How to Protect your Home and Electronics Against EMPs, Lightning, and Power Surges


Most of us have many electronic devices in our homes - everything from televisions to smart appliances. But have you considered how vulnerable much of this equipment is to damage caused by power surges, whether from lightning or other sources? In this article, we'll look at how to protect equipment and your electrical system from EMP attacks, lightning strikes, and other power surges.


Why protect your electronic devices?

Think of all of the electrical devices in your home. Some of these are simple and pretty robust, like a fan or a lamp. Others rely upon delicate electronic parts, like microprocessors, to operate - microprocessors that are quite vulnerable to voltage surges.

Some of the devices that use microprocessors are obvious. Computers, televisions, media systems and stereos, smart speakers - the list goes on. Others may not be as obvious. Consider your smart thermostat, or appliances that are part of the Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure, like smart cameras, motion-sensor lights, and more.

Think about how many of these devices you have in your home, and how much they would cost to replace, and you can see why protecting them from excess electrical energy is a good use of your resources.

Threats to your electronic devices

We've mentioned "excess electrical energy," but where does this energy come from? Here are the key threats to your home's electronic devices.

Power surges

"Power surge" is almost self-explanatory. A power surge occurs when a surge of electrical power that is greater than normal enters your home's power lines. This can happen for a variety of different reasons, all of which can damage connected equipment.

Internal sources within your home

There are probably many different devices in your home with motors and compressors. As these turn on and off they interrupt the flow of electricity in your home's electrical system. A combination of circumstances can result in an internal power surge as these devices turn on and off, causing the flow of electricity in your home to ebb and flow.

Lightning strike

Cloud-to-ground lightning strikes are quite common. And if one occurs near your home, it can send an unwanted surge of power through your home's electrical system, which can instantly damage or destroy electronics if they're not protected.

Other natural causes

Falling tree limbs, animals in electrical equipment, and other events can cause power outages. Sometimes when power has been restored a flood of excess energy can cause a power surge.

EMP events

An EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, is a short but intense burst of electromagnetic energy. While several different events that can trigger an EMP, the two most plausible are solar storms and nuclear explosions.

The odds of an EMP attack from a nuclear explosion are about as likely as the odds of a full-scale nuclear attack, since any nation that would employ a high-altitude EMP as an attack could expect a full-scale response in kind (or worse). A much more plausible cause of an EMP is excessive solar activity. This possibility makes EMP protection a good idea.

The earth is constantly bombarded by energy from the sun. The "northern lights" are a visual reminder of this. Occasionally, solar flares will release much higher levels of energy, like that recorded in "The Carrington Event" of 1859, when a series of powerful flares knocked out telegraph communications for a period of time. Needless to say, an event of that magnitude could cause major disruptions to your home's electric devices unless you employ EMP protection.

EMP protection is best afforded to your home by employing a comprehensive whole-home surge protector

How do you know if you've been affected by a power surge?

While you may go for years without a power surge, you may have experienced one without realizing it. Some of the signs of a power surge are:

  • Electric devices that require resetting. For example, if your microwave's clock needs to be reset, you may have experienced a power surge.
  • GFCI power outlets require resetting.
  • You smell burning around your outlets or notice scorch marks on outlets or wiring.

How do surge protectors work?

Your best protection for your home, electrical system, and electrical devices is gained by using a surge protection device, or surge protector. There are different types of surge protectors, which offer different levels of protection to your home and connected equipment. We'll discuss those in a little while.

To better understand which types of surge protectors are best for you, you need to understand a few of the fundamentals about how they work.

Like the flow of water in a pipe, electricity moves from where electrical energy is high, to where it's low. So, for example, when you plug a lamp into an outlet, the electricity flows from the powered area (the outlet) to the unpowered device (the lamp).

This electrical energy is measured in volts. Our homes operate on a consistent flow of 120 volts. When this voltage increases above the norm, you experience a surge. If that surge is powerful enough, it can damage your wiring and electrical devices.

