In Australia, wall power outlets and the appliances you buy in stores are matched to deliver and draw 120-volt AC power, however, this is only the average voltage. Electricity moves rapidly and there will be spikes in demand from your appliance (such as when it’s first turned on). Electricity can also flow in both directions which can create a double voltage delivery. In reality the voltage delivered will constantly fluctuate anywhere from 0 to 169 volts.
In some cases the flux will exceed 169 volts which is known as a surge.
It’s important to understand how the electricity works in your home to limit the damage power surges can cause. A voltage boost that pushes 170 volts and above causes an excess amount of heat to be generated in plugged in devices. Even if the surge is only momentary, excess heat can cause damage to the device’s components and circuit boards, reducing its lifespan.
Power surges don’t typically happen on their own, they require a trigger of some kind. Most common causes are an electricity flow interruption, followed by a restart, or when an appliance sends electricity flowing back into the system.
Most household power surges come from internal sources, typically from big stop-start energy uses like air conditioners and refrigerators. These electronics cut out when they reach the correct temperature and will suddenly start up again when needed. Both the start and stop function can change the rate and direction of power delivered to other devices.
In fact you may be experiencing dozens of power surge instances every day and not realise it.
External power surges are far more rare and will be instantly recognisable. These large surges can cause instant and irreparable damage to your connected devices including computers, TVs, refrigerators and mobile phones.
The most common reason for external power surges is something touching across power lines. Trees are especially good at creating a sudden flow of energy if branches touch or fall across multiple lines. Lightning strikes cause the greatest damage, sending thousands of volts streaming into your home.
For common internal power surges there are very few indicators that anything is amiss so you may unintentionally be causing ongoing damage each and every day.
If your home wiring is not able to handle the requested load you will have tripped circuit breakers or blown fuses showing in your switchboard. While it’s easy to replace these or flick them back into position you need to take heed of this as a warning that something is not right.
Other warning signs are flights flickering or become dim when another appliances kick in – such as the fridge.
If you suspect signs of power surges call a licensed electrician to conduct a test and recommend protection for your home.
Power surges are preventable and there are also easy protection steps you can take.
With so many electrical devices needed in your home it could just be that you are drawing too much electricity into one room. An electrician can help by establishing dedicated circuits to help provide a stable flow of electricity no matter how many devices are needed at once.
A surge suppressor or diverter protects your electronic devices and appliances for as little as $10, however quality protection that is connected to your fuse box will likely cost as much as $100 to $200. You can also upgrade powerboards to ones that have surge protection switches. While they cost a little more, the benefits and quality of wiring and protection is well worth it.
Our lives have become dependent on electrical devices and the convenience of using them. Damage to these, even if it’s just early replacement can be costly. Surge protection is a small price to pay for peace of mind and protection of your household electrical assets.