Power Surges: The Problems and Solutions

We rely on electricity for our needs, and it’s one of the most useful inventions in the world. We expect it to be there when we turn on a light, heat our homes, and now we can power electric cars.

It’s essential for our well-being to have access to an uninterrupted, reliable supply of electricity, but what happens if there’s a power surge?

Below, we will discuss questions about power surges ranging from what a power surge is, how to stop power surges in the home, and if power surges can ruin appliances.

Electric pole power line in the sun

Are Power Surges Real?

Yes, power surges are very real and they can cause numerous problems in the home. They can happen quite frequently, but your home can go years without experiencing a power surge until something causes one, either faulty wiring or a lightning strike.

What Is A Power Surge?

The standard voltage amount in the United States is 120 volts, but it ranges from 120 to 169 volts multiple times per day. Power surges happen when the voltage passes 170 volts, and they can be large or small.

After a power surge, you may experience reduced performance in the item that experienced the power surge, completely damaged beyond repair, or anywhere in between.

What Are The Signs Of A Power Surge?

There are a few signs to watch for if you’re looking for evidence of a power surge. You may smell a burnt, acrid odor near power sources or close to the affected device. If you inspect your surge protector or power strip, you may discover that it requires resetting.

You may also notice that your lights have flickered, but haven’t stayed off long enough to make your clocks flash except they are for some unexplainable reason. Another sign you had a power surge is if the device you were using is off, or it does not want to turn on.

What Happens During A Power Surge?

When there’s a power surge, it interrupts your electricity flow before resuming normal function, or it sends electricity back into the system when it isn’t supposed to do that.

While not exact, a comparison would be burning out an incandescent lightbulb. You flip the switch to turn on the light, and when the light turns on, it suddenly stops working. It was working a few minutes earlier before you turned it off, but now it stopped working.

Now pretend there was a extra little surge of electricity to the bulb while it was still on that would have burnt out the light bulb.

The increase in voltage would exceed the voltage that normally flows and when it goes through the wires, it can damage anything in your home whether it’s a hairdryer, a laptop, or even your HVAC unit.

What Would Cause A Power Surge?

There are many things that would cause a power surge, ranging from faulty wiring, power outages, or even lightning. Below, we’ll go over each one in more detail.

Blackout Or Power Outage

A blackout or power outage typically happens when there’s a failure of the power grid. The power surge doesn’t happen when there’s a lack of electricity, but when the power comes back on.

This is due to the sudden jump in current when they finally get power back to households. This sudden surge of power can damage electronics and appliances that don’t have surge protectors.

This is why it’s important to unplug devices and electronics when the power goes out.

Electricity Overload

If a device or appliance draws too much power from a single circuit, it can cause an overload and a power surge. This occurs when you plug too many devices into an extension cord, which draws power from the same circuit.

This risks a potential voltage spike from the overwhelmed circuit which not only trips the breaker or blows the fuse but can damage the devices plugged into the extension cords.

Lightning Strikes

Lightning strikes hardly damage electronics or appliances through direct exposure, but it can still cause a power surge by striking power lines.

When a lightning bolt strikes a power line, it produces an extremely large voltage, which the electrical system has no other option but to accept and send along the line.

For example, a lightning strike two blocks away have the ability to fry a desktop computer that’s not plugged into a surge protector. Or you purchased a brand new smart TV that no longer works after a thunderstorm struck a powerline half a mile away and caused a power surge that affected several homes.

Bad Wiring

It’s easy to see how bad wiring can cause a power surge, even more so if the wires are damaged or exposed. While it’s difficult to detect bad wiring behind walls, there are some signs that your home may have faulty wiring.

If you see signs of faulty wiring, immediately turn off the electricity to the area, unplug your electrical devices and contact an experienced, certified electrician.

Signs of bad wiring include frequently tripping circuit breakers, buzzing coming from outlets, a burning odor coming from outlets or wiring, flickering or dimming lights, warm or vibrating spots in the walls or outlets, or discolored outlets.

How Long Is A Power Surge?

While the effects of a power surge can last several seconds, the actual time a power surge lasts is less than a thousandth of a second.

While you can’t predict when a lightning strike will cause a power surge or when lights will come back on after a power outage, it’s not advisable to touch something when a power surge occurs.

The reason for this is that voltage from the surge varies from hundreds of volts to thousands of volts.

Is Lightning A Surge?

Yes, a bolt of lightning is a surge of electricity, a very large one at that. The average household current is anywhere between 120 and 220 volts while a typical flash of lightning is about 300 million volts up to 1 billion volts.

