View LIstings In Clinton County Your Clinton County Home Sold Guaranteed Clinton County Buyers In Waiting Clinton County IDX Search Clinton County Foreclosures Clinton County Home Evaluation
Call toll free
facebook
Twitter

Each month, we publish a series of articles of interest to homeowners -- money-saving tips, household safety checklists, home improvement advice, real estate insider secrets, etc. Whether you currently are in the market for a new home, or not, we hope that this information is of value to you. Please feel free to pass these articles on to your family and friends.

ISSUE #1230
FEATURE REPORT

Cooling Your Home Naturally
Keeping cool indoors when it is hot outdoors is a problem. The sun beating down on our homes causes indoor temperatures to rise to uncomfortable levels. Air conditioning provides some relief. But the initial costs of installing an air conditioner and the electricity costs to run it can be high. In addition, conventional air conditioners use refrigerants made of chlorine compounds, suspected contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming. But there are alternatives to air conditioning. This information provides some common sense suggestions and low-cost retrofit options to help you "keep your cool"- and save electricity.




Also This Month...
13 Extra Costs to be Aware of Before Buying a Home
Whether you're looking to buy your first home, or trading up to a larger one, there are many costs - on top of the purchase price - that you must figure into your calculation of affordability. These extra fees, such as taxes and other additional costs, could surprise you with an unwanted financial nightmare on closing day if you're not informed and prepared. Some of these costs are one-time fixed payments, while others represent an ongoing monthly or yearly commitment.


 
 

Surges Happen! How To Protect the Appliances In Your Home
Your appliances are designed to run on the normal 120 volts AC supply, with some tolerance for more or less, but they can be damaged, or their controls can be upset by surges. The result is then frustration and repair bills, and even a fire in rare cases. Learn how you can prevent this from happening to you.



Quick Links
Cooling Your Home Naturally
13 Extra Costs to be Aware of Before Buying a Home
Surges Happen! How To Protect the Appliances In Your Home
 

 

Top>>

Cooling Your Home Naturally

Keeping cool indoors when it is hot outdoors is a problem. The sun beating down on our homes causes indoor temperatures to rise to uncomfortable levels. Air conditioning provides some relief. But the initial costs of installing an air conditioner and the electricity costs to run it can be high. In addition, conventional air conditioners use refrigerants made of chlorine compounds, suspected contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming. But there are alternatives to air conditioning. This information provides some common sense suggestions and low-cost retrofit options to help you "keep your cool"- and save electricity.

Staying Cool

An alternative way to maintain a cool house or reduce air conditioning use is natural (or passive) cooling. Passive cooling uses non-mechanical methods to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.

The most effective method to cool your home is to keep the heat from building up in the first place. The primary source of heat buildup (i.e., gain) is sunlight absorbed by your house through the roof, walls, and windows. Secondary sources are heat generating appliances in the home and air leakage. Specific methods to prevent heat gain include reflecting heat (i.e., sunlight) away from your house, blocking the heat, removing built up heat, and reducing or eliminating heat generating sources in your home.

Reflecting Heat Away

The most effective method to cool your home is to keep the heat from building up in the first place. Dull, dark colored home exteriors absorb 70% to 90% of the radiant energy from the sun that strikes the home's surfaces. Some of this absorbed energy is then transferred into your home by way of conduction, resulting in heat gain. In contrast, light colored surfaces effectively reflect most of the heat away from your home.

Installing a radiant barrier

Radiant barriers are easy to install. It does not matter which way the shiny surface faces - up or down. But you must install it on the underside of your roof - not horizontally over the ceiling, and the barrier must face an airspace.

For your own comfort while in the attic, install the radiant barrier on a cool, cloudy day. Use plywood walk boards or wooden planks over the ceiling joists for support. Caution: Do not step between the ceiling joists, or you may fall through the ceiling.

Staple the foil to the bottom or side of the rafters, draping it from rafter to rafter. Do not worry about a tight fit or small tears in the fabric; radiant transfer is not affected by air movement. The staples should be no more than 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 centimeters) apart to prevent air circulation from loosening or detaching the radiant barrier. Use a caulking gun to apply a thin bead of construction adhesive to the rafters along the seams of the foil barrier. This will make the installation permanent.

Roofs

About a third of the unwanted heat that builds up in your home comes in through the roof. This is hard to control with traditional roofing materials. For example, unlike most light colored surfaces, even white asphalt and fiberglass shingles absorb 70% of the solar radiation. One good solution is to apply a reflective coating to your existing roof. Two standard roofing coatings are available at your local hardware store or lumberyard. They have both waterproof and reflective properties and are marketed primarily for mobile homes and recreational vehicles. One coating is white latex that you can apply over many common roofing materials, such as asphalt and fiberglass shingles, tar paper, and metal.

