A power surge is a burst of electricity that reaches abnormally high voltages. In the U.S., a typical household electrical system operates on 120 volts. During a surge, wires, appliances, and devices receive a significantly higher voltage, which can do substantial damage. Power surges are typically sudden and unexpected, but there are ways you can be prepared. We’ll explain what a power surge is and how to prepare and keep your family safe.
How A Power Surge HappensSpikes in voltage can come from issues with power lines. Lightning can even cause them a power surge; but most often, they originate from within your home. Frayed wiring, damaged outlets, and faulty appliances can trigger a surge. Flickering/dimming lights, warm or scorched outlets, and burning odors are just some signs that can precede a surge. Once a power surge has occurred, you may notice devices not working, foul odors around those that have turned off, or digital clocks flashing instead of showing the right time. High levels of voltage can cause electricity to arc, generating heat that can disable electronic components. Small surges can cause gradual damage that eventually leads to devices and appliances not working.
Know What to DoAfter a power surge, it’s best to follow these steps:
- Reset, unplug, and repower electronic devices before resetting circuit breakers.
- Inspect electronics, appliances, and outlets for damage.
- Check your heating/cooling system for damage and test it; call a technician if you see any problems.
Preparing for a Power Surge
- Install Surge Protectors: Spikes in voltage typically last a few microseconds. Nonetheless, they can damage sensitive electronics, causing malfunctions or shortening their lifespan. Surge protectors help protect devices by absorbing excess voltage. But just because you’re using a power strip, doesn’t mean it offers the protection you need. Surge protectors are rated in joules; the joule rating on the label tells you how much energy the product can handle before failing.
- Purchase Alternative Light Sources: Candles are a cheap source of light so it’s good to have them handy. Even better, and safer, are LED flashlights, which are always good to have in stock. You should have at least three or four flashlights for in case the power goes out. Also have a stock of batteries. While you’re at it, invest in portable chargers and/or power banks, as your smartphone and other devices will only remain charged for so long.
- Exercise Safety During Severe Weather: When a big storm is approaching, unplug valuable devices and high-power appliances. Make sure expensive electronics are connected to a surge protector to avoid damage and losing data. Large appliances should be on their own circuits so more power isn’t drawn than the line can handle.
- Know Who to Call: If a power outage occurs with the surge, report the incident to the utility company immediately. Your neighbors may call in as well. Doing so helps the company assess the problem faster and correct it as soon as possible. Also, know what tools your utility offers; many offer online resources or text updates that can estimate when power will be restored.
- Buy a Generator: A generator is the priciest solution on this list. But it will keep your food unspoiled, A/C running, and the lights on if a power surge leads to an outage. Portable generators cost less, but support fewer devices. Evaluate your needs ahead of time so you can be prepared should the situation turn out to be a larger power issue.