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"Whole-house voltage surge suppressor protects entire house"

Click here to see a descriptive illustration of several designs of whole-house voltage surge protectors.

Dear Jim: I plan to install a whole-house voltage surge suppressor in addition to the plug-in ones. My VCR, microwave, computers, etc. seem to fail too often. Will a whole-house model help and which are best? - Tom K.

A: Installing a whole-house surge suppressor is extremely important in today's homes. In addition to the items you mentioned, dishwashers, clothes washers, kitchen ranges ... practically every electrical device in your home has delicate electronic components that can be damaged by voltage surges.

These high voltage surges are of very short duration, but can peak to 5,000 volts or higher. Hundreds of these surges enter your home everyday through the wiring. They can either burn out an electronic component instantly or, more likely, gradually degrade its performance.

The small plug-in surge suppressors, commonly used on computers, block many small surges, but other appliances in your home are totally unprotected. Adding a whole-house surge suppressor will protect every appliance in your home. You should still use the plug-in type on computers, VCR's, DVD players, TV's, etc.

Voltage surges are often created when motors start and stop. This could be from a freezer motor in a convenience store down the street or any nearby business. Even your own vacuum cleaner and dishwasher motors create surges.

The best whole-house surge suppressors protect your electric items from almost all surges other than a direct lightening strike. Many include a free $10,000- to $25,000-warranty to replace items a voltage surge has damaged. The appliance will be replaced with a new one, not just prorated for its age.

A surge suppressor works by absorbing a voltage spike above a certain level (clamping voltage). The absorbed energy is slowly dissipated safely through a ground wire. If there is a very powerful voltage surge, the components inside the surge suppressor will burn out to protect your equipment.

There are several whole-house surge suppressor designs: circuit breaker box mounting, beneath the electric meter or built into a circuit breaker. The circuit breaker design has only one ground wire while the others attach with three wires. Your utility company will often install the beneath-the-electric-meter design.

The performance specifications are more important to a surge suppressor's effectiveness than its mounting method. The key features to compare are clamping voltage (lower is better), maximum surge current (higher is better), total energy dissipated (higher is better), and reaction time (lower is better).

Some new whole-house models also include connectors to provide surge protection for TV/modem cable lines. Using a plug-in model with telephone line protection is wise for computer modems.

Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 760 - buyer's guide of the 13 best whole-house and plug-in surge suppressor manufacturers showing model names/numbers, design types, mounting methods, speed of surge reaction times, max. surge power each can handle, clamping voltage, unique features, many prices and illustrations of many whole-house and pont-of-use models.

Dear Jim: We are remodeling our living room and I thought of installing a two-sided fireplace with glass doors that open. It will be between the living room and the dining room. Is this an efficient way to heat both rooms? - Mike F.

A: Many of the major fireplace manufacturers offer two-sided fireplaces in both gas and wood-burning designs. A model with gas logs and sealed glass covers will probably be your best choice for efficiency.

The efficiency problems with a design which has doors that open is too much indoor air may be lost up the chimney. Even with the doors closed, it is difficult to have them all seal well enough to prevent excess room air loss.

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