Whole House Electrical Surge Protection

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Spring is here and I’ve been researching whole house electrical surge protection solutions to safeguard the appliances, air conditioner and other expensive electronics to prepare for the thunderstorm season. Choosing a surge protection solution can be confusing because of the wide variety of surge suppression products on the market.

Electrical Surge Protective Device Requirements

Surge protective device (SPD) requirements are defined in Underwriters Laboratories specification UL 1449 3rd Edition 2009 which defines four device designations:

  • Type 1 – Permanently installed between the electric company transformer and the line side of the service equipment, or installed on the load side, including electric meter socket devices and intended to be installed without an external overcurrent device. Aside: A circuit breaker is an example of an overcurrent device (OCD).
  • Type 2 – Permanently installed on the load side of the service equipment OCD, including SPDs at the circuit breaker panel.
  • Type 3 – Point of use SPDs installed at least 30 feet of wire length from the circuit breaker panel. Examples are plug-in modules and corded connected (e.g. powerstrips) SPDs.
  • Type 4 – Component SPDs – discreet electronic parts and assemblies that make up a SPD.

Type 1, 2 and 3 SPDs are the main interest for homeowner’s.

Residential surge suppression devices are commonly installed in these locations:

  • Electric meter – Type 1 SPD to stop surges before it can enter the home.
  • Circuit breaker panel – Type 1 or Type 2 SPD wired into the service panel.
  • Plug-in power strips – Type 3 SPD which protects only the appliance and household electronics (HDTV, DVR, computer) plugged into the strip.

This diagram summarizes electrical surge protection devices for the home:

Whole House Electrical Surge Protection Diagram UL 1449

Whole House Electrical Surge Protection Diagram UL 1449

Type 1 and Type 2 Surge Protective Devices (SPDs) should be installed by your electric company or a licensed electrician. As shown in the diagram, I’m using a Type 1 Meter-Treater 400-1SL SPD and several Type 3 Panamax M8-AV SPDs in my home.

I did not install a SPD at the circuit breaker panel (see the purple square in the above diagram), instead relying on the Meter-Treater at the electric meter for whole-house surge protection.

Layered Electrical Surge Protection

The best surge protection strategy is a layered defense employing several SPDs at different locations in the home because no single device can protect everything. A SPD should be installed at the service entrance (electric meter) to stop surges before it can enter the house with additional point-of-use surge suppressors (plug-in strips) and surge devices for your telephone/DSL line and cable TV. Plug-in strips are available at most any home electronics or improvement store and very simple to use.

Electrical Surge versus Over Voltage Conditions

An electrical surge or spike is a transient high voltage event that typically lasts a fraction of second. Surges can be caused by many things including lighting, or a squirrel or tree short-circuiting the power lines. The surge protection device (SPD) must have a very fast reaction time to safely direct the surge to ground before it can damage household appliances and electronics. The SPD may sacrifice itself and have to be replaced.

Over voltage conditions are different from spikes and surges in that a persistent high voltage enters the house wiring due to a fault in the electric company’s power distribution system. For example, a fire ant nest bridged the coils in the electric company’s transformer creating a pathway for high voltage to enter the home causing severe damage. This over voltage condition probably lasted for hours.

Surge protection devices generally do not protect against over voltage conditions.

The NIST Surges Happens! How To Protect The Appliances in Your Home is a comprehensive overview of electrical surges and protection strategies.

Electric Meter Whole House Surge Protection

My challenge was finding the right service entrance surge suppression solution because it requires professional installation and/or permission from the power company. I was pleased to learn my electric company offered the Meter-Treater whole house surge protector for a monthly charge of only $5.50. Many power companies offer a premium surge protection service, so call your electrical utility to find out.

The electric company installed a Meter-Treater, Inc. 400-1SL which is certified as a Type 1 SPD per UL 1449 3rd Edition. What I really liked is the warranty to repair or replace damaged motor-driven appliances. Note that the warranty doesn’t cover sensitive electronic items, meaning TVs, computers, stereos, telephones, etc.

This is my electric meter before Meter-Treater:

Electric Service Meter before Meter-Treater

Electric Service Meter before Meter-Treater

Power was interrupted for a few minutes while the electric company installed the Meter-Treater 400-1SL surge protector. The unit installs on the base of the watt-hour meter as shown:

Meter-Treater 400-1SL Surge Protector Installed on the Electric Meter

Meter-Treater 400-1SL Surge Protector Installed on the Electric Meter

The Meter-Treater has a two very bright status LEDs that are visible in direct sunlight. Both LEDs must be on to indicate the unit is functioning properly.

