Electronic devices are everywhere – in our pockets, on our desks, in our homes, in our cars, and in our facilities. Technological advances that make our lives simpler and more productive are made possible by countless electronic devices. The water, gas, electricity, air, and even the information that flows in and out of our buildings are all controlled and monitored by electronic devices. Most people are not even aware of how much they rely on electronics, until they fail.
A major cause of failure for electronic components is damage from electrical surges. As processors, memory chips, and other components become smaller and more powerful, they also become more sensitive to variations in voltage. Even small surges in voltage can cause arcing faults, melted contacts, data corruption, and other such damage that can adversely affect the operation of critical equipment. Fan motors, pump controllers, lighting controls, building automation systems, telecommunications devices, and common office equipment can all be degraded over time by electrical surges.
When most people think about electrical surges, they think about events that occur external to the building – a lightning strike or a downed utility pole. However, such events account for less than 20% of surges in a typical building. Most surge events actually come from inside the building! When an air conditioner starts up, a group of lights are turned on, a copier or printer is used, or a refrigerator cycles on and off, a voltage surge can occur in the system and cause damage to sensitive electronics. This damage rarely leads to system failure with one surge event. Instead, multiple small surges over a long period of time can do just as much damage as one large surge.
There is something you can do to help minimize this damage and get the most out of your building systems. Installing a surge protection device (SPD) into your electrical distribution system can provide a significant amount of protection, not only to your largest and most expensive equipment, but also to all those small devices that people use regularly but may not give a second thought. Think of a relief valve on a water heater, which allows excess pressure to be released to the atmosphere instead of damaging the water tank. Similarly, SPD’s are designed to limit transient overvoltages and divert surge current so that the excess energy is dissipated and not directed at your equipment.
A properly sized SPD, listed to UL 1449 standards, can be a very inexpensive addition to your electrical service equipment. If protecting your investment in your facility is important to you, let us evaluate your building’s electrical system and recommend a surge protection system that works for you. For more information on lighting or electrical design, please do not hesitate to contact Richard I. Koval, PE, LEED AP at (814) 237-2180 or firstname.lastname@example.org.