24 July, 2008

Little Bit More Protection

We now have a bit more protection - a whole house surge suppressor. I got to thinking about such a thing after the ceiling fan in our bedroom fried a capacitor. Turns out, around here that is a fairly common occurrence, along with frying refrigerators, stereos, TVs, etc., and etc.

Figuring that this probably wouldn't be the last time something electrical fried, I got to thinking about some sort of whole house UPS (Uninteruptable Power Supply) or something similar. You can get UPS that will protect a whole house for a few thousand bucks if money is no object. Since it was, I looked for something cheaper. Similar to a surge strip extension cord, only better, the whole house surge suppressor protects your whole house from spikes from power failures, or when the power comes back on, or from your firing up your generator when you've lost power, and from our notoriously variable power.

I went online looking for one and found it at Home Controls, Inc. ( for $243.83, shipping paid to LA. I must have timed it exactly right. I ordered it on June 30, and Brinston Marage delivered it (and several other things I had ordered from various sources) on July 16. Wow! That seemed almost like shopping online stateside and having UPS deliver it the following morning! I was truly impressed.
Downstairs Power Central
This morning, I had Anthony Watson, our electrician, install the surge suppressor, a separate circuit breaker for it and connecting the thing to the main power panel for the house.
A Detail Shot of the Suppressor and Breaker Box
Additionally, this morning, Anthony and his son, Anthony, Jr., installed a replacement transformer for the gate doorbell and reran about 100' of bell wire for the doorbell. Anthony determined we had a short between the doorbell and the transformer.

You'll never guess the cause... Ants! That's right. Anthony told me ants down here frequently eat the insulation off wiring and cause all sorts of problems, beyond just faulty doorbells. I know mice and rats do that, but ants? It just goes to show, you learn something new every day down here.

I still thought he was pulling my let a bit till I confirmed at Lano's Supply as I was buying the 100' of new heavier duty replacement wire. "Oh, yes" John, the sales clerk said, "we get that all the time". I had further confirmation as we were pulling the new wire through the conduit. Anthony, Jr. called my attention to a small junction box beside the gate motor. It had several gobs of silicone sealer on the back, which was being vigorously attacked by 15-20 fire ants. Now, I saw for my self, first-hand, that they do create havoc with technology. Amazing.

Here's a close-up of the whole house surge suppressor box itself. Not much to it really. A sealed module on the inside that the user can't modify or screw up. The two green LEDs show it's operating normally.
Leviton Whole House Surge Suppressor
If one of the LEDs shut off during normal use, an electrician (or handy home owner with a working knowledge of and access to a good multi-meter) should determine if phase power is present. If power is present, then a transient surge has exceeded the suppressor's rating, essentially taking one for the house. It got fried to protect the whole house. What it is supposed to do. Unfortunately, you then have to replace the module or upgrade to a higher rated device. Under most circumstances, the module should be able to handle most transients without frying itself.

Coupla' hundred bucks - cheap insurance for protecting the whole house. Anthony had no trouble installing it correctly either, and the peace of mind - priceless.


nigel said...

Cool Dave....never ends does it, always some new technology we cant live without and the simpleist things to mess it up

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave, we have that problem with fire ants too--they do stuff like that because they are attracted to the electricity. I'm not joking! We have to keep our well pump area sprinkled with poison and our air conditioner. There is a poison surcharge on the phone bills here too.

Dave Rider said...

Thanks Nigel and Sandy.

Man, this fire ant/electricity thing is much, much bigger than I would have imagined. So much so, that I did another post specifically on the little buggers.