Positive lightning or lightning that originates from the top of the clouds has higher voltages than the lightning that originates from lower portions of the clouds.

Can A Power Surge Cause A House Fire?

Yes, power surges can cause a house fire. A minor power surge causes the lighting in your home to flicker or your appliances to buzz, but more severe power surges can cause electrical fires.

There have been a few examples of a power surge causing a transformer to explode and cause electrical fires in nearby homes.

Can A Bad Breaker Cause A Power Surge?

Circuit breakers exist to protect circuits in the event of an overload or from short-circuiting. It is possible for circuit breakers to go bad and, when they do, they can cause a power failure.

A few things that cause circuit breakers to go bad are high spikes in voltage, overloads that last a long time, and faulty wiring. When a circuit breaker detects something wrong with the flow of electricity, it will flip the switch and stop the flow of electricity.

If there are power spikes or power surges, they can eventually cause an electrical circuit breaker to fail. When that happens, the bad circuit breaker now allows power surges to affect the home, electronics, and whatever else the power surge can affect.

How Do I Stop A Power Surge In My House

While you can’t stop a power surge when it’s happening as it occurs in a thousandth of a second and you simply don’t move that fast and aren’t completely resistant to electricity, there are a few things you can do to prevent power surges in the future.

Use Surge Protectors

One thing you can do is use surge protectors for your computers and televisions. Even if you don’t use a desktop computer, you do need to recharge your laptop and it needs protection from electrical surges too.

Surge protector outlets and power strips are the most common types of surge protectors and will block excess voltage that would ordinarily affect your devices.

Invest In A Whole-Home Surge Protector

Whole house surge protectors are hard-wired into your service panel, which means you need an experienced, licensed electrician to install one. The better ones have lights or alarms that tell you when you’ve experienced a power surge.

These act the same way as a power strip and are installed at the primary breaker box between the electrical grid and your home’s electrical system.

Unplug The Electronics

When you know there’s a lightning storm nearby, or might be one while you’re out of the house, unplug all your sensitive electronics to keep them safe and unaffected by potential power surges from lightning.

Have Your Wiring Inspected

A great way to mitigate potential future power surges is to have an electrician inspect the wiring in your home for any issues.

This is a must if you’re buying an older home as their electrical systems aren’t always up to code and may have outlets that don’t function properly.

What Would Cause Power Surges In A House?

Other than what was previously listed above, (lightning strikes, bad wiring, blackouts, electricity overload), there are a couple more that would cause a power surge in a house. These include improper installation and lack of maintenance.

Improper Installation

Improper electrical wire installation, either from a previous DIY attempt or a job from an inexperienced electrician, can also cause a power surge in the house.

Homeowners may take the DIY route in an effort to save money, but one of the biggest problems they leave in their wake is ungrounded or unprotected wires.

Lack Of Maintenance

It’s easy to put off maintenance until there’s an actual problem, but it’s more expensive to repair problems than it is to prevent potential problems.

Annual home maintenance, whether it’s for your HVAC system or your electrical system is a must.

There are a few things you can do to test your wiring, such as using a multimeter, but you must have the other electrical maintenance performed by a certified electrician.

What Causes A Power Surge In A Neighborhood?

One of the most common causes of a power surge in a neighborhood is lightning strikes. A lightning strike won’t affect just one house but will affect many homes within a neighborhood.

Other potential causes for a power surge in a neighborhood include downed power lines or malfunctioning equipment from utility companies.

If you see a downed power line, do not walk near it or drive over it. Always assume downed power lines are live and stay as far away as you can.

If you’re in your car and a power line falls on your car, stay in your car, call emergency services and wait for them to tell you that it’s safe to exit the vehicle.

If you’re walking and power lines fall near you, keep your feet together and take small, shuffling steps until you’re at least 40 feet away.

Can You Fix Power Surge Damage?

Yes, there are a few things you can do when you notice that a power surge has damaged an appliance or device.

First, assess your home for damage by walking around and checking power outlets. Once you’ve finished that, check your appliances and electronics.

How Do You Fix Power Surge Damage

If you find any affected electronics, reset and unplug your devices before resetting your circuit breaker if you have experienced a power outage after a surge.

You will need a professional to do a thorough check of your electrical system and to check your HVAC system.

Power Surge FAQ

Can A Power Surge Damage Electronics?

Very much so. If you’re watching television when there’s a nearby lightning strike, the power may cut out, including your television, but comes on quickly except for your television.

You try to turn on the TV, but it won’t come back on. This is because electrical surges overload and short out the circuitry in electronics and anything else plugged into outlets.

Can An Appliance Fry An Outlet?

