With all the lightning we have had over the last few weeks, and with more to come, I have been thinking about the ever-increasing amount of electronic equipment at home. So I have been looking at surge protectors. I was quite shocked at the poor quality of the commonly-available types. Here are a few points to note:
1. Surges mostly happen from a nearby lightning strike, but they can happen from faults in the mains supply, like a transformer failing. They can also affect phone lines and TV antenna cables as well as power lines.
2. A power board is not a surge protector, even if it has a button on the end. These will click off if you connect too many things to them. They do nothing in a power surge.
3. A circuit breaker, Safety Switch or Earth Leakage Circuit Breaker does not protect against a power surge.
4. While electronics like computers, TV and audio equipment are what people mostly protect, things like fridges, freezers, washing machines and Internet modems can also be affected. Often surge damage is not apparent until some time after the lightning, and this can make it difficult to make an insurance claim.
5. If you are looking for a surge protector, look for one with a joule rating of at least 600. (The other numbers on the pack are not as useful.) This will protect you against six 100 joule surges, or one 600 joule surge. Once the joule number is used up, the device will not protect any longer. Needless to say, higher numbers are better, and if the packet does not mention a joule rating, look elsewhere.
6. When buying a surge protector, make sure it has at least two lights on it. One will be for whether the wall socket is grounded properly. If not, get an electrician to check your wiring – this is dangerous! The other will be for whether the surge protector is still protecting. If it is off, it is time to buy a new surge protector. If no lights at all, look elsewhere.
7. Good quality surge protectors are not that much dearer than cheap ones. It is worth spending that extra few dollars to get something that works and will work for years.
In looking at what is available in Australia, the most common are Jackson and HPM brands. Most of their products have a joule rating of 175. This is likely to fail in the first big surge, and your electricals may be damaged. Some HPM products go up to 320 joules, but this is barely any better. These cheap ones typically cost $25-$50.
Better protection is available, but sometimes you have to go mail order. I recently bought one whose joule rating was 2700. It cost $33 on special, plus postage. But still not that much more than the cheap ones, and with 15 times the protection.
The only reasonable one I have found locally is a Linden single outlet protector from Good Guys for $20. This has a joule rating of 1836. Good Guys apparently has a two-outlet model and a seven-outlet model, but they were not available at the store I went into.
Belkin brand is usually pretty good but not widely available.