ARE SURGE PROTECTORS EFFECTIVE?

How Do Surge Protectors Work & Will They Protect Your Electronics Against a Lightning Surge?

HOW DO SURGE PROTECTORS WORK?

Most surge protectors are what are known as parallel circuit surge protectors. There are different types of parallel circuit surge protectors, but all essentially function to divert incoming excess voltage to ground and thus away from the main circuit. Some may have internal fuses or other fail-safes intended to stop electricity not diverted by the initial mechanism, though this is not universal. 

Series circuit surge protectors are common. These devices work by slowing incoming voltage rather than transferring to a separate circuit. 

All surge protectors have a joule rating. This number indicates the amount of excess voltage a surge protector can absorb before failure. When incoming voltage exceeds the joule rating, damage may occur to connected devices. Surge protectors vary vastly in joule rating. They can have a joule rating of as little as 200 joules or as much as 4,000+.

ARE SURGE PROTECTORS EFFECTIVE?

Well, yes and no.

For lower voltage surges, such as those caused by circuit overload, surge protectors should work as specified; however, higher voltage surges carry higher likelihood of surge protector failure. High joule-rated surge protectors will be able to better protect items against power surges caused by damages to power lines and other utility-related issues. It is a good idea to have sensitive electronics connected with a surge protector; however, this will not always be enough to prevent damages.

WHAT FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO SURGE PROTECTOR EFFECTIVENESS?

  • Joule rating - The amount of energy the unit can absorb before damage occurs.

  • Clamping voltage - Threshold at which unit will begin diverting electricity from main circuit, typically between 330V and 400V. Higher thresholds can allow the transmission of damaging voltage to connected devices.

  • Response time - Length of delay between surge detection and surge suppression. Different surge protectors will have different response time ratings. Even one nanosecond might be long enough of an exposure to high voltage to fry sensitive circuitry. 

  • Age - Surge protectors degrade over time. Regular replacement is key to continual protection. 

  • Previous surges or power outages - Joule rating is cumulative. If a surge protector has taken many previous minor power surges, it's effectiveness may be severely reduced or entirely nullified. 

  • Type of power surge - A good surge protector should be able to adequately suppress minor power surges; however, higher voltage surges will likely prove problematic.

DO SURGE PROTECTORS PROTECT AGAINST LIGHTNING?

The Short Answer? No.

High end surge protectors may be able to protect against 4,000 joules, but a single direct lightning strike carries between 1 and 10 billion joules of energy. In the case of lightning-induced surges, surge protectors will become overloaded and thus offer little to no protection.

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