Guard against shocking developments


December 26, 1992|By Gene Austin | Gene Austin,Knight-Ridder News Service

Owners of electronic equipment have a wide choice of protective devices to guard against damaging voltage surges in power lines.

The surges, or spikes, are sudden increases in voltage that can originate in electrical lines inside or outside a home from a variety of causes. Electrical storms are the most dramatic source of surges, but an appliance motor shutting off also can cause one.

If uncontrolled, surges can damage or ruin electronic devices such as television sets, stereos, videocassette recorders, computers, telephone answering machines, facsimile machines and microwave ovens.

Most surge protectors plug into an electrical outlet, and the electronic device plugs into the protector, providing a buffer or filter for surges. Many protectors of this type have five or six outlets for equipment, although single-outlet models are available.

Protectors also can be wired into a building's entrance panel. This type will guard against surges from outside power lines but won't protect against surges originating in the building.

While basic surge protectors have been available for years, newer models give better protection, and some protect specific devices.

Intermatic, of Spring Grove, Ill., a leading maker of surge protectors, recently introduced a series of protectors for television sets and other equipment with coaxial-cable hookups.

Another new product line, also by Intermatic, features space-saving surge protectors with outlets in the sides instead of the front. This eliminates plugs jutting from the front, which prevents some equipment from being placed close to a wall.

Other recent developments include surge protectors with indicator lights to signal that the protector is operable and/or audible alarms if a surge occurs. Some protectors are designed for small appliances and tools; others for audio and video equipment. There also are protectors designed for telephone equipment, computers and office machines.

When buying surge protectors, one guideline to consider is the clamping level, a measure of the maximum voltage that can get through the protector. The clamping-level rating is often printed on the protector's package. Good-quality protectors generally have a clamping level of 400 volts or less.

Surge protectors start at about $10, but prices can go much higher for specialized protectors.

Readers' questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, c/o The Baltimore Sun, Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.

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