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Safe from surges

When it comes to electrical power we here in Barbados can count ourselves pretty lucky. Except for one “golden pole” in St. George and a bit of money business, our power supply in most cases is constrain and clean.

And even in the case of a rogue 4X4 or an impromptu high tension wire walk, power is restored quickly. But the Barbados Light & Power Company can only do so much in providing clean power, other factors like loads both in and outside of your home, and how well your home is wired — plus the obvious uncontrollable variable, the weather, which can cause spikes and surges which over time (or in some cases instantly) cause major damage to your household electronics.

So how do we protect our rather expensive toys? The simplest way is with a surge protector. And please note, not every power strip with multiple outlets is a surge protector — some will leave you just as vulnerable and exposed as plugging directly into the wall outlet.

Cheap surge suppressors are also just as bad because either they don’t sufficiently suppress excess voltage or they don’t offer protection from “back door” surges along data lines. Back in the days of dial-up Internet, many people were unaware of the fact that surges also came down the telephone line which 99 per cent of the time was unprotected. The best surge protection strategy incorporates data line protection as well as AC line protection. It is the only way to “bulletproof” your system and provide surge suppression on all potential paths to you equipment and data.

So how do they work? Well surge protectors act like an electrical sponge, absorbing dangerous excess voltage, preventing most of it from reaching your sensitive equipment. But like a sponge there is a limit and thus need to be change after a while — about every two years.

When purchasing a protector there are a few things to look for:

Joule Rating: The joule rating on a surge protector indicates the amount of energy the device is capable of absorbing. In general, the higher the joule rating, the better the unit is able to protect your equipment and the longer it will last. The joule rating is determined by the total number of metal oxide varistors. An MOV is a component in surge protectors that absorbs excess electrical energy and clamps the voltage to a safe level.

Response Time: This rating indicates how fast a surge protector can react. The faster the better.

UL 1449 Clamping Voltage: Underwriters Laboratories rates the clamping voltage of surge protectors. The lower the rating the better, UL tests household surge protectors at 500 amps. Other types, such as whole-house or heavy-duty, industrial models, have a multitude of differences in their testing program. When comparing clamping voltages, make sure the rating reflects 500-amp test results.

Three-Line Protection: Surges can occur between hot, neutral and ground lines. Choose a unit that protects along all three lines.

Phone Line Protection: Surges can occur on telephone lines. Phones, fax machines and modems can be damaged from surges on the phone lines. To protect this equipment, select a surge protector with phone line protection.

EMI/RFI: Electromagnetic interference and radio frequency interference are types of noise on the power line that can interfere with equipment performance and possibly cause memory loss. When comparing EMI/RFI specs, the wider the frequency range (kilohertz to megahertz) and the greater the noise reduction in decibels (dB) across that frequency range, the better the filtering.

If you follow these guidelines you should be pretty set and could rest assured your equipment will be protected — nothing is 100 per cent, but this way you stand a much better chance.

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