A second coating is asphalt based and contains glass fibers and aluminum particles. You can apply it to most metal and asphalt roofs. Because it has a tacky surface, it attracts dust, which reduces its reflective somewhat.

Another way to reflect heat is to install a radiant barrier on the underside of your roof. A radiant barrier is simply a sheet of aluminum foil with a paper backing. When installed correctly, a radiant barrier can reduce heat gains through your ceiling by about 25%. (see box for information on installing a radiant barrier.)

Radiant barrier materials cost between $0.13 per square foot ($1.44 per square meter) for a single-layer product with a kraft-paper backing and $0.30 per square foot ($3.33 per square meter) for a vented multiflora product with a fiber-reinforced backing. The latter product doubles as insulation.

Walls

Wall color is not as important as roof color, but does affect heat gain somewhat. White exterior walls absorb less heat than dark walls, and light, bright walls increase the longevity of siding, particularly on the east, west, and south sides of the house.

Windows

Roughly 40% of the unwanted heat that builds up in your home comes in through windows. Reflective window coatings are one way to reflect heat away from your home. These coatings are plastic sheets treated with dyes or thin layers of metal. Besides keeping your house cooler, these reflective coatings cut glare and reduce fading of furniture, draperies, and carpeting.

Two main types of coatings include sun-control films and combination films. Sun-control films are best for warmer climates because they can reflect as much as 80% of the incoming sunlight. Many of these films are tinted, however, and tend to reduce light transmission as much as they reduce heat, thereby darkening the room.

Combination films allow some light into a room but they also let some heat in and prevent interior heat from escaping. These films are best for climates that have both hot and cold seasons. Investigate the different film options carefully to select the film that best meets your needs. Note: do not place reflective coatings on south facing windows if you want to take advantage of heat gain during the winter. The coatings are applied to the interior surface of the window. Although you can apply the films yourself, it is a good idea to have a professional install the coatings, particularly if you have several large windows. This will ensure a more durable installation and a more aesthetically pleasing look.

Blocking the Heat

Two excellent methods to block heat are insulation and shading. Insulation helps keep your home comfortable and saves money on mechanical cooling systems such as air conditioners and electric fans. Shading devices block the sun's rays and absorb or reflect the solar heat.

Insulation

Weatherization measures - such as insulating, weather stripping, and caulking - help seal and protect your house against the summer heat in addition to keeping out the winter cold. The attic is a good place to start insulating because it is a major source of heat gain. Adequately insulating the attic protects the upper floors of a house. Recommended attic insulation levels depend on where you live and the type of heating system you use. For most climates, you want a minimum of R-30. In climates with extremely cold winters, you may want as much as R-49.

Wall insulation is not as important for cooling as attic insulation because outdoor temperatures are not as hot as attic temperatures. Also, floor insulation has little or no effect on cooling.

Although unintentional infiltration of outside air is not a major contributor to inside temperature, it is still a good idea to keep it out. Outside air can infiltrate your home around poorly sealed doors, windows, electrical outlets, and through openings in foundations and exterior walls. Thorough caulking and weather stripping will control most of these air leaks.

Shading

Shading your home can reduce indoor temperatures by as much as 20°F (11°C). Effective shading can be provided by trees and other vegetation and exterior or interior shades.

Landscaping

Landscaping is a natural and beautiful way to shade your home and block the sun. A well placed tree, bush, or vine can deliver effective shade and add to the aesthetic value of your property. When designing your landscaping, use plants native to your area that survive with minimal care. Trees that lose their leaves in the fall (i.e., deciduous) help cut cooling energy costs the most. When selectively placed around a house, they provide excellent protection from the summer sun and permit winter sunlight to reach and warm your house. The height, growth rate, branch spread, and shape are all factors to consider in choosing a tree. Vines are a quick way to provide shading and cooling. Grown on trellises, vines can shade windows or the whole side of a house. Ask your local nursery which vine is best suited to your climate and needs.

Besides providing shade, trees and vines create a cool microclimate that dramatically reduces the temperature (by as much as (9°F [5°C]) in the surrounding area. During photosynthesis, large amounts of water vapor escape through the leaves, cooling the passing air. and the generally dark and coarse leaves absorb solar radiation. You might also consider low ground cover such as grass, small plants, and bushes. A grass-covered lawn is usually 10°F (6°C) cooler than bare ground in the summer. If you are in an arid or semiarid climate, consider native ground covers that require little water.

Planning Your Planting

Placement of vegetation is important when landscaping your home. The following are suggestions to help you gain the most from vegetation.

  • Plant trees on the northeast-southeast and the northwest-southwest sides of your house. Unless you live in a climate where it is hot year round, do not plant trees directly to the south. Even the bare branches of mature deciduous trees can significantly reduce the amount of sun reaching your house in the winter.
  • Plant trees and shrubs so they can direct breezes. Do not place a dense line of evergreen trees where they will block the flow of cool air around or through them.
  • Set trellises away from your house to allow air to circulate and keep the vines from attaching to your house's facade and damaging its exterior. Placing vegetation too close to your house can trap heat and make the air around your house even warmer.
  • Do not plant trees or large bushes where their roots can damage septic tanks, sewer lines, underground wires, or your house's foundation.
  • Make sure the plants you choose can withstand local weather extremes.

