One of the first things we're taught to be aware of as children is fire safety. Don't play with matches, keep forks out of the outlets and never cook unsupervised. Ok, we've got the basics down. However, fires break out in homes and businesses due to unforeseen factors all the time. Power surges are one of these hazards.
What is a power surge?
So, the clue is in the name… we can surmise that a power surge is a sudden deluge of electricity that can create a highly dangerous situation. But, what causes it?
Power surges are caused by:
- Lightning strikes
- An interruption in the flow or electricity which is then quickly resumed
- When something sends electricity back into the system
How to prevent power surge fires
The causes listed here are pretty much out of your hands. There's no way to dictate where and when lightning will strike and the flow of electricity through the wires in the building can be unpredictable and uncontrollable.
In order to protect your environment from the fallout of a power surge resulting in a fire or any other type of electrical surplus, there are four main components which need to be employed.
Circuit breakers have one main purpose – to prevent the wires in the building from catching fire. All wires are rated to handle only a particular amount of electrical current, or amps, and without a circuit breaker they could easily receive electricity than they can handle.
The circuit breaker will automatically trip if it receives more electricity than the wires can take. The most common causes of an electrical overload are appliances that overheat or having too many appliances running off of one circuit. Think about the times you or your significant other had 5 things plugged into the bathroom outlets – once that blow dryer kicks on, poof, the entire house loses power – thank your circuit breaker for protecting your home!
A varistor connects to and protects the circuit component by redirecting electrical currents which could damage it bi-directionally. So, if a sudden bolt of lightning or a jolt of electricity coming back up the pipes were to occur, the varistor would prevent any damage to the circuit.
While circuit breakers protect buildings from an overload of amps, surge arresters are there to suppress a sudden rush of volts. The difference between amps and volts is that amps are the amount of electricity flowing through a wire while the volts refer to the strength at which they're running.
Surge arresters connect to the circuit breaker panel to protect the entire building from surges.
The surge suppressor has the same goal as the arrester, but in this case they work on a smaller, micro level. Surge suppressors are linked between your devices (phones, computers, tv's, etc) and the wall connection. If a surge should occur, your precious electronics should be safe if you've used a suppressor. Many power strips contain a surge suppressor, but don't assume everyone does.
While not every one of these components is required when setting up your electrical systems, it is highly suggested to use all of them. It's a simple fact that not everything will work perfectly 100% of the time so it's always a good idea to incorporate as many failsafes as possible.