Get a whole-house surge protector now that it is impossible to buy anything or get parts?

The local power company wants to sell us an $11/month surge protector that is sure to protect our home from a 100-million-volt lightning strike and then, because it works so well, charge an additional $6/month to clean up the damage when the surge protector fails to provide any protection:

Florida has epic thunderstorms, for which climate change can be blamed, but the lines feeding our house are underground so I don’t see why we would be vulnerable. I’m wondering if we can infer from the pricing that the surge protector is only 50 percent effective. It costs $12/month to buy electronics surge protection as pure insurance, with no hardware installed in the house. It costs $6/month additional to get this surge protection if one is already paying $11/month for the protection hardware plus insurance on the appliances that will be zapped when the protection hardware does not protect.

Having gone my whole life without suffering anything damaged by a power surge or knowing anyone personally who has lost anything electronic to a power surge, I would ordinarily map this into the “total waste of money” category, especially given our underground lines. I would also be concerned that the surge protector would fail in a way that shuts down power to the house despite no surge having occurred. A neighbor who has been here since the inception of Abacoa (2003 for this corner) has never had or heard of a surge problem.

But given that everything is out of stock forever, I’m wondering if the idea isn’t as dumb as it seems. If our KitchenAid 42″-wide built-in refrigerator failed, it would be four weeks before we could get the required two service visits plus part replacement to restore it to functioning. If we wanted to replace it, that would take months. If we wanted a new GPU card for the PC, we’d have to rob a crypto miner. Working from home makes a power surge that takes out cable modem, network switch, WiFi access points, or PCs far more destructive than if one were using a house only for sleeping and watching TV.

Readers: Has anyone ever had anything damaged by a power surge?

28 thoughts on “Get a whole-house surge protector now that it is impossible to buy anything or get parts?

  1. In 1997, a modem died during a thunderstorm. Power went out, and when it came back on the modem would not turn on. About two years later, a second modem (same brand) died in the same way.

  2. I have an https://smile.amazon.com/Square-Schneider-Electric-HEPD80-Electronics/dp/B00CONA1OQ wired into my electric panel, plus have either inexpensive MOV/thyristor surge protector outlet strips or APC UPSes elsewhere (as needed). Together, they have done an admirable job over the years, except for one nearby (a few hundred yards) strike that killed a cable modem and a computer’s 100Base-T Ethernet port (likely the sudden reverse voltage from ground did that). All in all: minor damage. For the same strike, my neighbor, who had no surge protection found that it destroyed several of his devices, including a coffee maker, printer and a FAX machine (remember those?). I suspect that more MOV power strips deployed around the house, provide added overall house protection.

  3. A close strike did about two thousand dollars damage for us. Two days for cable internet restoration, three days for replacement DISH receiver to arrive, so only over-the-air TV and primitive flip phone web access for awhile. Most of the failing equipment was connected to the cable internet wires, but a TV set and a USB thumb drive that only worked for a short time after the strike died, too.

    The irony was that game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup would have been in the second period if the Tampa Bay Lightning hadn’t won their fourth game in game six two nights before.

    This was in Arizona, where we have lived about ten years. In our previous residence in New Mexico, there were plenty of other instances, though usually it was only one or two pieces of equipment for each strike.

    Maybe Palm Beach doesn’t get problems, but Orlando is reputed to be the lightning capital of the world, and I suspect Tampa Bay is not that far behind, hence the hockey team name. Socorro, New Mexico is second after Orlando, as far as I know. And, the University of Florida determined that buried electrical lines are not immune to lightning, unless maybe they are over six feet deep.

  4. A power surge from a lightning strike is a mathematical certainty in Fl*rida, given enough time. It will eventually wipe out all your data. You need a lightning arrester for all the power & data lines. Maybe modern houses already have them, but it was common before 2000 for guys to lose everything.

  5. > If we wanted a new GPU card for the PC, we’d have to rob a crypto miner.

    Philip, you are behind on your crypto news. 🙂 After “The Merge” (Ethereum network, former main consumers of GPUs, went from mining to Proof-of-Stake) there is surplus of GPUs at the moment, prices have fallen.

    So if you need GPU, now is the time. I’m personally waiting for nvidia 40 series to be released before upgrading.

    • https://www.pcmag.com/news/with-nvidias-geforce-rtx-40-series-are-high-gpu-prices-the-new-normal says that the 40 series will be costly!

      What about the numbers I cited in https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2022/04/11/gpu-performance-improvements-since-2015-and-why-not-just-use-motherboard-graphics/ ? It looks as though GPUs and CPUs are only about 2.5X faster than the obsolete gear from 2015 that I have on my desktop. Is it actually worth the pain of building a new PC?

    • > Is it actually worth the pain of building a new PC?

