Are You Protected?

Last year, a transformer on an electrical pole outside our home decided to go out with a bang and in a blaze of glory, showering sparks onto the street. Pretty spectacular on its own, but even more impressive when you consider that it also took a number of innocent victims with it. I don’t know what happened in any of the surrounding homes, but our tally was plenty all by itself: one large LCD HDTV, one small LCD HDTV with integrated DVD player, two small CRT TVs, one stand-alone DVD player, a microwave oven, and one Microsoft XBox 360. We had spares for the CRT TVs and the DVD player, and we were fortunate that we were able to get the two LCD TVs repaired at a nominal cost (a small fraction of the replacement price). So the major expense was for the microwave and XBox.

We could have purchased simple insurance that would have prevented the loss entirely, but as it was, we got these new barn doors only after the horses had escaped and been brought back again. As a computer expert for several decades, I should have known better. All we needed was some quality surge protectors at each device. Just like I already have on all my computers.

A surge protector is essentially a shock absorber for electronic equipment. A nearby lighting strike or other event can cause a spike in the electricity coming into your home, which can fry the circuits of electronic devices. A surge protector has components called “metal oxide varistors” — MOVs — that can absorb this extra energy and keep it from reaching your valuable equipment.

One important point to keep in mind is that MOVs act like a car bumper with a crush zone, not like a spring. When it takes a hit, that uses up some of its capacity to absorb future spikes. And eventually, the protection is used up and it is no better than a simple extension cord at saving your devices. For this reason, I recommend that you pay a little extra for a unit that has an indicator light that will show you if you still have functioning protection.

You’ll also want to check the specs; a rating for 1,000 to 2,000 joules should be sufficient for most users. These will cost a little more than the absolute cheapo units with no indicator light, but you’ll get better protection.

And take it from me; it costs less to buy them now than it does to wait and buy them after you’ve had to repair or replace your home entertainment equipment.