From lightning storms high in the Rocky Mountains to hurricanes making landfall on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, weather is one uncontrollable variable we all face. Every year, a string of lightning storms and hurricanes threaten our sense of security — and this year, it’s far from over. Forecasters at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center are predicting an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season that may include between three and six major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 m.p.h. or higher) and a handful of named storms and standard hurricanes during the remainder of the Atlantic hurricane season, which typically runs through November 30.
When they hit, these storms will lead us to seek shelter. But while your home is keeping you safe from the elements, it may be undergoing its own battle — the dangerous power surge that often accompanies a lightning strike or storm. Understanding what a power surge is and how to protect your home and belongings from it is paramount if you want to avoid dealing with costly home fixes and fried electronics once the weather passes.
What is a power surge?
A power surge occurs when the current of energy flowing into and through your home is increased. A small power surge can occur when a high-powered appliance — like a fridge, microwave or air conditioner — turns on or off and disturbs the otherwise steady flow of electricity. They can also occur if there’s a malfunction in a nearby electrical transformer or a transmission line, or during a power grid switch.
Meghan Musgrave Miles, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, explained in an email interview that “Power surges can occur for a variety of reasons including vehicle accidents, severe weather, trees and other vegetation.”
While many power surges are small and have little to no impact, some can be extremely damaging. When lightning strikes near a power line, the energy can boost the flow of electricity running into and through your home by millions of volts. Hurricanes can damage a city’s power grid by tearing down power lines and the high-voltage transmission lines that transport electricity to your home.
“Our lines and power infrastructure have systems/equipment to reduce the risk of power surges impacting customers,” said Miles.
But even with powerful infrastructure in place, the sudden increase in electricity caused by a power surge can send a wave of energy through your home that can fry a charging laptop or a humming refrigerator. And while most power surges don’t destroy electronics instantly, over time even smaller surges can wear down pricey appliances and electronics.
What you can do to protect your home right now
If you know a storm is coming, you should unplug your electronics — but that isn’t always a viable solution when you’re out of town or have a fridge full of perishables. The best way to continually protect your electronics from power surges is to plug everything into a multi-socket surge protector or surge suppressor, which then plugs into the wall and provides a buffer between the electrical current and your belongings. These power strip-like blocks are the easiest — and most immediate — way to protect your plugged-in electronics from dangerous spikes in electricity.
A surge protector works by either blocking or shorting voltages that are above a certain threshold and could damage your electronics. And, they can save you thousands of dollars simply by taking the brunt of a power surge — but you need to make sure you’re buying the right product.
A quality surge protector has a UL approval rating from Underwriters Laboratories, an independent company that tests electronics for safety, and an indicator light or alarm that lets you know when it needs to be replaced. It may also be worth looking for a surge protector that comes with a manufacturer's warranty to cover any damages to equipment that was connected to the device. Surge protectors aren’t perfect, but they’re an affordable way to protect your electronics from high voltages caused by storms, lightning or shifts in the power grid.
What you can do to protect your home against a power surge in the long term
A quality surge protector strip is an easy (and affordable) fix that can go a long way toward keeping your electronics safe, but a multi-layered surge protection plan is needed to fully protect your home against a power surge.
Unlike a surge protector strip, which you can buy online in minutes, a whole house protection plan should be installed by an electrician. These plans are the first line of defense against a power surge and protect your home’s wiring and appliances from dangerously high voltages. Once installed, the device protects your home starting at the electric meter and offers different levels of coverage so your home is always equipped with enough surge protection to get you — and your electronics — through a powerful storm safely.
“Our surge protection programs help protect a family’s budget from the costs of having electronics repaired or wiring damaged caused by power surges. There are a variety of options and levels of coverage to choose from, which can help give some peace of mind as we head into the peak of hurricane season,” said Miles.
The Bottom Line
Power surges happen more often than you think, and they can destroy and damage your home’s wiring and your expensive electronics. To keep your home and belongings safe, it pays to plug all your electronics into a quality surge protector strip and protect your home from high voltages by investing in a whole house protection plan that acts as a first line of defense against dangerous power surges.