      Really depends on your needs. Before going to crypto I was doing some ML, so my workstation has two GPUs with huge amount of memory. Now it is an excellent gaming PC that drives my sim rig. Way cheaper than going to race track and spending $1000 per day 😀 (which I still do when I have time 🤣).
      It is also going to run godzillion of Linux VMs for some distributed testing I need to do.

      It definitely still makes sense if you know what you are doing – buying comparable PC is not only super-expensive, but you just can’t get components as good in pre-built PCs.

      On the other hand for most users best machine is Apple laptop – almost zero configuration, works reliably, powerful, hard to screw up. If somebody has perverted love for Windows – Microsoft Surface Laptop.

      For gaming – if you don’t need specialized setup like racing sim or flying sim, then consoles and Steam Deck are just fine.

      Consoles are tricky of course – you don’t want to have modern console in the house with children (same way you don’t want to leave cocaine on the countertop in the kitchen). The only console I have is Switch, which is “kosher” because it’s very heavily curated.

    • Re: high price of 40 series.

      At this stage of my life I don’t optimize for price exclusively. My current GPUs are circa 2018, I’ll get new ones overpaying a bit, but then I’ll just use them for few years without worrying too much.

  6. Circa 1989 I had a 30 MB SCSI disk drive and a work GraphOn X Terminal (X Windows over 9600 BPS dialup!) killed by a lightning strike. Insurance covered the personal gear.

    (The SuperMac 30MB disk drive remains a known point in my data life. Cost me $900 in January 1987. Once in a while I do the math on how much cheaper storage is today.)

  7. Like Paul G, I have a surge protector in the main panel. I have had this device for 15 years or so. I live in Dallas, where we have plenty of thunderstorms. Not a single failure. My panel is GE so I have a GE surge protector. I believe, but may be wrong, that the devices are specific to the panel. My local Home Depot says I can pick one up tomorrow for $90.

    Just last summer the guys boring lines for the AT&T fiber rammed the Spectrum cable into our underground power lines. That big bang started a fire three doors down the alley. Again, nothing happened to me and I have Spectrum cable.

  8. I had lightning hit a tree in the back yard. Found its way into the cable tv coax buried near the tree, blowing the cable in half and leaving a crater in the yard, with mud from the crater all over the house. Then it took out phones, modems, TV sets, etc. Serious $$ damage,

    But it didn’t enter via power lines, so the surge protector you’re looking at would not have helped.

  9. Hurricane Irma (Sep. 2017) knocked the power out in half of my east coast FL community for 3 to 7 days. I lost power for 6 days. When the power came back on, apparently, it surged and fried my garage door opener, irrigation pump, and irrigation controller.

    A few months later, when I couldn’t get property insurance w/o replacing my 60 y/o Federal Pacific electric panel, I had the electrician install a whole house 22.5 kW surge protector in the panel in one of the breaker slots. Back in early 2018, the 200 watt panel install was $1500, the surge protector was $60 (now $110 at Home Depot but out of stock).

    https://www.homedepot.com/p/Square-D-QO-22-5-kA-2-Pole-Surgebreaker-Surge-Protective-Device-QO2175SB/100202111

  10. > Readers: Has anyone ever had anything damaged by a power surge?

    Yes. My Florida experience was that telephone equipment (answering machines, burglar alarm dialers, etc.) was vulnerable, even if the power lines were protected. This isn’t an issue if you have only fiber-optic communications services, of course.

    > I would also be concerned that the surge protector would fail in a way
    > that shuts down power to the house despite no surge having occurred.

    A typical residential surge protector is connected in parallel with the load, not in series, so this isn’t likely. It’s usual to install the device in an empty circuit breaker space (or pair of adjacent spaces) in the load center (panelboard). They usually fail open, but even if the device were to fail shorted, you could just remove it, reset the main breaker, and restore power.

    Besides the lower cost over time, this is one advantage of a surge protector on your side of the meter: if it does fail, you or your electrician can remove it or replace it immediately, rather than waiting on a visit from the power company or its contractor.

    It’s also important for the grounding system (ground rod; clamp; ground wires to the load center and, if applicable, telephone protector block and cable TV grounding block; and main bonding jumper) to be in good condition. If there’s any doubt, it wouldn’t hurt to drive in and connect another ground rod, taking care to avoid any underground lines.

  11. What happened to your electrical fuse board? You do not have one? You can also buy individual electric fuses for for ridiculous prices even in biden bucks https://www.electrical.com/Products/Fuses-Ferraz-Shawmut/A4BQ2500?cond=N. Certified used is listed for 1/3 of the price. In the old country similar things that looked low-tech costed peanuts. If I new back then I would heavily invested in them. invest in canned sodas, they ill worth a fortune during next electoral cycle.

    • LSI: The mansion was built in 2003 (along with an identical mansion next door and an identical mansion across the street…). So there is a modern circuit breaker box. But I think the circuit breaker box would send high voltage straight to the outlets and wouldn’t trip unless a lot of amps were being drawn.

