There’s no doubt about it, our electronic devices are a critical part of everyday life. Unfortunately, a lot of the smartphones, tablets, laptop computers, and other sophisticated electronics we rely on are also very sensitive to electrical surges.

Protecting them from power surges will not only spare you the inconvenience of losing them, but it can also save you a lot of money in the long run. Especially if your provider works on a contract basis and you didn’t opt for the additional cost of a protection plan.

What Is A Power Surge?

A power surge, can be known by other terms as a “Voltage Surge” or even as “Transient Voltage.” Regardless of the technical jargon, it is essentially a very brief spike in voltage that can cause significant damage to sensitive devices and appliances that are connected to the power grid at that time. The outdated nature of our current electric infrastructure makes power surges more likely today than even just a decade ago.

Some power surges only occur for a fraction of a second, and might not be detectable. Yet they can still cause significant damage to a sophisticated, sensitive electronic device.

How Do Power Surges Damage Electronics?

The majority of homes in the United States operate on a 120-volt AC electrical system. Though this is considered the average voltage that an outlet or light fixture provides. It is possible for “Alternating Electrical Current” to rise as high as 169 volts and falls to as low as zero volts based on a predetermined rhythm.

Unfortunately, a lot of our sensitive electronics and appliances can’t handle more than 169 volts. Should a random power surge occur when the AC electricity in your home is at the high end of the AC spectrum, it can create a power surge over 169 volts. When this happens, it can damage electronic components and circuit boards.

What Causes of Power Surges?

There are several potential causes of power surges. Some are related to surges that pass through the grid into your home. Though there are certainly issues within your home’s wiring that can cause power surges, or leave your home vulnerable to power surge issues.

Internal Home Wiring Issues

It’s estimated that around 80% of known power surges come from sources within your home. This includes things like electronic devices with motors as well as appliances like your refrigerator with a compressor that turns on or off. These devices have the potential to interrupt the flow of electricity to and from other electrical appliances.

Other possible appliances that can cause power surges in your home include:

  • Hairdryers
  • Space heaters
  • Power tools
  • HVAC units
  • Air conditioners
  • Microwaves on a 15 Amp circuit

Outdated Electrical Wiring

It’s worth noting that older homes with outdated electrical wiring are also at higher risk of experiencing power surges. Especially homes that were built in the 1970s and earlier with aluminum wiring which is prone to short circuits and other electrical faults over time.

Lightning Strikes

While it might seem rare, it is estimated that around 20 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur every year in the US alone. If your home isn’t probably grounded this immense blast of electrical charge can wreak havoc on a wide range of electrical appliances. This includes the TV, satellite equipment, and phone lines as well as your home’s internal wiring.

Fallen Tree Limbs, Animals & Acts Of God

Things like downed tree limbs, animals damaging wiring, and random “Acts of God” can also interfere with electrical equipment and affect transformers which then knock out the power service. When the utility company repairs it or switches the power grids to restore service an excess amount of electricity bombards the electrical system, causing power surges that can sometimes make it past the protective features of your circuit breaker to affect the rest of your internal wiring. This is especially problematic if you have an older circuit panel.

What Are The Common Signs Of A Power Surge?

It can be hard to recognize a power surge at first. Especially if it is a micro-burst power surge that only lasts a fraction of a second. Though if you keep a keen eye out, or you are suspicious that a power surge may have affected your home, you might notice some of the classic telltale signs.

Such as:

  • Visibly faulty wiring
  • Fuses that blow frequently
  • Circuit breakers that trip too easily
  • Flickering or dimming lights when the refrigerator or large appliances turn on

Subtle Signs Of A Power Surge

There are some more subtle signs that a power surge has occurred or that the wiring in your home is having minor power surge issues that need to be addressed. This includes:

  • Electronic devices and appliances that frequently have flashing clocks
  • A smoky or “Burning Smell” near outlets or light fixtures
  • Power strips with burning odors or noticeable damage to an outlet
  • An outlet with black or brown smoky marks
  • GFCI outlets that trip without an obvious reason

Does My Homeowners Insurance Cover Damage From Power Surges?

If a power surge does damage your TV, computer, or other sensitive electrical devices the potential coverage will be hidden in the fine print of your homeowner’s insurance policy. The average homeowner’s insurance policy typically carries partial coverage for power surge damage if the cause could not be controlled by you.

This includes things like lightning strikes, tree damage, or a reported surge in the power grid from something like a faulty transformer that wasn’t repaired by your utility company.

If the damage was caused by something you could control, such as outdated wiring or overloading a circuit breaker, chances are good your homeowner’s insurance policy will leave you hanging. Even if they do offer partial coverage, chances are good you will still be responsible for the deductible cost, which can be prohibitive in and of itself.

How Do I Prevent Power Surges?

When it comes to “Acts of God” and problems with your utility company’s electrical grid maintenance, there aren’t a lot of things you can do. Though these are more rare causes of power surges. When it comes to being proactive about protecting your sensitive devices from power surge damage, you can start with an electrical inspection of your home’s wiring and circuit panel.

A licensed electrician can help you understand what needs to be done and provide you with a cost estimate. This might include things like:

  • Upgrading or replacing your circuit panel
  • Replacing outdated wiring
  • Adding additional circuit breakers
  • Installing GFCI outlets
  • Upgrading outdated outlets
  • Replacing outdated light fixtures
  • Replacing an old fuse box with a modern circuit panel