An HVAC surge protector is a device that prevents power surges from damaging the components of your HVAC system. While a regular surge protector is installed near appliances and whole-home protectors are wired into the circuit breaker panel, HVAC surge protectors are set up at the AC condenser outside your home.
But to understand how surge protectors do their job, we must first understand what a power surge is.
What Are Power Surges?
Power surges happen when there’s a significant spike of voltage flowing through your home’s electrical system and into your appliances. Some possible causes include:
- Lightning strikes near power lines, which can instantly send millions of volts into the lines
- The sudden influx of electricity after a power outage ends
- Power grid malfunctions
On a normal day, your power outlets would get around 120 volts, though it can fluctuate much lower or up to 169 volts. Many appliances—including the average residential HVAC unit —are designed to handle similar ranges. But during a surge, the voltage could rise far beyond 169 volts.
How Can Power Surges Damage HVAC Systems?
There are a number of possibilities when it comes to the damage that power surges can cause to HVAC systems:
- A surge of electricity can generate enough heat to burn and destroy the electrical components inside your HVAC unit.
- Power surges could also melt away wire casings, leaving behind exposed wires that pose an electrocution hazard.
- The heat can warp circuit boards and capacitors or even completely short or burn them out.
- There’s even the possibility the HVAC unit could catch fire.
If your HVAC suddenly stops working or emits a burning smell, the problem could stem from a power surge. The electrical components may have shorted out, partially melted, or burned.
How Do HVAC Surge Protectors Work?
When there’s excess electricity flowing into your home’s electrical system, the surge protector reroutes the current away from the HVAC unit and into the grounding wire. The grounding wire directs the electricity into the ground, where it can discharge without any risk of causing fires or electrical shocks.
The surge protector ensures that the HVAC unit only receives the correct voltage needed to continue operating without a hitch.
But in case of extreme power surges like those caused by lightning storms, the surge protector can’t divert that much extra electricity. The protector will cut off its connection to the HVAC unit so that it gets the full brunt of the surge instead of the unit. Though this will overload the protector and destroy it, the outcome costs far less than a ruined HVAC system.
How Long Do HVAC Surge Protectors Last?
On average, surge protectors can last between three and five years. However, if your home experiences plenty of surges, the protector will wear down much faster. You may have to replace your protector more frequently—sometimes after two years. You can consult with a home surge protection specialist who can review your home to determine how often you need to change them.
Benefits of Having HVAC Surge Protectors
Investing in an HVAC surge protector offers several benefits.
Extend Your HVAC System’s Lifespan
HVAC units have sensitive electrical components such as circuit boards and blower motors. Though they can withstand minor power fluctuations, major surges will damage them over time. The surge protector also prolongs its life by preventing too much power from flowing through the unit and damaging it. The unit’s parts will stay in good condition for longer.
Save More Energy
Since the surge protector helps keep your HVAC system working properly, it can help you save money on repairs or buying a brand-new unit.
The protector could also help you save on energy bills. But how do HVAC surge protectors save energy? The surge protector itself doesn’t reduce power consumption, but by helping keep your HVAC in good shape, the system can continue running efficiently. A slightly damaged component can affect your home’s heating or cooling. The unit would then have to run longer—and use up more power—to achieve the temperature you want.
Do You Really Need an HVAC Surge Protector?
HVAC surge protectors are great if you live in an area with power grid issues or thunderstorms. These factors increase the chances of power surges and thus the risk of damaging your HVAC system.
But even if you don’t experience as many power outages or lightning strikes, surge protectors still offer peace of mind. You won’t have to worry much about short-circuiting or overheating units whenever there’s a blackout or another electrical problem at home.