Shading Devices

Both exterior and interior shades control heat gain. Exterior shades are generally more effective than interior shades because they block sunlight before it enters windows. When deciding which devices to use and where to use them, consider whether you are willing to open and close them daily or just put them up for the hottest season. You also want to know how they will affect ventilation.

Exterior shading devices include awnings, lovers, shutters, rolling shutters and shades, and solar screens. Awnings are very effective because the block direct sunlight. They are usually made of fabric or metal and are attached above the window and extend down and out. A properly installed awning can reduce heat gain up to 65% on southern windows and 77% on eastern windows. A light colored awning does double duty by also reflecting sunlight.

Maintaining a gap between the top of the awning and the side of the house helps vent accumulated heat from under a solid- surface awning. If you live in a climate with cold winters, you will want to remove awnings for winter storage, or by retractable ones, to take advantage of winter heat gain.

The amount of drop (how far down the awing comes) depends on which side of your house the window is on. An east or west window needs a drop of 65% to 75% of the window height. A south-facing window only needs a drop of 45% to 60% for the same amount of shade. A pleasing angle to the eye for mounting and awning is 45°. Make sure the awning does not project into the path of foot traffic unless it is at least 6 feet 8 inches (2 meters) from the ground.

One disadvantage of awnings is that they can block views, particularly on the east and west sides. However, slatted awnings do allow limited viewing through the top parts of windows.

Louvers are attractive because their adjustable slats control the level of sunlight slats control the level of sunlight entering your home and, depending on the design, can be adjusted from inside or outside your house. The slats can be vertical or horizontal. Louvers remain fixed and are attached to the exteriors of window frames.

Shutters are movable wooden or metal covering that, when closed, keep sunlight out. Shutters are either solid or slatted with fixed or adjustable slats. Besides reducing heat gain, they can provide privacy and security. Some shutters help insulate windows when it is cold outside.

Rolling shutters have a series of horizontal slats that run down along a track. Rolling shades use a fabric. These are the most expensive shading options, but the work well and can provide security. Many exterior rolling shutters or shades can be conveniently controlled from the inside. One disadvantage is that when fully extended, the block all light.

Solar screens resemble standard window screens except they keep direct sunlight from entering the window, cut glare, and block light without blocking the view or elimination air flow. They also provide privacy by restricting the view of the interior from outside your house. Solar screens come in a variety of colors and screening materials to compliment any home. Although do-it-yourself kits are available, these screens will not last as long as professionally built screens.

Although interior shading is not as effective as exterior shading, it is worthwhile if none of the previously mentioned techniques are possible. There are several ways to block the sun's heat from inside your house.

Draperies and curtains made of tightly woven, light-colored, opaque fabrics reflect more of the sun's rays than they let through. The tighter the curtain is against the wall around the window, the better it will prevent heat gain. Two layers of draperies improve the effectiveness of the draperies' insulation when it is either hot or cold outside.

Venetian blinds, although not as effective as draperies, can be adjusted to let in some light and air while reflecting the sun's heat. Some newer blinds are coated with reflective finishes. To be effective, the reflective surfaces must face the outdoors. Some interior cellular (honeycombed) shades also come with reflective mylar coatings. But they block natural light and restrict air flow.

Opaque roller shades are effective when fully drawn but also block light and restrict air flow.

Removing Built-Up Heat

Nothing feels better on a hot day than a cool breeze. Encouraging cool air to enter your house forces warm air out, keeping your house comfortably cool. However, this strategy only works when the inside temperature is higher than the outside temperature.

Natural ventilation maintains indoor temperatures close to outdoor temperatures close to outdoor temperatures and helps remove heat from your home. But only ventilated during the coolest parts of the day or night, and seal off your house from the hot sun and air during the hottest parts of the day. The climate you live in determines the best ventilation strategy. In areas with cool nights and very hot days, let the night air in to cool your house. By the time the interior heats up, and the outside air should be cooler and can be allowed indoors.

In climates with day time breezes, open windows on the side from where the breeze is coming and on the opposite side of the house. Keep interior doors open to encourage whole house ventilation. If your location lacks consistent breezes, create them by opening the windows at the lowest and highest points in your house. This natural "thermo siphoning," or "chimney," effect can be taken a step further by adding a clerestory or a vented skylight.

In hot, humid climates where temperature swings between day and night are mall, ventilate when humidity is not excessive. Ventilating your attic greatly reduces the amount of accumulated heat, which eventually works its way into the main part of your house. Ventilated attics are about 30°F (16°C) cooler than unventilated attics. Properly sized and placed louvers and roof vents help prevent moisture buildup and overheating in your attic.