Surge protectors protect electronic devices by diverting extra voltage to ensure that the devices in your home receive a consistent voltage level. A surge protector is rated on how much energy it can absorb with a "joule rating." The higher the joule rating the more protection the device provides.

What are the different types of surge protectors?

There are two basic decisions to make when considering a surge protection device. Do you want the device to protect your entire home or just individual devices?

In this section, we'll examine some of the different options you can employ for surge suppression.

Service Entrance Surge Protectors

A service entrance surge protection device is installed before your home's main breaker box. These devices are most commonly found on apartment buildings and other multi-family dwellings but can be retrofitted onto single-family homes.

Some of the advantages of a service entrance surge protection device are:

  • Excellent protection for all of your home from very large power surges.
  • Comprehensive protection of the electronics in your home.

The primary disadvantage of a service entrance surge protector is the cost, both for the device and the installation required. And while they provide excellent protection from massive surges, they aren't always as dependable against a smaller surge that might still destroy electronic devices. You'll need a qualified electrician to perform the installation.

Whole-Home Surge Protectors

Similar to a service entrance surge protector in that it can protect all of your home, a whole-home surge protector is installed at the circuit breaker box, usually by a licensed electrician. The electrician will check your home's electrical grounding to ensure that it operates properly.

Depending on the model purchased, these can protect one, some, or all of the circuits in your home. If you have some vital equipment connected to a single circuit this may be a good choice for you.

Receptacle Surge Protectors

You're probably most familiar with this type of surge protector. It's a common misconception that inexpensive power strips are surge protectors. But, while many surge protectors function as power strips, most power strips are simply inexpensive collections of outlets with no surge protection capabilities.

Receptacle surge protectors are usually built into power strips so you can plug in multiple devices. That makes them a good choice for home entertainment systems and other applications where you have multiple devices that you want to protect from power surges.

While these devices provide an easy way to add protection from power surges, the amount and quality of protection they provide can vary greatly depending on the model you purchase.

What surge protection device do you need?

Consider these questions when you're considering employing surge protection in your home.

What electronics do you want to protect?

If you only have a few devices you want to protect, you may be able to get by with a few receptacle surge protectors that you can plug your television or similar devices into.

However, it's worth taking a moment to consider all of the devices in your home that may need protection. Do you have smart speakers? How about security cameras? And where do you plug in your smartphone to charge it every night? All of these devices require protection as well.

The value of a whole-home surge protector may prove to be invaluable in the event of a large power surge that might damage or destroy many of the electronic devices in your home - in particular the ones you haven't considered.

What Joule rating do I need?

The higher the joule rating, the better the protection. When shopping for a surge protector, you'll want a joule rating of at least 200. For the highest protection, go with at least 600 joules.

Protecting your home from a lightning strike

Lightning protection is an important part of adding surge protection to your home. Current estimates are that about one in every 200 homes in the U.S. suffers a lightning strike every year. You may be more vulnerable than you think.

Adding surge protectors or a whole-home surge protection device with the proper grounding to your home can protect your electrical system and electronic devices, but lighting can cause physical damage to your home or even spark off a home fire, so for the best protection you should employ additional means of protection.

Another line of defense against a lightning strike is employing a lightning rod, also known as an air terminal. This method of lightning protection employs a rod that's connected to the earth via a copper wire. When lightning strikes the rod, the current is directed to the ground.

Let Team Enoch help protect your home's electronic devices with a surge protector

Interested in having a whole-house surge protector installed? Team Enoch has the expertise necessary to ensure that it will be properly installed in your home, so you can enjoy the security of knowing that the valuable electronics in your home will be protected.

Team Enoch performs over 10,000 residential jobs every year, and we take great pride in our many positive reviews. We never use subcontractors, and all of our employees undergo full background checks and extensive training before they work on your home.

If you're in the Dallas Fort Worth area and are ready to add more protection to your home, be sure to contact us. Estimates are always free!

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