Also yes. Intense bursts of electricity coming through the outlet may cause appliances to malfunction and overheat. In some cases, they may even fry the outlet altogether or cause fires.

Since appliances and machines, such as air conditioners, washers, and dishwashers, use a lot of energy when they come on, a power surge can cause big problems and you’re not likely to notice a spark or anything wrong until you smell smoke.

Can A Power Surge Ruin Appliances?

A power surge can ruin appliances, either through power surges over time or with one large spike in voltage. If your appliances experience many power surges over time, you may not notice a decrease in the appliance’s capability until it becomes obvious.

Can Rolling Blackouts Damage Appliances?

As stated above, a power surge can happen when the power comes back on as there’s a sudden jump in current when the power comes back.

A rolling blackout, also called rotational load shedding, is an intentional electrical power shutdown to an area to avoid a total blackout of a power system.

The duration of rolling blackouts depends on the severity of the event. A few ways to help prevent rolling blackouts is to use your ceiling fan to help circulate cool air and turn off and unplug lights and appliances that you’re not using.

Can A Power Surge Damage A Washing Machine, PC, or AC Unit?

A power surge can damage a washing machine, a personal computer, or an AC unit. Power surges can damage your units overtime or on the first occurrence. Your microwaves, dishwashers, cell phones, and other electronics are also at risk from a power surge if one occurs.

Small power surges decrease the lifespan of your electronics by gradually degrading the circuits and components in the devices.

Will A Power Surge Damage My TV?

Yes, a power surge can damage your television set. If a lightning bolt strikes the cables going to your home, it will surge through your electricity supply and damage any electronics that are plugged in.

If your television is plugged in during this time, then it will likely become damaged as a result.

Can A Flat-Screen TV Be Repaired After A Power Surge?

Yes, you can repair a TV affected by a power surge and you don’t even need any special equipment.

All you have to do is perform a factory reset, which you can learn how to do by checking the manual that came with your TV or visiting your manufacturer’s website.

Should A TV Be Plugged Into A Surge Protector?

When it’s a question of protecting your expensive electronics, it’s better to be safe than sorry. To protect against an electrical surge, it’s best to plug your TV into a surge protector to avoid damage over time or a singular surge event that will fry everything.

Why Do My Lights Dim When My Fridge Turns On?

When the motor on a fridge starts up, it requires more electricity to start than it does to keep it running. This means there’s a large power surge whenever your fridge kicks in, which causes your lights to flicker and come back.

This is more noticeable in older homes where the electrical system hasn’t been updated to accommodate modern electricity needs

Can A Refrigerator Cause A Power Surge?

The short answer is yes. A refrigerator can absolutely be the cause of a power surge due to the higher power requirements of a refrigeration cycle. In some cases, it can burn out a fuse or cause a surge that can turn off the breaker.

How Do I Protect My Fridge From A Power Surge?

A surge protector is one way to protect your fridge from a power surge. Without a surge protector, a surge could cause damage to the fridge compressor or the other parts that are required for the appliance to operate properly.

Can A Power Surge Ruin My Refrigerator?

Yes. A power surge can absolutely ruin your refrigerator, no matter how old it is. If you have one of the newer smart fridge models with an electronic screen, a power surge can make it so the display won’t work, won’t come on, won’t turn off, or one of the apps won’t function properly.

Should I Unplug My Refrigerator During A Power Outage?

Unplugging your appliances and electronics is one of the first things you should do during a power outage to avoid a power surge when the lights come back on.

If you have a generator that comes on when the main power goes out, you should have your fridge and other appliances on a surge protector.

Do Surge Protectors Work?

Yes, surge protectors work. While they can’t prevent a direct lightning strike from causing damage, they can protect against distant lightning strikes and other power surges.

Are Some Surge Protectors Better Than Others?

The higher the joule rating on the surge protector, the greater protection it offers. Sensitive or expensive items, such as computers, warrant a joule rating of at least 1000, while others need at least a joule rating of 400.

Can Fuses Protect Against Surges?

Yes, a fuse can protect against surges.

Is Surge Shield Worth The Money

Yes, especially compared to having to replace your appliances or electronics.
How Long Do Surge Protectors Last?
Surge protectors last between three to five years.

How Much Does A Whole House Surge Protector Cost?

On average, it costs $300 to $500 to install a whole house surge protector, not including parts and labor.

Are Power Surges Covered By Homeowner’s Insurance?

Power surges should be covered under personal property coverage.

Who Is Responsible For A Power Surge?

While a power company might be responsible for a power surge, from the view of power companies and insurance companies it’s up to the homeowner or renter to protect themselves with insurance and surge protectors.