Reducing Heat-Generating Sources

Often overlooked sources of interior heat gain are lights and household appliances, such as ovens, dishwashers, and dryers. Because most of the energy that incandescent lamps use is given off as heat, use them only when necessary. Take advantage of daylight to illuminate your house, and consider switching to compact fluorescent lamps. These use about 75% less energy than incandescent lamps, and emit 90% less heat for the same amount of light.

New, energy efficient appliances generate less heat and use less energy.

Many household appliances generate a lot of heat. When possible, use them in the morning or late evening when you can better tolerate the extra heat. Consider cooking on an outside barbecue grill or use a microwave oven, which does not generate as much heat and uses less energy than a gas or electric range.

Washers, dryers, dishwashers, and water heaters also generate large amounts of heat and humidity. To gain the most benefit, seal off your laundry room and water heater from the rest of the house.

New, energy efficient appliances generate less heat and use less energy. When it is time to purchase new appliances, make sure the are energy efficient. All refrigerators, dishwashers, and dryers display an energy guide label indicating the annual estimated cost for operating the appliance or a standardized energy efficiency ratio. Compare appliances and buy the most efficient models for your needs.

Saving Energy

Using any or all of these strategies will help keep you cool. Even if you use air conditioning, many of these strategies, may not be enough. Sometimes you need to supplement natural cooling with mechanical devices. Fans and evaporative coolers can supplement your cooling strategies and cost less to install and run than air conditioners.

Ceiling fans make you feel cooler. Their effect is equivalent to lowering the air temperature by about 4°F (2°C). Evaporative coolers use about one-fourth the energy of conventional air conditioners.

Many utility companies offer rebates and other cost incentives when you purchase or install energy saving products, such as insulation and energy efficient lighting and appliances. Contact your local utility company to see what it offers in the way of incentives.

Cooling Strategies Checklist

Cooling strategies to consider:

  • lighten roof and exterior wall color
  • replace/coat roof with bright white or shiny material
  • install a radiant barrier
  • add reflective coatings to windows
  • insulate attic and walls
  • caulk and weather strip to seal air leaks
  • add shade trees, bushes, or vines
  • add exterior awnings and shades
  • add interior drapes and shades
  • ventilate attic
  • increase natural ventilation
  • isolate heat-generating appliances
  • replace heat-generating appliances
  • replace light bulbs with energy-efficient fluorescent's

 

 

Top>>

13 Extra Costs to be Aware of Before Buying a Home


"The last thing you need are unbudgeted financial obligations cropping up hours before you take possession of your new home."


Whether you're looking to buy your first home, or trading up to a larger one, there are many costs - on top of the purchase price - that you must figure into your calculation of affordability. These extra fees, such as taxes and other additional costs, could surprise you with an unwanted financial nightmare on closing day if you're not informed and prepared.

Some of these costs are one-time fixed payments, while others represent an ongoing monthly or yearly commitment. Not all of these costs will apply in every situation, however it's better to know about them ahead of time so you can budget properly.

Remember, buying a home is a major milestone. Whether it's your first, second or tenth home, there are many important details to address, during the process. The last thing you need are unbudgeted financial obligations cropping up hours before you take possession of your new home.

Read through the following checklist to make sure you're budgeting properly for your next move.

1. Appraisal Fee

Your lending institution may request an appraisal of the property which would be your responsibility to pay for. Appraisals can vary in price from approximately $175 -$ 300.

2. Property Taxes

Depending on your down payment, your lending institution may decide to include your property taxes in your monthly mortgage payments. If your property taxes are not added to your monthly payments, your lending institution may require annual proof that your taxes have been paid.

3. Survey Fee

When the home you purchase is a resale (vs. a new home), your lending institution may ask for an updated property survey. The cost for this survey can vary between $700- $1,000.

4. Property Insurance

Home insurance covers the replacement value of your home (structure and contents). Your lending institution will request proof that you are insured as it protects their investment on the loan.

5. Service Charges

Any new utility that services your hook up, such as telephone or cable, may require an installation fee.

6. Legal Fees

Even the simplest of home purchases should have a lawyer involved to review all paperwork. Shop around, as rates vary greatly depending on the complexity of the issues and the experience of the lawyer.

7. Mortgage Loan Insurance Fee

Depending upon the equity in your home, some mortgages require mortgage loan insurance. This type of insurance will cost you between 0.5% -3.5% of the total amount of the mortgage. Usually payments are made monthly in addition to your mortgage and tax payment.

8. Mortgage Brokers Fee

A mortgage broker is entitled to charge you a fee in order to source a lender and organize the financing. However, it pays to shop around because many mortgage brokers will provide their services free to you by having the lending institution absorb the cost.