Whole House Surge Protection: Meter-Treater 400-1SL Status LEDs

Whole House Surge Protection: Meter-Treater 400-1SL Status LEDs

By the way, my electric meter box has a 150 Amp Service Disconnect switch which will shutoff power to the home. This switch is useful if the main service panel (circuit breaker panel) inside the home needs replacement or upgrades.

Electric Meter: 150 Amp Service Disconnect

Electric Meter: 150 Amp Service Disconnect

This project is continued in Whole House Electrical Surge Protection – Part 2.

Take care,
Bob Jackson

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2 Comments

  1. Amber June 30, 2014 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    I found your article interesting. Except very misleading when discussing UL 1449. UL is one of several NRTL’s.
    UL is only recognized in the United States and another is ETL. IEC-61643-11 by ETL “for safety and performance” which is an international listing for Surge Protection Devices “SPD” which is recognized by the United States as well as our friends across the pond.

    DEVICES DO NOT need to MEET UL 2449. They need to adhere with the IEEE codes. There are several NRTL’s and ETL is a recognized NRTL. You should update to reflect correct information,

    • Bob Jackson June 30, 2014 at 7:37 pm - Reply

      Hi Amber,
      Thank you for analyzing my article and the technical references. For other readers not familiar with the standards, test protocols and laboratories are:

      * NRTL is Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory by the United States Dept. of Labor.

      * UL is Underwriters Laboratories.

      * ETL is a mark by Intertek.

      UL and Intertek are both NRTLs.

      UL develops standards and provides testing services.

      Amber wrote:
      > “DEVICES DO NOT need to MEET UL 1449. They need to adhere with the IEEE codes.” [Note: I corrected the typo “2449” to “1449”]
      I believe you’re reading more than what I wrote into the article:

      Surge protective device (SPD) requirements are defined in Underwriters Laboratories specification UL 1449 3rd Edition 2009 which defines four device designations:
      – and –
      The electric company installed a Meter-Treater, Inc. 400-1SL which is certified as a Type 1 SPD per UL 1449 3rd Edition.
      – and –
      I chose the Panamax M8-AV because it: [list of features] UL 1449 3rd Edition rated – meaning it passed the 3,000 Amp surge testing. …”

      The Panamax M8-AV is only UL listed and the Meter Treater 400-1SL product page states “ETL Listed to ANSI/UL 1449 Standard” and displays the ETL Listed Mark.

      Concerning “IEEE codes”, I live in the USA can’t comment on requirements recognized by other countries. Underwriter’s Laboratories does use IEEE C62.45 as a reference in UL 1449:

      IEEE C62.45
      Recommended Practice on Surge Testing for Equipment Connected to Low-Voltage (1000 V and Less) AC Power Circuits.

      Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. uses these guidelines as a reference in their performance and safety testing (ANSI/UL 1449-2006 (3rd Edition)) of SPDs.”

      ===========

      A very good overview of IEEE and UL Standards is the Emerson Network Power Surge Protection Reference Guide, to quote:

      page 8:
      Surge Suppression Standards Overview
      When it comes to SPDs, specific standards are developed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the National Fire Protection Association.”

      page 10:
      Institute Of Electrical And Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Standards
      The IEEE develops standards and guidelines for recommended practices for a broad range of industries, including biomedical/healthcare, information technology and assurance, power and energy, telecommunications, and transportation.

      IEEE has a trilogy of guides that address the surge environment, characterize surges, and define surge testing in low-voltage AC power circuits.”

      page 12:
      International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)
      As the primary trade organization for all electrical, electronic, and related technologies, the IEC publishes and assesses compliance with manufacturing and safety standards that form the basis for standards in many countries.”

      ==============

      My references to UL 1449 are because that’s the standard the Surge Protections Device (SPD) that I used are certified, whether by UL, Intertek (ETL) or any other NRTL.

      Amber wrote: “You should update to reflect correct information”.
      The article is correct as it stands and this reply is sufficient for a readers curious about the standards and testing labs.

      Thanks for writing!
      Bob

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