How to Protect Appliances from Power Surges

By Lyle Weischwill | Aug. 14, 2023 5:45 am PST

Appliances today, like many of our electronic devices, use electronic circuit boards to control their operations and functions. Although these circuit boards help us easily monitor and control our appliances, control boards are susceptible to damage caused by power surges and glitches that enter your home’s power supply wiring through the electrical grid.

Common causes of power surges include lightning strikes during thunder storms, power outages, electrical system overloads and wind storms. When a power surge makes its way through your house wiring to your appliances’ electronics, circuit boards can get fried and internal memory or programming can get corrupted.

How Often Do Power Surges Happen?

Power surges can occur sporadically and unpredictably, resulting from a variety of sources such as lightning strikes, faulty wiring, equipment malfunctions or fluctuations in the power grid. Because most minor power surges inside your home go unnoticed, it’s impossible to say how often they occur, but the frequency of power surges can vary widely based on factors such as your location, weather conditions and the quality of the local power infrastructure.

Common Signs of a Power Surge

Power surges leave behind telltale clues that something’s gone wrong with the electrical system. Blinking clocks on your appliances is classic sign. You might also notice surge protectors or power strips that need to be reset. There could also be a burned or acrid smell coming from your appliance or other electrical device.

How Do I Prevent Power Surges From Reaching My Appliances?

While you can’t always predict when a power surge will happen, you can use these tactics to isolate your appliances from potentially damaging power surges when they do occur.

  • Plug electrical devices and appliances into a surge protector outlet plug adapter or power strip. Surge protectors absorb power surges and prevent damaging current from reaching appliances.

  • Install a whole-house surge protector. Connecting a whole-house surge protection device to your home’s electrical service panel keeps power surges from reaching all of your home’s internal wiring.

  • Plug appliances into GFCI outlets when possible. A GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet monitors electric current flow and may trip when it detects a power surge. A GFCI outlet won’t trip for all power surges so it’s not the most reliable solution for protecting appliances from power surge damage. The GCFI will trip if a power surge makes it through the outlet and shorts wiring in a circuit board or electronic device.

  • Unplug electronically controlled appliances during severe electrical storms. Although it’s hard to anticipate when a power surge may occur, electrical storms increase the risk of power surges entering your home’s wiring. Unplugging appliances is the best protection against potential damage due to power surges.

  • Install a whole-home back-up generator. Damage to appliance electronics can occur during power outages, brown outs and during restoration of power from a blackout. Install a whole-house back-up generator with an ATS (automatic transfer switch) and surge protector to keep reliable power supplied to your appliances during power outages and brown outs.

If you notice frequent fluctuations in power such as lights flickering, it’s a good idea to have an electrician inspect your homes wiring. Your air conditioner might also be placing a high demand on the power, causing electrical surges. This is especially true if you have an older HVAC system. Consider replacing the air conditioner with a new, energy efficient unit.

Choosing the Right Type of Power Surge Protector for Your Appliances

When selecting the appropriate power surge protector for your appliances, consider a few key factors to ensure optimal protection. First, assess the joule rating, as a higher rating indicates the device’s capacity to absorb larger surges. Next, verify if the surge protector offers multiple outlets with varying levels of protection, accommodating different devices’ needs. Ensure it features both voltage clamping and response time specifications, with lower values being preferable. For sensitive electronics, opt for surge protectors with EMI/RFI noise filtering to enhance their longevity. Additionally, consider the clamping voltage—lower is better—and if the protector has a built-in indicator for protection status. Finally, assess whether it provides any warranty or connected equipment coverage, solidifying its reliability. By evaluating these aspects, you can confidently select the most suitable power surge protector to safeguard your valuable appliances.

Frequently Asked Questions About Power Surges Damage Appliances

What should I do when an appliance doesn’t work after a storm?

When an appliance with an electronic control board doesn’t work after a storm, try rebooting the control board by unplugging the appliance for 3 minutes. After plugging it back in, the appliance may work properly. If not, you’ll likely need to have the appliance serviced by a technician. The tech will test the electronic control board and replace it if necessary.

Can an electronic control board damaged by a power surge be repaired?

Some electronic control boards can be repaired after being damaged by a power surge. Often, it is easier for a technician to replace a damaged control board rather than repair it. Most electronic control boards need to be removed and sent to a remote repair facility for repair, then returned to your home and reinstalled in the appliance. You’ll typically need to have a service technician complete these tasks.

Is control board damage caused by a storm covered by my insurance?

Refer to your insurance policy regarding storm damage. Some homeowners insurance policies may cover damage to the electronic control board in your appliance caused by a direct lightning strike to your home. Some policies also cover power surge damage caused by power supplied by the utility company.

Can a power surge cause a fire?

A power surge will almost never cause a fire. Power surge damage often affects electronic circuit boards. The control board damage often corrupts internal memory or programming of the control board. In very rare instances, damage to a control board can cause a short circuit that could get extremely hot for a short period of time and start a small fire. The house circuit breaker should trip and cut off the electrical current supply so a small electrical fire will typically go out quickly once the electrical supply shuts off. If you suspect that an appliance is damaged because you smell burnt wires, have a service technician examine the appliance before restoring power.

Broken Appliances? Let the Experts at Sears Home Services Take a Look

Trust the experts at Sears Home Services with your appliance repair needs. Our skilled technicians are equipped to handle a wide range of appliance issues with precision and care. Whether it’s a malfunctioning refrigerator, a faulty washing machine, or a finicky oven, we have the knowledge and tools to quickly find and fix the problem. Let us take the hassle out of appliance repairs so you can enjoy peace of mind. Schedule service today.