9. Moving Costs

The cost for a professional mover can cost you in the range of:

  • $50-$100/hour for a van and 3 movers, and
  • 10-20% higher during peak demand seasons.
10. Maintenance Fees

Condos charge monthly fees for common area maintenance such as grounds keeping and carpet cleaning in hallways. Costs will vary depending on the building.

11. Water Quality and Quantity Certification

If the home you purchased is serviced by a well, you should consider having your water checked by your local experts. Depending upon where you live, determines whether or not a fee is charged, to certify the quantity and quality of the water.

12. Local Improvements

If the town you live in has made local improvements (such as the addition of sewers or sidewalks), this could impact a property's taxes by thousands of dollars.

13. Land Transfer Tax

This tax is applied whenever property changes hands and the amount that is applied can vary.


 

 

 

Top>>

Surges Happen! How To Protect the Appliances In Your Home

The power you get from the wall outlet is known as "120 volts AC power." The power companies try to keep that voltage uniform. Lightning, short-circuits, poles knocked down by cars, or some other accident can make the voltage jump to hundreds, even thousands of volts. This is what engineers call a "surge." A surge will last only a few millionths of one second (the "blink of an eye" is thousands of times longer than the typical surge). It is enough to destroy or to upset your appliances.

What can a surge do to your appliances?

Your appliances are designed to run on the normal 120 volts AC supply, with some tolerance for more or less, but they can be damaged, or their controls can be upset by surges. The result is then frustration and repair bills, and even a fire in rare cases.

Disturbances

Normal - This is the voltage that we all take for granted, every second of the minute, every minute of the hour, every hour of the day, every day of the year. But occasionally, for a short time...

The voltage falls below normal: a sag. Sags are unlikely to damage most appliances, but they can make a computer crash, confuse some digital clocks and cause VCRs to forget their settings.

The reverse of a sag is called a swell: a short duration increase in the line voltage. This disturbance might upset sensitive appliances, and damage them if it is a very large or very long swell.

Noise is a catch word sometimes used to describe very small and persistent disturbances. These do not have damaging effects but can be a nuisance.

There is, of course, the ultimate disturbance: an outage -no voltage at all!

These disturbances are different from surges, but they should be mentioned because the remedies are generally different. As we will see later, some available devices can help overcome both sensitive appliances in your home.

Your home contains all sorts, types or kinds of appliances. These not only include the traditional household helpers, but also the entertainment electronics, the family's computer(s), smart telephones, control systems (thermostats, garage door, etc.), and all the new things to come.

More and more, traditional large appliances in your home depend on very sophisticated electronics for their control. This can often make them sensitive to surges (as well as power interruptions).

To help sort out which types of your appliances might be damaged or upset, you can describe them in general terms depending on their connections: power, telephone, cable, or antennas. Each of these connections offers a path for a surge to come in, something that might be overlooked when the cause of damage is explained as a "power surge."

The first type includes electronics that are connected only to the power, such as a computer with no modem, a TV set with rabbit ears, a VCR not connected to cable TV, a table-top radio, a microwave oven, etc. Surge protection of these is not particularly difficult, and quite often it is already built-in by the manufacturer.

The second type, for which more protection might be needed, includes electronics that are powered, of course, from your power receptacles but also connected to an external communications system: telephone, cable TV, satellite receiver. A slightly different but similar situation, which also needs attention, is that of appliances connected to a household control system such as garage door opener, intrusion or fire alarm, automatic sprinklers, or intercom.

We will see later why the two kinds of appliances face different risks of being damaged and consequently might require different protection methods.

Where do surges come from?

There are two origins for the surges that occur in your power system: lightning surges and switching surges.

Lightning surges, occur when a lightning bolt strikes between a cloud and objects on earth. The effect can be direct --injection of the lightning current into the object, or indirect --inducing a voltage into electrical circuits.

We will look at ways of protecting your appliances against lightning surges that come by way of the wires -power, telephone, cable, etc. Protection of the house against the direct effects of lightning is done by properly grounded lightning rods. Note also that lightning rods are intended to protect the structure of the house and avoid fires. They do not prevent surges from happening in the wiring.

Direct lightning effects are limited to the object being struck and its surroundings, so that the occurrence is considered rare but it is nearly always deadly for persons or for trees. Well-protected electrical systems can survive a direct strike, perhaps with some momentary disturbances from which they recover (blinking lights and computers restarting during a lightning storm). The key word, of course, is "well-protected" and this information will help ensure your home has a well- protected electrical system.

Indirect lightning effects are less dramatic than from a direct strike, but they reach further out, either by radiating around the strike, or by propagating along power lines, telephone system and cable TV. From the point of view of the home dweller, unwanted opening of the garage door, or a surge coming from the power company during a lightning storm, would be seen as indirect effects.

