Recently news broke that a leading manufacturer is recalling 15 million of its surge protectors because they may over-heat or start a fire. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission received 700 reports of overheating and melting, 55 reports of property damage from smoke and fire, and 13 reports of injuries including smoke inhalation and burns.
Unfortunately, this issue extends far beyond this particular incident. Outdated and ineffective (if not dangerous) surge protector technologies are widely sold and used in homes and businesses throughout the nation. This can present a significant problem to installing security contractors that increasingly use advanced, sensitive technologies requiring quality surge protection. In order to ensure security systems and the people and technologies they protect are safe, I recommend dealers and integrators take into account the following considerations.
Power strip vs. surge protector — Though they look very similar, a power strip is very different from a surge protector. While both can offer additional plug outlets for use, only the latter provides protection in case of an electrical surge. It is very common for people to mistake these two technologies. Verify your clients have UL-Listed surge protectors rather than simple power strips in order to ensure maximum safety and protection.
Age of surge protector — Many surge protectors in use are legacy products that were designed eight to 10 years ago, some at very low cost. These devices often do not have effective thermal protectors and were not built with the latest flame-retardant materials. Many of these legacy surge protectors have also experienced small surges through the years, degrading and compromising components over time and making them more susceptible to failure. While it is not easy for users to discover what types of thermal protectors and materials are used in their surge protectors, a good rule of thumb is to check the technology’s age. If your client’s surge protectors are more than eight years old, encourage them to replace the devices with newer technologies.
Age of Home or Business — Buildings built prior to 1970 could have older-generation two-prong outlets. These outlets do not provide a direct connection to ground provided by more modern three-prong outlets. Similarly, older homes are likely not grounded for the many newer technologies used in a modern household or office. If you suspect that your client’s home or business has outdated outlets or might not be properly grounded, ask them to call an electrician to evaluate the situation. It is important they understand that security technology needs proper grounding in order to work correctly.
Overloading — It is a common misconception that it is safe to plug as many items as will fit into a given surge protector. One might logically, yet mistakenly, assume if a surge protector has six outlets, six different electric/electronic items can be plugged into that surge protector. This is not always the case. Different items have different power consumption levels. Remind your clients to carefully study the power limitations on their surge protectors and the items plugged into them. As standard practice, when installing security systems ensure technologies do not exceed 80% capacity load on any given surge protector.
Identifying quality surge protector technologies — While not all clients may have the electrical background necessary to understand the myriad technical details that define various types of surge protectors, there are two simple steps that can be taken to ensure quality protection.
First, be sure that all surge protector technologies you or your client purchase are clearly marked as “UL 1449 Listed.” UL 1449 3rd Edition is the latest and greatest security standard. There can be a big difference between products that are UL 1449 Listed and those that are “Tested to UL 1449 Standards.” Only the first group has undergone extensive UL testing and certification. Technologies in the second group have not gone through this vigorous safety testing process and cannot certify that they provide the same level of protection. Remind your client to check the fine print on the label.
Secondly, quality surge protector manufacturers stand behind their products with warranties that provide financial compensation should any technology be damaged while a surge protector is being properly used. Check to make sure the surge protectors your clients select are covered by such a warranty.
Unfortunately, it is all too common to-day to see people unknowingly purchase outdated and ineffective surge protector technology to safeguard their increasingly advanced technology. Clients trust your knowledge of high-performing electronics. Spend a little extra time to educate them about finding and investing in quality, UL 1449-listed surge protectors. This will keep both your client’s technology — and your company’s reputation — safe.
Jeff Oliveros is Director of Engineering for Carol Stream, Ill.-based ITW Linx, a provider of surge protection products. He can be contacted at email@example.com.