Modern home appliances are equipped with advanced electronics to make them more efficient, and to improve our standard of living. However, with the increase in sophistication in electronics come the increase in susceptibility from damage to power surges.
Power surges happen more frequently than you think, which is why investing in power surge protection equipment is a wise decision as it prevents your appliance from being damaged or permanently disabled. It also protect your family and your property from electrical fires that may happen without it.
Let’s dig deeper and explain what a power surge is, why it happens, and how it affects appliances We will also get into why power surge protection is important, and how to choose the right power surge protection device for your appliance.
What is a power surge
A power surge is a short-duration (3 nanoseconds) oversupply of voltage that increases the voltage significantly above the standard level.
In the Philippines, the standard voltage is 220V at a frequency of 60Hz, and appliances are designed according to this standard. However, most appliances are rated at ±10% 230V, which means that they can work between 207V to 253V. A damaging power surge is anything above 253V.
How does a power surge happen
Power surges happen more often than you think, but most are just small spikes that will have no noticeable effects. These are the most common causes of power surges:
Lightning strikes are one of the most common ways power surges happen. When an electrical system is struck by lightning, it has no choice but to absorb the immense amount of surplus electrical current, thereby causing a extremely strong power surge.
Electrical overloading is when you draw an excessive amount of power from a single source.
A common culprit of this is misuse and abuse of extension cords, like using octopus connections, or using an extension cord for high power using appliances like refrigerators, aircons, and microwaves.
The excessive amount of power being drawn will create a surge that can overwhelm the already overloaded circuit.
Damaged or exposed wires disrupt the flow of electrical current which increases the chance of having a power surge.
Some signs that your wiring is damaged are burn marks or burning smells coming from outlets, buzzing sounds, and frequent tripping of breakers.
The electrical current that comes rushing back in after a power outage may be more powerful than it should be and create a power surge, damaging any appliances that are plugged in.
How do power surges affect home appliances?
Most power surges we experience are just small spikes that we barely notice; appliances are equipped to deal with these small spikes.
However the incremental damage caused by frequently occurring surges can reduce the lifespan of your appliance and affect its performance negatively if it is not equipped with a power protection device.
Appliances with microprocessors are especially susceptible to damage as strong power surges can fry these parts and even melt some of the plastic parts away.
Also, a strong power surge can cause an arcing of electrical current within your appliance. This arcing electricity will produce heat that can cause your appliance to overheat. Not only will it destroy circuit boards and other electrical components within your appliance, it can also cause an electrical fire.
What appliances need a power surge protector?
As a rule-of-thumb, the more expensive your appliance is, the more that it will make sense to have a power surge protector for it.
The appliances that need these devices the most are those that have high-tech electronics as they are the most susceptible.
The next priority are those appliances that are constantly in use like refrigerators, air conditioners, and TVs, as they have the most chances of being in use while a power surge happens.
Appliances with simpler electronics like fans, semi-automatic washing machines, and small kitchen appliances can get away with not having a surge protector.
The different power surge protection devices for home appliances
There are several power protection devices that are available in the market. Each type differs in price point and in the level of protection. Here are the most common ones:
It’s only fitting to start this list with the surge protector.
The aptly named surge protector works by shutting off the power supply to the appliance when it detects unusually high voltage fluctuations. This saves your appliance from the brunt of the power surge.
The surge protector is a must if you live in an area with nearby malls or factories. It is also quite inexpensive and easy to use. However, this protection may not be enough if you live in an area with regular power fluctuations.
Note: some surge protector models have a built-in power-on-delay function. Hit two birds with one stone!
A power-on-delay is a handy piece of equipment to have in the event of a power outage.
After a power outage, it delays the incoming electrical current for 3-5 minutes to ensure that the power stabilizes before it reaches the appliance. This protects your appliance from the expected voltage surge after the power outage.
This is especially helpful for appliances that use compressors (like aircons and refrigerators) since the refrigerant gases need to stabilize after the compressor stops, before the equipment can be safely turned on again.
A power-on-delay offers the least protection out of all of these, as it does not do anything to protect the unit DURING the fluctuation/outage; it only kicks in AFTER the event has happened.
Note: You can do the same function a power-on-delay does by manually unplugging your refrigerator or aircon when a brownout happens, then plugging it back in a few minutes after the electricity comes in. It’s quite a hassle though.
Automatic voltage regulator (AVR)
An automatic voltage regulator (AVR) is a power protection device that maintains the voltage at the desired level supplied to your equipment, by regulating any voltage fluctuations (both power surges and power sags) that might occur.
This device offers the most protection for your appliance, and hence they are the most expensive of the bunch. Use this for particularly expensive appliances with sensitive electronics.
How to protect home appliances from power surges
Doing these best practices will save your appliances from the brunt of power surges.
Unplug devices during a thunderstorm
One of the simplest ways to protect your appliance from an oncoming thunderstorm and the power surge that comes along with it is to unplug them while it happens.
Wait for a few minutes before plugging in appliances after a power outage
When the power comes back on after a power outage, it may suffer from either under or overvoltage, which is why it is wise to wait for a few minutes for the power to stabilize first before plugging your appliances back in. Also, you may also cause the power surge yourself, when the heavy power using appliances like refrigerators and aircons come back on.
Do not overload circuits
Plugging in too many appliance into one circuit will make it draw more power than it could handle. This could either cause a power surge, or worse, an electrical fire.
Power surges are not an uncommon thing, and as such, protection against it should be in every Filipino’s home. A wise investment in surge protection can save your appliance – and your home – from damages caused by power surges.
Read more about the other power disturbances that appliances should be protected against here:
Miguel Mores worked for 5 years as a member of the product management team for a home appliance company in the Philippines. He started 101appliance to answer the most common customer questions that he has encountered during his time in the industry. He now works in the digital marketing field and manages a small online bookstore on the side.