Houston's HomeMarketWatch Insider Newsletter


This Month's Features

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 #1196
FEATURE REPORT

Is the Water You Drink Safe?
North America has one of the safest water supplies in the world. However, national statistics don't tell you specifically about the quality and safety of the water coming out of your tap. That's because drinking water quality varies from place to place, depending on the condition of the source water from which it is drawn and the treatment it receives.
There is no such thing as naturally pure water. In nature, all water contains some impurities. However, it is crucial to know when and how the quality of the water can affect your health.
Using the new information that is now available about drinking water, citizens can both be aware of the challenges of keeping drinking water safe and take an active role in protecting drinking water.




Also This Month...
The 9 Step System To Get Your Home Sold Fast and For Top Dollar
Buyers are far more discriminating now than in the past, and a large percentage of the homes listed for sale never sell. It's more critical than ever to learn what you need to know to avoid costly seller mistakes in order to sell your home fast and for the most amount of money.


 
 

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
Is the Water You Drink Safe?
The 9 Step System To Get Your Home Sold Fast and For Top Dollar
Surges Happen! How To Protect the Appliances In Your Home
 

 

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Is the Water You Drink Safe?

North America has one of the safest water supplies in the world. However, national statistics don't tell you specifically about the quality and safety of the water coming out of your tap. That's because drinking water quality varies from place to place, depending on the condition of the source water from which it is drawn and the treatment it receives.

What contaminants may be found in drinking water?

There is no such thing as naturally pure water. In nature, all water contains some impurities. As water flows in streams, sits in lakes, and filters through layers of soil and rock in the ground, it dissolves or absorbs the substances that it touches. Some of these substances are harmless. In fact, some people prefer mineral water precisely because minerals give it an appealing taste. However, at certain levels minerals, just like man-made chemicals, are considered contaminants that can make water unpalatable or even unsafe. Some contaminants come from erosion of natural rock formations. Other contaminants are substances discharged from factories, applied to farmlands, or used by consumers in their homes and yards. Sources of contaminants might be in your neighborhood or might be many miles away. Your local water quality report tells which contaminants are in your drinking water, the levels at which they were found, and the actual or likely source of each contaminant. Some ground water systems have established wellhead protection programs to prevent substances from contaminating their wells. Similarly, some surface water systems protect the watershed around their reservoir to prevent contamination.

Where does drinking water come from?

A clean, constant supply of drinking water is essential to every community. People in large cities frequently drink water that comes from surface water sources, such as lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Sometimes these sources are close to the community. Other times, drinking water suppliers get their water from sources many miles away. In either case, when you think about where your drinking water comes from, it's important to consider not just the part of the river or lake that you can see, but the entire watershed. The watershed is the land area over which water flows into the river, lake, or reservoir. In rural areas, people are more likely to drink ground water that was pumped from a well. These wells tap into aquifers--the natural reservoirs under the earth's surface--that may be only a few miles wide, or may span the borders of many regions. As with surface water, it is important to remember that activities many miles away from you may affect the quality of ground water.

How is drinking water treated?

When a water supplier takes untreated water from a river or reservoir, the water often contains dirt and tiny pieces of leaves and other organic matter, as well as trace amounts of certain contaminants. When it gets to the treatment plant, water suppliers often add chemicals called coagulants to the water. These act on the water as it flows very slowly through tanks so that the dirt and other contaminants form clumps that settle to the bottom. Usually, this water then flows through a filter for removal of the smallest contaminants like viruses and Giardia. Ground water is naturally filtered as it passes through layers of the earth into underground reservoirs known as aquifers. Water that suppliers pump from wells generally contains less organic material than surface water and may not need to go through any or all of the treatments described in the previous paragraph. The quality of the water will depend on local conditions. The most common drinking water treatment, considered by many to be one of the most important scientific advances of the 20th century, is disinfection. Most water suppliers add chlorine or another disinfectant to kill bacteria and other germs. Water suppliers use other treatments as needed, according to the quality of their source water. For example, systems whose water is contaminated with organic chemicals can treat their water with activated carbon, which absorbs or attracts the chemicals dissolved in the water.

What are the health effects of contaminants in drinking water?

The contaminants fall into two groups according to the health effects that they cause. Your water supplier will alert you through the media, mail, or other means if there is a potential acute or chronic health effect from compounds in the drinking water. You may want to contact the supplier for additional information specific to your area. Acute effects occur within hours or days of the time that a person consumes a contaminant. People can suffer acute health effects from almost any contaminant if they are exposed to extraordinarily high levels (as in the case of a spill). In drinking water, microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, are the contaminants with the greatest chance of reaching levels high enough to cause acute health effects. Most people's bodies can fight off these microbial contaminants the way they fight off germs, and these acute contaminants typically don't have permanent effects. Nonetheless, when high enough levels occur, they can make people ill, and can be dangerous or deadly for a person whose immune system is already weak due to HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, steroid use, or another reason. Chronic effects occur after people consume a contaminant at levels over safety standards for many years. The drinking water contaminants that can have chronic effects are chemicals (such as disinfection by-products, solvents, and pesticides), radionuclides (such as radium), and minerals (such as arsenic). Examples of the chronic effects of drinking water contaminants are cancer, liver or kidney problems, or reproductive difficulties.

How can I help protect drinking water?

Using the new information that is now available about drinking water, citizens can both be aware of the challenges of keeping drinking water safe and take an active role in protecting drinking water. There are lots of ways that individuals can get involved. Some people will help clean up the watershed that is the source of their community's water. Other people might get involved in wellhead protection activities to prevent the contamination of the ground water source that provides water to their community. These people will be able to make use of the information that local authorities and water systems are gathering as they assess their sources of water.