Switching surges occur when electrical loads are turned on or off within your home, as well as by the normal operations of the power company. An analogy often given is the "water hammer" that can occur in your piping if a faucet is turned off too quickly: the electric current flowing in the wires tries to flow for a short time after the switch has been opened, producing a surge in the wiring, just like the surge of pressure in the piping.

How often, how far, how severe?

So, surges can and do happen!

These questions -how often do surges occur, how far do they travel before hitting your appliances, how severe are they - must be answered, as well as possible, so that you can proceed to the next step of taking calculated risks or making a reasonable investment by purchasing some additional protection. There are several ways of getting surge protection, from the simple purchase of a plug-in device from an electronic store, to the installation of protective devices for the whole house, to be done by an electrician or the power company.

How often?

You are probably best placed to answer that question if you have lived in your neighborhood for several years. Lightning is random but can strike more than one time at the same place. There are now sophisticated means to record the occurrence of individual lightning strikes; electric utilities and businesses seek the data to make decisions on the risks and needs for investing in protection schemes. The reason for mentioning "several years in your neighborhood" is that the frequency of lightning strikes varies over the years and the section of the country where you live.

How far, how severe?

The answers to these two questions are linked: a nearby lightning strike has more severe consequences than an equal strike occurring farther away. There is also a wide range in the severity of the strike itself, with the very severe or very mild being rare, the majority being in mid-range (a current of about 20,000 amperes for a short time) -but still much shorter than the blink of an eye.

Calculated risk or insurance?
The trade off:

A large stack of dollar bills and some change to replace your unprotected computer, if and when a lightning or some other surge destroyed it ...

... or use a small number of bills to purchase a "surge protector" for peace of mind and effective protection.

If you look at it from that point of view, the choice is probably easy and, most likely, you will be looking for one of those "surge protectors" -or some device with a similar name to do the same job, as explained next.

What's in a name?

When you walk in the computer store or electronic supply store, you might ask for something to protect your appliances against surges, but what to call it ? The devices that can protect against surges are called "surge-protective devices" by engineers, but that sounds too much like jargon to some people.

One name that seems to stick is "surge suppressor" with a variety of trademark names. The Underwriter's Laboratories chose to call them "Transient Voltage Surge Suppressor" and you might find that name or the TVSS acronym next to the listing on the product. Always make sure that the product has been tested by a product safety testing organization, such as UL, ETL, or CSA, as indicated by their labels.

You cannot really suppress a surge altogether, nor "arrest" it (although your utility uses devices they call "surge arresters" to protect their systems). What these protective devices do is neither suppress nor arrest a surge, but simply divert it to ground, where it can do no harm.

Decisions, decisions

Surge protectors come in many shapes and forms for many purposes, not just the plug-in kind that you find in the electronic stores. There are several ways to install them on your power supply: plug and play, do-it-yourself, hire a licensed electrician to do it, or even call on your power company to do it. Here is a run down on your options, and who does it:

  • Purchase one or more plug-in surge protectors
  • Install a surge protector at the service entrance panel
  • Have the power company install a surge protector next to the meter
Plug-in surge protectors

This is the easiest solution, and there are a wide variety of brands available in the stores. These come in two forms: a box that plugs directly into a wall receptacle, or a strip with a power cord and multiple outlets. Depending on the appliance, you will look for a simple AC power plug-in, or a more complex combined protector for AC power and telephone or cable. However, before you purchase the right protector for the job, you should think about some details.

There is another decision to make, concerning how a surge protector will power your appliance if the protective element should fail under extreme cases of exposure to a large surge or large swell. Most surge protectors are provided internally with some kind of fuse that will disconnect in case of failure. However, this disconnect can operate in two different ways, depending on the design of the surge protector: some will completely cut off the output power, others will disconnect the failed element but maintain the power output.

Quit and be protected or continue?

For you, it is a matter of choice: would you want to maintain the output power to your appliance -but with no more surge protection? Or would you rather maintain protection for sure -by having the circuit of the protector cut off the power supply to your appliance, if the protective function were to fail? To make an intelligent decision, you must know which of the two possibilities are designed into the surge protector that you will be looking for.

What are the lights telling you?

To help the consumer know what is going on inside the surge protector, many manufacturers provide some form of indication, generally by one or more pilot lights on the device. Unfortunately, these indications are not standardized, and the meaning might be confusing, between one, two - even three or four lights -where it is not always clear what their color means. Read the instructions!

More decisions ...

So far, we have looked mostly at the plug-in surge protectors because they are the easiest to install and they do not require the services of an electrician. The two other possible locations for surge protectors are the service panel (breaker panel) and the meter socket.

Service-panel surge protectors

Instead of using several plug in protectors -one for each sensitive appliance is sometimes recommended -you can install a protector at the service panel of the house (also called "service entrance" or "breaker box"). The idea is that with one device, all appliances in the house can be protected, perhaps with a few plug-in protectors next to the most sensitive appliances. There are two types of devices available: incorporated in the panel, or outside the panel.

