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When weighing the pros and cons of whole house surge protectors versus traditional surge protectors, many people focus on the big, scary lightning strikes. These do happen, and should be protected against, but they’re not the full story.
In fact, your home experiences voltage potentially dozens of smaller surges every year. Over time, these mini-surges can damage or destroy expensive electronics and appliances. For example, one day, your two-year-old refrigerator may just stop working. Call it “death by a thousand cuts.” Fortunately, there are two time-tested ways to stop the bleeding.
- Power strip surge protector: This device resembles a power strip and protects all the electronics plugged into it. You often find surge protectors in home offices or rooms with critical electronics. Individually, they’re cheaper than the alternative and easier to install — but the economics change if you end up buying a handful of them.
- Whole house surge protector: This device is installed in a home’s electric panel by an electrician and offers downstream protection of all electronics in a home. It costs more and requires professional labor, but over time, may offer more resilient, cost-effective protection.
The pros and cons of whole house surge protectors
What are the pros and cons of whole house surge protectors compared to traditional surge protectors? In other words, are whole house surge protectors worth it? The answer depends on your surge protection goals. In general, for homes with many hard-wired appliances that cannot be protected by power strip surge protectors, the answer is yes.
But it’s more complex than that. Here are three pros and cons to consider:
- Pro: Whole home surge protectors offer a high level of surge protection.
- Con: Whole home surge protectors cost more than traditional surge protectors.
- Pro: Whole home surge protectors offer more peace of mind.
In this blog post, I highlight two pros and one con of whole house surge protection to help you decide whether it’s right for you.
What is a whole house surge protector and how does it work?
Before we get into weighing pros and cons, what is a whole house surge protector, exactly? Visually, it’s not that exciting — it looks like a gray box on the wall by your home’s electrical panel. But what it does is pretty cool. When it senses a voltage irregularity — anything from a lightning strike to a minor flutter of extra voltage — this device kicks into action. It diverts the excess voltage into the ground before it reaches your home’s electronics, keeping them safe from damaging spikes. Unlike power strip surge protectors, which you can start using right out of the box, whole house surge protectors typically require a licensed electrician to install.
Now, let’s get into the pros and cons of whole house surge protectors.
1. Pro: Whole home surge protection offers a high level of surge protection.
According to NEMA, up to 80 percent of all surges originate from inside a building. These are generally quite small and happen as a result of loose wires, malfunctioning appliances, static electricity, load switching, or even when turning on a hair dryer or AC unit. Over time, these seemingly minor surges can damage and thereby shorten the life of electronics.
Although relatively rare, high-surge events like lightning strikes or power surges from the utility also occur, and cause immediate, large-scale damage to electronics and your home. A high-surge event can also spark a fire, putting everyone inside a home at risk.
Most power strip surge protectors only offer low-level surge protection, meaning they can help during frequent small surges but aren’t effective during a high-surge situation. Whole house surge protectors, on the other hand, effectively reduce both kinds of surges.
If you live in a place with frequent severe storms or grid outages, whole house surge protectors offer the greatest level of protection for everything — and everyone — under your roof. But they will cost more, and that brings us to the second consideration.
2. Con: Whole house surge protectors cost more.
As explained earlier, surge protectors only offer device-level protection, whereas whole house surge protectors safeguard all connected electronics in a home.
If you’re only concerned about protecting certain devices — for example, your home computer or television — then a surge protector will likely suffice because it will provide the protection you need for that specific electronic. Also, because they’re literally plug and play, strip surge protectors carry no installation fees. On average, you can expect to pay between $15 – $50 for each surge protection device — and remember, it’s worth investing in a quality power strip.
But consider that in today’s connected age, you’ll probably have to buy more than one of these strips. Your home office needs one. Your entertainment center needs one. Your TV in the bedroom does too. Suddenly, you’re looking at spending well over $100 — and then the question is, maybe it’s worth it to invest more in a whole house surge protector. Purchasing and installing a whole house surge protector will run anywhere from $200 to $700.
Plus, power strip surge protectors won’t protect many electronics that are directly wired to your electrical panel. These are often the most expensive electronics in your house: HVAC systems, electric stoves, ovens, range hoods, washers, and dryers — which can add up to well over five-digit figures. If you want to protect these, you’ll need whole house surge protection. Keep in mind, a growing number of household appliances are “smart” and connected, meaning they likely cost more than in years past. A single high-surge event could destroy tens of thousands of dollars of electronics.
3. Pro: Whole house surge protectors offer better peace of mind.
The final factor to consider when weighing the pros and cons of whole home surge protection versus traditional surge protectors isn’t about dollars and cents, it’s about the human, emotional level. Some of us are worriers, and some aren’t. Some of us are willing to live with more risk.
What’s your risk tolerance? Do you like the feeling of being insured against big risks? These are questions only you can answer.
This short video shows you what happens after a major surge event. It’ll give you a sense of what the risk feels like and looks like.
The Bottom line: Are whole house surge protectors worth it?
So, are whole house surge protectors worth it? In general, they are. When you consider the potential for equipment damage can run well over $10,000, it justifies the average cost ranging from $200 to $700 for the whole house surge product and installation.
In a time when our homes are equipped with increasingly smart yet sensitive electronics that cannot be protected by simple power strip surge protectors, the need for whole house surge protectors is growing. Whether you can get by on strip surge protectors and forgo the extra peace of mind is up to you.
To learn more about how whole house surge protectors work and whether they’re right for you, follow this link to discover educational resources.