Other people will want to attend public meetings to ensure that the community's need for safe drinking water is considered in making decisions about land use. And all consumers can do their part to conserve water and to dispose properly of household chemicals.

 

 

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The 9 Step System To Get Your Home Sold Fast and For Top Dollar

The Real Estate Market Has Changed . . .


"Buyers are far more discriminating, and a large percentage of the homes listed for sale don't sell the first time. It's more critical than ever to learn what you need to know to avoid costly seller mistakes in order to sell your home fast and for the most amount of money."

Remember not so long ago, when you could make your fortune in real estate. It was nothing then to buy a home, wait a short while, and then sell it at a tidy profit.

And then do it all over again.

Well, as you probably know, times have changed. As good as the market is right now, home prices are still below what they were at their peak. Buyers are far more discriminating, and a large percentage of the homes listed for sale never sell. It's more critical than ever to learn what you need to know to avoid costly seller mistakes in order to sell your home fast and for the most amount of money.

The 7 Deadly Mistakes Most Homesellers Make

  1. Failing to analyze why they are selling.
  2. Not preparing their home for the buyer's eye.
  3. Pricing their homes incorrectly.
  4. Selling too hard during showings.
  5. Signing a long term listing agreement without a written performance guarantee.
  6. Making it difficult for buyers to get information on their home.
  7. Failing to obtain a pre-approved mortgage for ones next home.

The 9 Step System to Get Your Home Sold Fast and For Top Dollar

Selling your home is one of the most important steps in your life. This 9 step system will give you the tools you need to maximize your profits, maintain control, and reduce the stress that comes with the homeselling process:

1. Know why you're selling, and keep it to yourself.

The reasons behind your decision to sell affect everything from setting a price to deciding how much time and money to invest in getting your home ready for sale. What's more important to you: the money you walk away with, or the length of time your property is on the market? Different goals will dictate different strategies.

However, don't reveal your motivation to anyone else or they may use it against you at the negotiating table. When asked, simply say that your housing needs have changed.

2. Do your homework before setting a price.

Settling on an offering price shouldn't be done lightly. Once you've set your price, you've told buyers the absolute maximum they have to pay for your home, but pricing too high is as dangerous as pricing too low. Remember that the average buyer is looking at 15-20 homes at the same time they are considering yours. This means that they have a basis of comparison, and if your home doesn't compare favorably with others in the price range you've set, you won't be taken seriously by prospects or agents. As a result, your home will sit on the market for a long time and, knowing this, new buyers on the market will think there must be something wrong with your home.

3. Do your homework.

(In fact, your agent should do this for you). Find out what homes in your own and similar neighborhoods have sold for in the past 6-12 months, and research what current homes are listed for. That's certainly how prospective buyers will assess the worth of your home.

4. Find a good real estate agent to represent your needs.

Nearly three-quarters of homeowners claim that they wouldn't use the same realtor who sold their last home. Dissatisfaction boils down to poor communication which results in not enough feedback, lower pricing and strained relations. Another FREE report entitled 10 Questions to Ask Before You Hire an Agent” gives you the straight, to-the-point questions you should be asking when you interview agents who want to list your home. You can obtain a  FREE copy of this report from my website.

5. Maximize your home's sales potential.

Each year, corporate North America spends billions on product and packaging design. Appearance is critical, and it would be foolish to ignore this when selling your home.

You may not be able to change your home's location or floor plan, but you can do a lot to improve its appearance. The look and feel of your home generates a greater emotional response than any other factor. Clean like you've never cleaned before. Pick up, straighten, unclutter, scrub, scour and dust. Fix everything, no matter how insignificant it may appear. Present your home to get a "wow" response from prospective buyers.

Allow the buyers to imagine themselves living in your home. The decision to buy a home is based on emotion, not logic. Prospective buyers want to try on your home just like they would a new suit of clothes. If you follow them around pointing out improvements or if your decor is so different that it's difficult for a buyer to strip it away in his or her mind, you make it difficult for them to feel comfortable enough to imagine themselves an owner.

6. Make it easy for prospects to get information on your home.

You may be surprised to know that some marketing tools that most agents use to sell homes (eg. traditional open houses) are actually not very effective. In fact only 1% of homes are sold at an open house.

Furthermore, the prospects calling for information on your home probably value their time as much as you do. The last thing they want to be subjected to is either a game of telephone tag with an agent, or an unwanted sales pitch. Make sure the ads your agent places for your home are attached to a 24 hour prerecorded hotline with a specific ID# for your home which gives buyers access to detailed information about your property day or night 7 days a week without having to talk to anyone. It's been proven that 3 times as many buyers call for information on your home under this system. And remember, the more buyers you have competing for your home the better, because it sets up an auction-like atmosphere that puts you in the driver's seat.

7. Know your buyer.

In the negotiation process, your objective is to control the pace and set the duration. What is your buyer's motivation? Does s/he need to move quickly? Does s/he have enough money to pay you your asking price? Knowing this information gives you the upper hand in the negotiation because you know how far you can push to get what you want.

8. Make sure the contract is complete.

For your part as a seller, make sure you disclose everything. Smart sellers proactively go above and beyond the laws to disclose all known defects to their buyers in writing. If the buyer knows about a problem, s/he can't come back with a lawsuit later on.

Make sure all terms, costs and responsibilities are spelled out in the contract of sale, and resist the temptation to diverge from the contract. For example, if the buyer requests a move-in prior to closing, just say no. Now is not the time to take any chances of the deal falling through.

9. Don't move out before you sell.

Studies have shown that it is more difficult to sell a home that is vacant because it looks forlorn, forgotten, simply not appealing. It could even cost you thousands. If you move, you're also telling buyers that you have a new home and are probably highly motivated to sell fast. This, of course, will give them the advantage at the negotiating table.

For more information about any of our innovative homeowners programs, give us a call.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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