Some breaker panel manufacturers also offer a snap in surge protector, taking the space of two breakers (assuming that there are blank spaces available on the panel), and easily installed by the home owner or by an electrician. However, there are two limitations or conditions to that approach:

The snap in protectors generally fit only in a breaker panel from the same manufacturer -possibly down to the model or vintage of the panel.

To install the snap in protector, you must remove the front panel (do turn off the main breaker before you do that). Most cities have codes allowing the home owner to do it, under some conditions. Check with your local authorities to find out if they allow you to do that, or hire a licensed electrician to do the installation for you. There are other surge protectors packaged for wiring into the service panel, either within or next to the panel. That kind of installation is best left to a licensed electrician.

At the meter socket

There might be a possibility that the power company in your area offers, as an option, to install a surge protector with a special adapter, fitting it between the meter and its socket (the dark band in the bubble of the picture). But that type of device and installation is out of the question as a do-it-yourself project, and will require cooperation from the power company, if they do offer the program.

Other types of outdoor surge protectors can be installed near the meter. That kind of installation must be done by a licensed electrician.

Check list

Before you decide which way you want to protect your appliances, there are other points to consider.

Where do you live?

This is an important question because the type of dwelling has some effect on how severe your surge problem might be. In a somewhat simplified way, consider three categories according to the arrangement of the utilities:

  • Detached house with power and telephone and/or cable TV drops at opposite ends of the house -the worst possible arrangement of all. But do not fret, there is a way of compensating, even after the fact, for this unfortunate situation, as we will see.
  • Detached house with all services (power, cable TV, phone) entering on the same side of the house.
  • Townhouse or apartment building with services entering the building at one point and fanned out to the different dwellings - about the same as the case of the detached house with all services on the same side.
What appliances are you using?

From the surge protection point of view, there are four kinds of appliances, with examples listed below by order of increasing sensitivity to surges, either because of their nature or because of their exposure:

  • Motor-driven and heating appliances
    Washers (dish and clothes), food processors, power tools, heating and ventilation motors, pumps, etc.
    Water heaters, space heaters, toasters, incandescent light bulbs
  • Free-standing electronic appliances
    Computers without modem, table radios, TV sets with rabbit ears Compact fluorescent and modern tube type fluorescent lamps
  • Communications-connected appliances
    Computers with modem, TV with cable or satellite antenna, fax machines, telephone answering/recording machines
  • Signal systems
    Intruder alarms, garage door openers, sprinklers, intercom

Let's then take a quick look at each of these and see which might need some form of surge protection.

Motor-driven appliances and heating appliances

For each of these two categories, there can be two or more kinds, depending on the type of control used.

  • Mechanical control (ON-OFF switch, rotary control, etc.), no sophisticated key pad or other electronic control
  • Electronic control (programmable operation, key pad, display, etc.)

Appliances with mechanical controls are generally insensitive to surges and can be expected to withstand the typical surges that occur in a residence. Extreme cases, such as a direct lightning strike to the building, or one to the utility, very close, might cause damage.

Appliances with electronic controls can be more susceptible to damage than those with mechanical controls. Less traumatic but annoying can be upset memory in programmable appliances, although progress is being made in providing more built in protection.

Another difference to be noted is that of appliances permanently connected, as opposed to those in intermittent use. The risk of a damaging surge happening at the time of intermittent use is much smaller than that of an appliance which is on all the time.

What kind of appliances?

Electronic appliances

Power companies sometimes include as bill stuffers the suggestion to disconnect your appliances when a severe lightning storm is approaching. But that is no help if you are not in the house at that time. If, on the other hand, you are in the house, pulling out the power cord of an appliance that remains connected to a telephone line or cable TV might not be the best idea: you would lose the grounding of the appliance normally done by the power cord - possibly a safety problem should a surge come upon the telephone or cable TV.

This information should help you make the choices that fit your needs for surge protection. To make the right choice, it is useful to note that there are two types of electronic appliances. For each of these types, a different type of surge protector might be needed. These types include:

  • Simple, one link connection to power the system
  • Dual connection to both power and communications
One-link connections

Examples of one-link connection of powered electronic appliances include a TV set with "rabbit ears" antenna, a portable radio receiver, a computer with no modem connection or remote printer, a compact fluorescent lamp, etc. In the category of one-link connection we also find an old-fashioned telephone connected only to the telephone system.

Note that most of these have a two prong plug, which is their sole connection to the power system. For the TV set, a simple" AC plug in surge protector on the power cord would be sufficient. For just the Clamp, the cost of a surge protector " would be greater than the cost of simply replacing the lamp, if damaged by a surge -and therefore not be justified.

Two-link connections

This type of appliance is another matter. Typical of these would be a computer with a modem, a video system with cable or satellite link, a phone system directly powered from a receptacle (those with a large adapter plug and a thin cable with jack which goes to the appliance generally have sufficient internal isolation against surges).

