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How to protect electronics from lightning


The onset of a thunderstorm can be cause for concern in your household, especially if you have young children or pets who are afraid of storms. However, storms also bring the dangerous possibility of lightning striking your home, which can cause damage to your property or electronics. Most home wiring delivers electricity at 120 volts. Compare that to the typical lightning flash, which delivers about 300 million volts. One lightning strike could cause pretty significant damage to any of your home devices, such as your TV, computer, appliances (e.g., washer, dryer, and refrigerator) and any light fixtures.

Nearby lightning strikes can also enter your home through wires or pipes that extend outside the home, such as phone, internet, or cable wires. The energy from a nearby lightning strike can travel through these communication wires, directly from a utility pole and into the home’s electrical panel. No matter which way it strikes, learn how to protect electronics from lighting by following this simple guide.

A surge protector can help protect electronics from lightning

Surge protectors: the first line of defense

There are many solutions when it comes to protecting electronic devices from lightning. One of the best ways to protect electronics in a storm is to unplug them, but this may not always be realistic if the storm is severe enough that you need to seek shelter. You might also be away from your home when the storm hits.

Investing in a surge protector can help protect your home and your electronics. Surge protectors look like a power strip, but a surge protector defends against possible voltage spikes that could damage your electronics, appliances, or equipment.

Electronics and all other electrically powered devices for a home or office can accept brief amounts of high maximum voltages without a surge protector. However, voltages in the 300, 400 and 500 million volts range (the usual voltage from one lightning strike) need to be blocked. When shopping for a surge protector, here are a few things to consider:

  • Voltage Protection Rating (VPR) – The VPR tells you how much electricity is going to make it past the protector. You will want to consider buying a surge protector with a lower VPR. The lower number usually indicates better protection.
  • Joule rating – A joule rating is the total amount of energy a surge protector is capable of absorbing over time. A higher joule rating may indicate a longer product lifespan. Therefore, look for a joule rating that is above 600 volts.
  • Response time – This measures how quickly the surge protector reacts to a surge, measured in nanoseconds. The faster the response time, the better the protection. Ideally, you will want a surge protector with a response time of one nanosecond or less.
  • Wear-out warning – Keep an eye out on your surge protector. It may have been zapped enough that it needs replacing. Most modern surge protectors will have an indicator light to alert you they are at the end of their lifespan.

An electrician can help you install a whole-home surge protector to protect electronics from lightning

Protecting your home from other points of entry

As a lightning strike nearby the home can enter through wires or pipes, it’s also important to consider protecting telephone lines and coax cable lines. During a lightning strike, it’s possible the surge can find its way through the phone jack and zap your DSL modem. If the surge is strong enough, it may damage anything else connected to the modem. This includes routers, switches and even the computer you’re using to access the internet.

Worried about your internet connection? Fiber internet is less susceptible to electrical interference and severe weather. That’s because fiber optic wires are made of glass, not copper. Fiber internet relies on light instead of electricity to transmit information. When the storm is raging, your fiber internet can help you stay connected.

Before going out and buying a whole shopping cart of surge protectors, consider getting a whole-house one instead. These can be installed by an electrician and protect the electrical system of your entire house. The electrician installs a service-entrance surge protector. It’s typically placed between the electric meter outside the home and a home’s main electrical service panel or breaker box. This may prevent an electrical surge from ever entering the home’s internal wiring system.

Be prepared before a storm strikes in your area again. Consider buying a surge protector to keep all of your electronic devices safe. For more tips on how to protect your electronic devices, check out the CenturyLink Discover blog.

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