    • @philg, yes fuse panel is better but circuit breaker should do the job, it works off heat and with constant amperage high voltage should cause it to trip. Low current large potential difference should not hurt electronic if current is low enough; if total wattage is high the circuit breaker should trip. It could trip too slow and let the surge through but in practice when I was using it never caused any losses, despite connecting to wires stretched on poles and surviving regular thunderstorms. During some of the thunderstorms I lost stand alone laptops and individually surge-protected desktops due to near lightning strikes in my backyard and laptops/desktops located by the window near metal heating panel (and the heating panel itself), but none of the electronics that connected to the grid directly.

    • That was the only heating panel out of 20 or so that failed so I do not think that it was surge propagated through grid wires.

  12. Yes, I have. The building where I live has 220V in addition to 110V AC and we did suffer a surge on the 220V line several years ago that zapped the (unprotected) power supply on two industrial machines apparently because of a lightning strike that happened very close by. My Dad fixed the power supplies.

    In my experience most of the grid 110V lines are pretty well protected from surges – even overhead lines – but I am not an expert on the subject. And in a close lightning strike – all bets are off.

    Myself, I would much rather have a rather large capacity UPS and just put surge protecting outlets in the walls for the rest of the house. I can’t vouch for these personally – I would consult an electrician – but something along these lines:

    https://www.gordonelectricsupply.com/p/Leviton-7280-W-White-Surge-Receptacle/5655020

    There are also good “whole house” backup generators available. My Rod and Gun Club uses one that runs on propane. They are off-grid and use it to electrify the entire building.

    https://www.northerntool.com/shop/tools/product_200665217_200665217

    • @Alex: “There are also good “whole house” backup generators available. ”

      In 2015, I got a quote from Lowes for installation of a 20KW Generac whole house generator at $5500. I should have snapped it up. Last year, they quoted $11,000, in line with three other contractors.

      In 2018, I ended up buying a Sportsman 9KW/7KW tri-fuel portable generator for $1600 delivered from the distributor, Buffalo Tools. I haven’t yet had to use it, but test run it once a year. I have it wired into my electric panel and I quick-connect it to my natural gas service. It can run a little finicky at times, and I usually have to start it on gasoline, then switch over to NG after a couple of seconds. When running well, it can simultaneously run every thing in my 2000sf house, including refrigerator, 3-head 2-ton split AC system, three ceiling fans, three box fans, internet, etc. Will not run the 4-ton central AC.

      Walmart is selling it for $1100.

      https://www.walmart.com/ip/Sportsman-Tri-Fuel-9000W-Generator/41539647

      https://www.buffalotools.com/gentri9k.html

    • @DP: That’s a powerful and portable backup generator at a good price for its output. No surprise – they are out of stock at my local Walmart, presumably because folks here are getting ready for the winter. Ours is only 3800W and doesn’t supply 220V. We’re looking to upgrade it this year. We’re also going to be burning wood to supplement the electric baseboard heat when we need to. All trees that have already fallen down, etc., we’re not cutting them.

      The smallish generator we have is enough to run the well water pump and important appliances like fridge and some lights so we at least have food and circulating water, pipes won’t freeze, etc. I’ve BTDT for a week without power and it’s not much fun at all after Day Three.

      Well, a little fun. You go to the local convenience store that is also running on backup power and meet pals in the parking lot: “How are you doing? I trust you haven’t had to use the .44 on anyone yet.”

      “No, but my wife is thinking of using it on me.”

      Hahaha over steaming cups of coffee.

      It’s not that bad. We can do it! 🙂

  13. My neighborhood has underground utilities, which is actually unfortunate in thunderstorms. That’s because telephone poles often provide protection to nearby houses, by attracting and also grounding the lightning strike.

    In my case, a neighbor’s house was struck by lightning, blowing a hole in their upstairs bathroom ceiling where the ceiling fan previously resided.

    No one had electrical problems other than the home that was struck.

    However, all 5 neighbors (either side, plus the 3 across the street) had problems with the cable. Fried cable boxes, fried cable modems, fried ethernet cards. The lightning strike entered the underground cable lines and sent surges through the coax. The electrical was sufficiently protected from surges, but not the cable.

    • Why would cable box be protected at the side of the cable? Cable boxes also connect to power grid, this line is protected.

  14. TL;DR: get protected, but not by power company. They are worse than auto dealer’s undercoat (you have to be a certain age to remember). Special attention to cable devices.

  15. This has been passed in California. Not just a rumor, California is waging a war against propane:

    “We’re really hopeful that this is the beginning of a domino effect and other states will follow California’s lead,” said Leah Louis-Prescott, a senior associate at RMI , a nonprofit focused on the transition to clean energy.”

    Newsom wants rolling blackouts, power grid shortages, and fuck you if you try to generate anything with propane. He also wants to be President, and if he wins, it will be Fuck You Everywhere.

    https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2022-09-23/california-moves-to-ban-natural-gas-furnaces-and-heaters-by-2030

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