Keeping your equipment safe from dangerous electrical events
By David Shinn
It’s a dark and stormy night, lightning flashing all about. Your power cuts off numerous times and then back on… you cuddle under a blanket and wait out the storm. But, when you try to turn on your computer there are no lights, no fan and no sign of life… and your refrigerator isn’t working either. All damage caused by an electrical surge. A lightning storm is an obvious sign that damage could be imminent, but there could be daily power quality problems happening that could cause just as much chaos over a period of time.
I had a client in a home based office one time that seemed to lose a computer (and a TV) every 3-4 months. After replacing the power supply in his workstation for the third time, I advised that we look a little closer to find the cause of these problems. I called a licensed electrician friend for a bit of troubleshooting. He found a few small issues, but the main problem was the grounding rod had never been connected to the main electric panel. So, instead of any surge being redirected into the ground, the surge would ping pong around the house electrical system dispersing energy through connected devices… and into the plumbing system in this case.
Note: Power surges can also originate from the electric utility company during power grid switching.
So what can you do?
I am reviewing points with your home in this issue. The same principles would apply to your office, but on a larger scale. Let’s face it-- new homes in today’s world are slammed together at the speed of light… so there are many opportunities for builders to take short cuts or their vendors to make mistakes installing home systems.
1) Have a licensed electrician check the ground in your home. Make sure a grounding rod is driven in the ground near your home with a copper cable connecting it to the neutral side of the main electrical panel. From there check all electrical receptacles to make sure the ground wire is properly attached. Make sure there are no connections/hangers where the electrical system could touch a plumbing pipe (many new homes today use plastic PVC pipe—but older homes will have metal or copper piping).
2) Purchase a professional APC brand power/outlet strip for all your electrical device areas. For computers, you could also purchase an APC brand battery backup unit.
Surge Protection and Power Conditioning
An APC brand power surge outlet strip provides harmonic filtering and voltage regulation for your electronic devices. These run between $14 and $20 at your favorite office supply store. APC products also have a damage-free guarantee.
Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)
An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is a device that allows a computer to keep running for at least 20 minutes when the primary power source is lost. It provides protection from power surges and brown-outs… and will gracefully shutdown your computer when needed using the APC PowerChute software.
An APC Back-UPS 450VA unit is around $49 and will keep your computer running for about 20 minutes. Larger units simply have more battery power to keep your device running longer. I always keep a 450VA unit available in my home to run some lighting when the power is out. Most APC units will not be strong enough to run a space heater—you’ll need a gas generator for that.
3) Whole Home Surge Protection Devices (SPDs)
The next level in clean power is to install a whole home SPD. This unit is wired into the main electrical panel and will protect the entire home electrical system. SPDs also provide surge suppression for important items that are not compatible with plug strips, such as a home's HVAC, washer, dryer, refrigerator, stove, oven, and lighting. These units can be purchased from your local hardware store from $80 to $350 and can be installed by a licensed electrician.
If you do nothing more than purchase APC brand professional quality surge protector strips for all your device locations, you will help protect your valuable electronics.