electrical appliances pull more power from the utility
company than it can re-supply to the home. Sags can cause serious damage to
appliances like computers, which need very steady sources of electricity to work.

Surges occur when high-powered electrical motors, such as air conditioners
and household appliances, are switched off, causing extra voltage to dissipate
through the power line. Computers and other sensitive electric equipment can
also become damaged by surges.

Spikes are instantaneous, sometimes dramatic increases in voltage and can
be caused by an event like a lightning strike or a car accident involving a
utility pole. During a spike, huge amounts of voltage can instantly spread
throughout centrally wired electronic equipment like telephones or televisions.
Spikes are the most damaging of all power problems and can completely destroy
these appliances.

Here are some devices that can solve these sag,
surge and sag issues.

Lightning Rods

These devices provide a low-resistance path that conducts the enormous amounts of electrical current that is generated when lightning strikes a building, and allows it to flow to the ground without causing any heat of the damage that “fries” 
TV sets , telephones and other electronic devices. Lightning rods are commercially available and consist of a metal rod mounted on top
of a building and is connected with a thin wire to a water pipe or metal rod wire
that makes contact with the ground. If lightning hits the building it will most
likely strike the rod and be conducted to ground through the wire, instead of
passing through the building, where it otherwise could start a fire, cause
electrocution or damage appliances and other electronic equipment.  



Surge Arrestors

Surge arrestors, also known as whole-house surge protectors, are mounted inside your electrical panel and provide another protection against voltage spikes, which occur from the outside. Because whole house surge protectors are mounted in the electrical panel, they protect all electrical circuits fed from that panel and you need a competent electrician to install this device.

Surge Suppressors - Surge suppressors provide the second stage of an interior defense system. Most suppressors resemble power strips with outlets, and protect
equipment that's particularly sensitive to moderate power surges such as
computers, TVs, phones, and audio/video systems.When shopping for surge
suppressors, keep in mind that major qualitative differences exist. You get
what you pay for and finding out your suppressor did not work can be a very
expensive lesson to learn.

Battery Back-UPS

Probably the single most effective equipment to protect computers from
damage is a battery back up. Known as an “uninterruptible power supply” or
“UPS”, these small devices will not only protect your sensitive data from
surges or spikes, they can also instantly restore power to your computer long
enough to allow you to safely save your work and shut down the system. 

Other Alternative Power Sources

In the wake of Storm Sandy, portable gasoline generators that can power a few
outlets and whole-house generators that use natural or propane gas for fuel are
literally of flying off the dealers’ shelves and manufacturers can’t build them
fast enough to satisfy the demand. The portable gas generators work well but
getting gasoline during power shortages and storing enough of it can be
problematical. In addition they are quite noisy and produce carbon monoxide
that is harmful to humans and the environment. Whole-house generators do not
pose these problems. They are integrated into a home’s electrical panel and as
the their name implies, they supply emergency power everything  that needs it
from air-conditioning to heating to water and sump pumps. They are designed to
automatically turn on when the power goes on and off when the power comes back on. However they are far more expensive to buy and install than the
gasoline-powered ones.  Here are some alternative emergency power sources that are somewhat less expensive and more available.

Power Inverters

Power inverters are electrical devices designed to convert direct current (DC) power from a car battery or solar batteries  to alternating current (AC). DC is the power that is produced by batteries and solar panels while AC is the standard power needed to run electrical equipment.Power inverters come in different shapes and capacities. The conventional models are small rectangular boxes with an attached wire and jack that is be plugged into the cigarette lighter port on the dashboard of a car. Some models have jumper cables that can be connected directly to battery terminals. The box would normally have about two outlets to plug in your electrical equipment in emergencies when there is a power outage. It is advised that you start and run the engine every 10 to 15 minutes to prevent the battery from discharging. 

Emergency Stand-Alone Solar Generators 

These generators are essentially comprised of 12-volt car-type
batteries that are kept charged via normal house electricity when it this
source is available and by solar panels when it is not. After you fully charged
the generator with house power, you can switch to the solar panel to keep the
generator topped off. The panels can fully charge the generator in 20 to 24
hours.  A simple master switch provides power to multiple AC, DC and USB devices. There is an LCD readout that tracks usa e and shows current battery level. A fully charged 1,250-watt generator such as I have, can run a TV, phone, laptop, several lamps and refrigerator for si xto 8 hours per day for a few days, if I do not use them continuously. It can also charge up cell phones, laptops and other small electronic devices. This type generator is silent, emits no fumes and can be used outdoors.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Miguel Hernandez December 03, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Whoops! I meant to say in the last sentence of the above blog that emergency solar generators can be used INDOORS. They do not emit carbom monoxide fumes

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