The surge problem with this type of appliance is that a surge coming in from one of the two systems -power or communications -can damage the appliance, because of a difference in the voltage between the two systems when the surge occurs. This can happen even when there are surge protectors on each of the systems. Fortunately, you can find a special type of surge protector against the problem, as described next.

Equalizing differences

A simple solution to the problem of voltage differences for two-link appliances is to install a special surge protector that incorporates, in the same package, a combination of input/output connections for the two systems. Each link, power and communications, is fed through the protector which is then inserted between the wall receptacles and the input of the appliance to be protected. This type of surge protector is readily available in computer and electronics stores, and the electrical section of home building stores.

In addition to words on the package, it can be recognized by the presence of either a pair of telephone jacks or video coax connectors in addition to the power receptacles. Some models might have all three in the same package. Do note a few words of caution: (1) Read carefully the instructions or markings to find which is "in" and which is "out" for the telephone wires. It is important to note, before you buy the product, whether your wall receptacles are wired for three-prong power cords. Some of these combined protectors might not work very well if plugged into a 2-blade receptacle, using a "cheater" plug. (On some, an indicating light will signal that.)

Not just power-line surges

Among other disturbances on the power lines, there was a brief mention of sags and outages. You are certainly and unhappily well- acquainted with outages that can occur for any number of reasons beyond the control of your utility. Sags -a brief decrease of the line voltage -can be more subtle and do occur more often than the complete outage. You will notice these when the lights dim momentarily, digital clocks or VCR controls blink, or your computer shuts down then reboots -possibly losing some data.

Industrial and commercial users, health-care facilities and other critical systems have for many years used a device called "uninterruptible power supply" (UPS) that provides continuous power across a sag, or for the first portion of an extended outage (an independent local power generator set can then kick in).

The aggravation of consumers caused by sags and outages has created a mass market for consumer applications, making them affordable when looked at as protection against these annoying (but not damaging) disturbances -and with built in surge protection as a bonus in many cases. These consumer type UPSs have a small battery which is sufficient to ride through any sag and short outages. Some models even include the software to make a computer shut down in an orderly sequence in case of a long outage.

Surges in other systems

So far, we have looked at surges on the power line alone, or on a combination of power and communications lines. Surges of a slightly different kind can also happen in parts of other electrical systems that do not directly involve a power line. Examples of these are: the antenna for a remote garage door opener, the sensor wiring for an intrusion alarm system, the video signal part of a satellite dish receiver. Surges in these systems are caused by nearby lightning strikes.

These other systems just mentioned have not been the subject of standards on surge protection as much as power and telephone systems. Furthermore, protective devices for these other systems are not as readily available to consumers. It is more difficult to offer well-defined guidance on surge protection for these systems. Applying preventive surge protection schemes to an existing system might be difficult when the sensitivity of such a system to surges is not known. When considering installation of a new system, it would be a good idea to ask specific questions on that subject before signing the contract.

Protection for other systems

Some codes or practices aimed at providing safety for persons, when they are correctly applied, can also provide some equipment protection.

For instance, the general practice of telephone companies is to provide a surge protector as part of their services at the point where the telephone line enters the house (in dense urban environments, the National Electrical Code allows an exception). This protector is known as the "Network Interface Device" (NID) and you will find it on the outside of your house.

Another example of code requirement is that of cable TV systems for which the National Electrical Code requires proper safety-oriented grounding practices. The problem, however, is that in some cases, the video equipment can still be damaged by voltage differences.

With the increasing popularity of small-dish satellite receivers, installation by the user as do-it-yourself has also increased. Typical instructions for installation show how to make the connections, for instance in the figure at right. What the figure does not show is the need to provide a combined protector for power, telephone, and cable.

A well pump installed outside the house presents a double challenge: protection the pump motor itself against surges, and protection the house wiring against surges that might enter the house by the line that powers the pump. The first protection is generally built-in for modern submersible pumps. The second protection should be provided by surge protector installed at the point where the power line to the pump leaves the house, using protectors similar to those applied at the power line service entrance.

Intruder alarm systems using wires between sensors and their central control unit can be disturbed -and damaged in severe cases -by lightning striking close to the house. The wires necessary for this type of installation extend to all points of the house and act as an antenna system that collects energy from the field generated by the lightning strike, and protection should be included in the design of the system, rather than added later by the owner. Wireless systems are less sensitive than wired systems.

 

 

Top>>

Kavanaugh Realty, 36 Champlain St., Rouses Point, N.Y. 12979
Office 518-297-2821 Ext 47 Fax 518-297-3431
Licensed in New York State
We take your privacy seriously.
A SuccessWebsite® Solution ™ & © owned by ConsulNet Computing Inc. 1998-2020 (All Rights Reserved)
Content licensed from Craig Proctor Productions Inc.