What Causes a Power Surge?

what causes a power surge

In the modern world, we rely on electricity to power our homes and businesses. But while most of us feel like we couldn’t do without electricity, this source of power can often be a dangerous one. That’s especially true when power surges come into play.

Electrical Safety Foundation International defines a power surge as “a sudden and unwanted increase in voltage that can damage, degrade, or destroy the sensitive electronic equipment in your home or business.” In the case of electricity, there can definitely be too much of a good thing. When voltage delivery exceeds a certain point (typically, 169 volts), this can be too much for your devices to take. This surge can result in excess heat being generated in the arc of electrical current within an appliance of device, which can cause significant damage to the internal electronic components. Some estimates suggest that power surges cost $26 billion a year in lost time, equipment repair, and replacement costs.

What’s more, power surges may be much more common than you’d think. You may not even realize they’ve happened until you take note of poor device performance. One survey conducted by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association found that 41% of participants reported damage or catastrophic failure of electrical or electronic equipment due to a voltage surge or lightning event. If you fail to protect your devices from the start, you could be faced with the possibility of lost data or the need for expensive device replacement.

It may help to gain a better understanding of what exactly causes these voltage spikes. There are three main causes of power surges: internal overvoltage operations (like electrical load switching), utility company issues (such as downed power lines or increased power demands), and natural events (like lightning strikes). Some of these instances are more common than others, but all have the power — literally and figuratively — to cause lasting damage.

Roughly 60-80% of power surges are caused by events or problems within the home where the electrical and electronic equipment are kept. When a large appliance (like an air conditioner) turns on and off, this can result in a potentially damaging power surge. Wiring issues within the home can also lead to power surges. In addition, utility company problems can cause voltage spikes. A downed power line, for instance, or a blown transformer can lead to power surges, as can increased demands for electrical power during the summer and winter.

And then there’s the risk associated with lightning storms. Although power surges attributed to lightning are relatively rare, accounting for only 2% of all power surges, these events can still be very catastrophic. Lightning actually strikes the earth roughly 100 times per second, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. When lightning does strike, it can create some of the most powerful surges of all.

Your homeowners insurance may or may not cover the costs associated with power surge damage — but even if they do, you’ll want to be proactive about protecting your electronic devices and household appliances. By investing in high-quality surge protectors, you can divert these power spikes away from your household devices and safeguard them from damage.

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