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by Tom Berry
(trust him - he's older now)

Surge? What surge?
Surge protectors and battery backup

Living in the Methow means living with lightning and occasional power outages. Living in the Methow with a computer means it's a good idea to protect against those facts of life.


A lightning strike (along with other causes) can send a surge of electricity down the lines and into your home. If that spike in power hits a sensitive electronic device, like your computer, serious damage can be done. Even small surges can do damage that adds up over time until the computer fails.

There are protectors for entire homes, but most people use a power strip with the protection built in. It works by diverting momentary electrical spikes into the earth through the house ground wire. For the protector to work the house has to have a separate ground (the roundish third hole in an electrical outlet, if the house is wired correctly).

If you search for surge protection on the internet you might be surprised to find it's a controversial topic that's generated a lot of discussion. Oh UGH! Let's keep it simple and just touch on what is important in Methow lightning strike country.

1. Clamping voltage - the point where the metal oxide varistor (MOV . . . you're right, we didn't need to know that) will divert the excess power to the ground. 330 volts is good (standard for our 120 volt homes), 400 is okay, above 400 is not so good.

2. Energy absorption/dissipation - how much of a surge the protector can deal with. Measured in joules, a higher number is better. Look for a rating of at least 200 to 400 joules. 600 or more is best if you can afford it.

3. Response time - how long it takes the protector to react to a power surge. Look for a response time of less than one nanosecond (that's way shorter than this >.< ). A longer
response time means a longer time that your computer (or other equipment) will be exposed to the damaging surge.

Be sure to follow the instructions for your new surge protector. Plug it into the wall socket and plug your computer and other equipment into it. There may also be connections for phone lines and internet (network) wires – a good idea since lightning can send surges through those wires as well.


The formal name is uninterruptible power supply or uninterruptible power source (UPS). It's a way to protect your computer from surges AND keep it running for a while when the power goes out (long enough to save the masterpiece you were working on).

A UPS is a battery that stands ready to power whatever is plugged into it the moment there is an electrical outage. It keeps the computer running for a short time. Most UPS units also include surge protection. Some even come with insurance coverage in the event that they fail to protect your equipment.

If you use a laptop computer it has it's own battery backup built in, provided the battery is good . . . and charged.

Nope, not going to recommend brands. You'll have to do your own research on that. Most work just fine though.

The UPS is plugged into an electrical outlet and everything else is plugged into it. Some models come with software to allow you to monitor the health of the backup using your computer’s display.

Most common battery backups are only good for 5 to 10 minutes of power. They also have a limit on how much power they can provide at once (more = higher cost). Be sure to get a UPS big enough to run your computer and any other devices you want to plug into it.

Nature has a way of being overbearing, so if a lightning strike hits your building or close by there may be no way to prevent damage to your equipment. If a thunderstorm is headed your way the best protection is to shut down and unplug your electronic equipment.