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Surge Protectors and your HVAC: Who Should Use them and Why are They Beneficial

This article discusses what a surge protector is, how it works, and how it can help protect your HVAC system from damage during a storm or other event.

Surge Protectors and your HVAC: Who Should Use them and Why are They Beneficial

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Fire & Ice Team


July 6th, 2022

You know to plug your household electronics into a surge protector, but did you know it is also essential to plug in your HVAC system? Like other electronic devices, your HVAC system also needs to be protected in the event of a power surge. If you’re not using surge protectors, you’re gambling with the safety of your system and not watching the most expensive appliance you have, your HVAC system.

What is a Power Surge Protector?

These are designed to protect your electronic devices and usually look like an outlet strip with several plugins. In an electrical sense, the surge protector works like a pressure-sensitive valve. When the voltage spikes, the valve opens and diverts the excess voltage to the ground. It does this without interrupting the normal flow of electricity to the devices plugged in. Many protectors also have a fuse to protect your equipment if the valve can't handle the overload.

What is a Power Surge?

A power surge is a voltage spike, either from outside the home or within its electrical system. Power surges can be hazardous to your home's appliances, electronics, and even your HVAC system if you are not prepared.

Modern HVAC systems are complex and digital, making your system vulnerable to damage. Here are the parts of your HVAC system that could be impacted during a power surge.

The best visual representation of a power surge may be a garden hose. When the water pressure in a hose gets too high, the hose can burst. Think of voltage as electrical pressure. When it surges, it can cause all sorts of damage.

Causes of a Power Surge

When people talk about power surges, the first thing that comes to mind is lightning strikes. While potentially very damaging, it's one of the minor common causes of power surges. Significantly more common are surges caused by high-power electrical devices like air conditioners and refrigerators. They use a lot of energy when compressors and motors turn on and off. Other common sources of a power surge are:

  • Faulty wiring in the home
  • Overloaded circuits
  • Problems in the electrical grid
  • Downed power lines

You should be resigned to the fact that power surges are an unavoidable occurrence, and you need to protect your home.

But, how does a power surge protector factor into all of this and protect your system?

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How Does A Power Surge Impact My HVAC System?

Control Board on an HVAC System

The control board is the "brain" of the HVAC system. A surge can fry the control board on your system and will keep it from communicating with your thermostat. The damage will stop your HVAC system from heating and cooling your home correctly and will leave you out in the cold or roasting when it goes out.

Compressor Motor on an HVAC

The compressor motor on your HVAC system is a box with wires running out of it. The compressor draws in cool refrigerant under low pressure and then squeezes it to raise the pressure and temperature.

The central part that can be damaged in the compressor is the motor, which consists of numerous wires that transform electrical energy into kinetic energy. If your HVAC suffers a power surge, the electrical energy may heat the electrical winding and burn up the wires. As a result, a damaged motor won't function, and your compressor will malfunction.

The Capacitor on an HVAC

The capacitor on your HVAC is an oval-shaped device that stores the electrical charge to run anything running off of electricity. If a power surge occurs, this can be damaged and keep your HVAC from running correctly.

Relay Switch of an HVAC

This switch turns on and off different components of your HVAC system, specifically the ones that use high voltage power to run them. For example, most relay switches have an electrical contactor with a coil around them. If the voltage becomes too high, it will burn up the coil, the circuit will not be completed, and the relay switch will malfunction.

Keeping this in mind, how does a surge protector work to prevent damage?

How Do Power Surge Protectors Work?

Surge protectors work by diverting excess energy away from the device or appliance and into the ground wire or electrical outlets instead. This helps protect the machine from any internal damage to the components or battery. It does this by utilizing a MOV or a metal oxide varistor. A MOV is a voltage-dependent resistor that automatically changes the resistance value when voltage increases. A MOV can also absorb any access voltage in the short term and can handle high energy.

Surge protectors also generally contain a second component that assists the MOV in absorbing excessive energy: the grounding wires connected to two semiconductors. The semiconductors have a threshold that is higher than the current electrical flow.

When a power surge happens, the MOV increases the resistance, preventing the flow from going into your device or appliance. This will force the abnormal electrical current to choose the path of least resistance offered by the two semiconductors and grounding wire, keeping your appliances and electronics safe.

HVAC surge protectors work similarly and are designed to keep your HVAC running smoothly during a problem. HVAC surge protectors come in handy, especially during extreme surges like those during storms because they will shut off the connection to the system. In addition, they are designed to take the full brunt of the surge and overload. The overabundance of power destroys the surge protector unit but will keep your HVAC system safe and potentially save thousands in repair costs.

But just how expensive are these units, and what do you need to look for when purchasing one?

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How Much Are Surge Protectors?

Surge protectors come in many forms, and HVAC-specific ones are no different. Units like this 83905 from Mars are designed to protect your entire HVAC system and start at around $72.

More specific units, such as the Compressor Defender from Intermatic, are also available for $111. The Compressor Defender can be fully operational in ten minutes and protects your air conditioner compressor from damage.

Any of these units you choose to install can save you potentially thousands of dollars to replace or repair your HVAC after an event and can reduce the level of damage inflicted on them.

You can also install a whole-home surge protector to protect all of your home's items. Keep in mind, though, that these devices will do little to protect your system from internal damage. These are mainly used to protect against brownouts and any external damage.

How Effective Are Surge Protectors for my HVAC system?

Surge protectors can be an effective tool for preventing damage to your HVAC system as a whole, as well as your air conditioner compressor. Unfortunately, most manufacturer HVAC warranties do not protect against any damage from a power surge, a brownout, or any type of electrical issue. These events do not discriminate when it comes to homes impacted or appliances affected. They can wind up costing you well into the thousands if you need to replace a compressor or a significant component.

Most HVAC systems last 20 years or more, with most people only ever owning a few during their lifetime. Therefore, the money put towards a surge protector for your system is worth it when thinking of potential repair or replacement costs, which could be thousands of dollars or more.

If nothing else, a surge protector can help extend the life of your system and protect your investment.

Will My Homeowners Insurance or Warranty Cover HVAC Power Surge Damage?

Every policy varies, so check your insurance or home owner’s warranty policy to be specific, but it is not guaranteed. In addition, even if it is covered under one of these policies or both, you may not get total compensation for the damage incurred to your system.

We will not accept money directly from a home warranty for any HVAC services at Fire and Ice. Our clients are more than welcome to use their home warranty, but we will not wait on the company to issue us funds. We recommend that the client pays us first and accepts the funds from the home warranty company as a repayment.

Don’t Wait to Protect Your HVAC Investment

At Fire & Ice, we understand that your HVAC system is an investment that you will have for decades to come. So, if you live in the Columbus, Ohio area and have any questions about system surge protectors, want to put one on your HVAC, and are ready to take the next step, give us a call today. But, first, check if you’re in our service area by using the zip code map below.

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