A sophisticated home theater system or home computer setup could easily cost you thousands of dollars. And just as easily?literally in the blink of an eye?a single lightning strike could destroy the value of your investment. Without electrical power, your components won?t function?but when you plug in your LCD TV or your computer, you?re opening the door to damaging power surges.

On average, one surge per day of 100 to 1,000 volts occurs in every electrical environment?IBM Study

What is a Power Surge?

In theory, the power delivered to your home electronics is steady and even. In practice, it doesn?t work that way. A power surge occurs when the normal flow of electricity is interrupted, then started again, or when something sends excess electrical energy into the system. Any number of events, from lightning strikes to power failures, can cause power surges. Even your own electrical appliances can cause them. Refrigerators and air conditioners, for example, have motors that turn on and off, diverting electricity to and from other appliances and producing low-level power surges.

Severe forms of transient energy can completely destroy delicate components . . . Perhaps worse than sudden death, however, is the subtle, cumulative damage done to minute areas within a chip. . . . Degraded equipment becomes hyper-sensitive and eventually gives up for no apparent reason?Novell Study

The Damaging Effects of Power Surges

Not all power surges are created equal. Large-scale events, such as those caused by lightning strikes, can cause major, instantaneous damage?blowing fuses, literally frying circuits and even melting plastic or metal components. Power surges of this severity are rare, but it only takes one such incident to destroy an expensive home theater system.

Far less dramatic?and also far more common?are low-level power surges that slowly but steadily damage internal circuitry until it fails. Low-level surges come and go without leaving visible traces, though they may occur scores of times a day. Even if they never cause a complete breakdown, these mini-surges can degrade the performance of audio/video components. Picture loses its sharpness and vibrancy; sound loses its richness and depth. Bottom line: You?re no longer getting the performance you paid for.

Defending Against Power Surges

Over 100,000 PCs annually are destroyed or damaged by lightning?BOLT, Inc.

There are several things you can do to minimize the threat posed by power surges:

Upgrade Your Home?s Wiring

Electrical systems in homes built before the 1980 weren?t designed to handle today?s sophisticated appliances, audio/video components and computer equipment. When these old electrical systems are stressed, they produce small power surges. If you experience frequent blown fuses, tripped circuit breakers, or lights that flicker or dim when the refrigerator motor starts up, these are signs that your home?s wiring needs an upgrade.

Eliminate Overloaded Circuits

In newer homes, the problem may simply be an overloaded circuit. If you have two or more large appliances drawing power from the same circuit, such as a refrigerator and a dishwasher, the stress they?re producing on that circuit may be causing low-level power surges. A circuit with many smaller devices, such as a home office filled with computers and peripherals, can also produce mini-surges. An electrician can install dedicated circuits to minimize these problems.

Protect Your Components with a Quality Surge Suppressor

Upgrading your home?s electrical system and eliminating overloaded circuits will certainly help to prevent cumulative damage to your home theater and home computer components, but the threat posed by external power surges requires additional protection. The answer is a high-quality surge suppressor.

Most surge suppressors resemble power strips, but they contain additional components to absorb the excess energy of a power surge before it has a chance to damage connected equipment. Their surge suppression capability is expressed in joules, which is a measure of electrical energy. The higher the joule number, the more protection the surge suppressor provides.

When you?re choosing a surge suppressor specifically for home theater systems, there are several things to look for in addition to the joule rating. Power surges can travel on phone, Ethernet and coaxial lines as well as on the AC power line. If you have components connected to these lines, the surge suppressor should include jacks to provide the necessary protection. It should also have a sufficient number of outlets to accommodate all of your components, including bulky transformers. Finally, a surge suppressor designed for home theater systems should provide line noise filtering to enhance the performance of your audio/video components.

The price you?ll pay for a good surge suppressor depends on the capabilities you need?and that depends on the size and sophistication of the home theater setup you need to protect. A high-quality surge suppressor with all the features described above may cost you a few dollars, but considering the size of your home theater investment and the threat posed by power surges, the price is really trivial.

About the Author

Karenann Brow is Senior Product Manager at Tripp Lite

About Tripp Lite

Tripp Lite, a world leader in the field of power protection, offers a full line of high-quality surge suppressors specifically designed to protect home theater systems and other home electronics.