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.
What comes to mind when you think of a clean kitchen? Shiny waxed floors? Gleaming stainless steel sinks? Spotless counters and neatly arranged cupboards? They can help, but a truly “clean” kitchen–that is, one that ensures safe food–relies on more than just looks. It also depends on safe food practices.
In the home, food safety concerns revolve around three main functions: food storage, food handling, and cooking.
Also This Month…
No matter which way you look at it buying a home is a major investment. But for many homebuyers, it can be an even more expensive process than it needs to be because many fall prey to at least a few of the many common and costly mistakes which trap them.
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.
Can Your Kitchen Pass the Food Safety Test?
What comes to mind when you think of a clean kitchen? Shiny waxed floors? Gleaming stainless steel sinks? Spotless counters and neatly arranged cupboards?
They can help, but a truly “clean” kitchen–that is, one that ensures safe food–relies on more than just looks. It also depends on safe food practices.
In the home, food safety concerns revolve around three main functions: food storage, food handling, and cooking. To see how well you’re doing in each, take this quiz, and then read on to learn how you can make the meals and snacks from your kitchen the safest possible.
Choose the answer that best describes the practice in your household, whether or not you are the primary food handler.
1. The temperature of the refrigerator in my home is:
a. 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 ° C)
b. 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 ° C)
c. I don’t know; I’ve never measured it.
2. The last time we had leftover cooked stew or other food with meat, chicken or fish, the food was:
a. cooled to room temperature, then put in the refrigerator
b. put in the refrigerator immediately after the food was served
c. left at room temperature overnight or longer
3. The last time the kitchen sink drain, disposal and connecting pipe in my home were sanitized was:
a. last night
b. several weeks ago
c. can’t remember
4. If a cutting board is used in my home to cut raw meat, poultry or fish and it is going to be used to chop another food, the board is:
a. reused as is
b. wiped with a damp cloth
c. washed with soap and hot water
d. washed with soap and hot water and then sanitized
5. The last time we had hamburgers in my home, I ate mine:
6. The last time there was cookie dough in my home, the dough was:
a. made with raw eggs, and I sampled some of it
b. store-bought, and I sampled some of it
c. not sampled until baked
7. I clean my kitchen counters and other surfaces that come in contact with food with:
b. hot water and soap
c. hot water and soap, then bleach solution
d. hot water and soap, then commercial sanitizing agent
8. When dishes are washed in my home, they are:
a. cleaned by an automatic dishwasher and then air-dried
b. left to soak in the sink for several hours and then washed with soap in the same water
c. washed right away with hot water and soap in the sink and then air-dried
d. washed right away with hot water and soap in the sink and immediately towel-dried
9. The last time I handled raw meat, poultry or fish, I cleaned my hands afterwards by:
a. wiping them on a towel
b. rinsing them under hot, cold or warm tap water
c. washing with soap and warm water
10. Meat, poultry and fish products are defrosted in my home by:
a. setting them on the counter
b. placing them in the refrigerator
11. When I buy fresh seafood, I:
a. buy only fish that’s refrigerated or well iced
b. take it home immediately and put it in the refrigerator
c. sometimes buy it straight out of a local fisher’s creel
12. I realize people, including myself, should be especially careful about not eating raw seafood, if they have:
b. HIV infection
d. liver disease
1. Refrigerators should stay at 41 ° F (5 ° C) or less, so if you chose answer B, give yourself two points. If you didn’t, you’re not alone. Many people overlook the importance of maintaining an appropriate refrigerator temperature.
The refrigerator temperature in many households is above 50 degrees (10 ° C). Measure the temperature with a thermometer and, if needed, adjust the refrigerator’s temperature control dial. A temperature of 41 ° F (5 ° C) or less is important because it slows the growth of most bacteria. The temperature won’t kill the bacteria, but it will keep them from multiplying, and the fewer there are, the less likely you are to get sick from them. Freezing at zero ° F (minus 18 ° C) or less stops bacterial growth (although it won’t kill all bacteria already present).
2. Answer B is the best practice; give yourself two points if you picked it.
Hot foods should be refrigerated as soon as possible within two hours after cooking. But don’t keep the food if it’s been standing out for more than two hours. Don’t taste test it, either. Even a small amount of contaminated food can cause illness.
Date leftovers so they can be used within a safe time. Generally, they remain safe when refrigerated for three to five days. If in doubt, throw it out.
3. If answer A best describes your household’s practice, give yourself two points. Give yourself one point if you chose B.
The kitchen sink drain, disposal and connecting pipe are often overlooked, but they should be sanitized periodically by pouring down the sink a solution of 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of chlorine bleach in 1 quart (about 1 liter) of water or a solution of commercial kitchen cleaning agent made according to product directions. Food particles get trapped in the drain and disposal and, along with the moistness, create an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
4. If answer D best describes your household’s practice, give yourself two points.
If you picked A, you’re violating an important food safety rule: Never allow raw meat, poultry and fish to come in contact with other foods. Answer B isn’t good, either. Improper washing, such as with a damp cloth, will not remove bacteria. And washing only with soap and water may not do the job, either.
5. Give yourself two points if you picked answer C.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer, there are other ways to determine whether seafood is done:
- For fish, slip the point of a sharp knife into the flesh and pull aside. The edges should be opaque and the center slightly translucent with flakes beginning to separate. Let the fish stand three to four minutes to finish cooking.
- For shrimp, lobster and scallops, check color. Shrimp and lobster and scallops, red and the flesh becomes pearly opaque. Scallops turn milky white or opaque and firm.
- For clams, mussels and oysters, watch for the point at which their shells open. Boil three to five minutes longer. Throw out those that stay closed.
- When using the microwave, rotate the dish several times to ensure even cooking. Follow recommended standing times. After the standing time is completed, check the seafood in several spots with a meat thermometer to be sure the product has reached the proper temperature.
6. If you answered A, you may be putting yourself at risk for infection with Salmonella enteritidis, a bacterium that can be in shell eggs. Cooking the egg or egg-containing food product to an internal temperature of at least 145 ° F (63 ° C) kills the bacteria. So answer C–eating the baked product–will earn you two points.
You’ll get two points for answer B, also. Foods containing raw eggs, such as homemade ice cream, cake batter, mayonnaise, and eggnog, carry a Salmonella risk, but their commercial counterparts don’t. Commercial products are made with pasteurized eggs; that is, eggs that have been heated sufficiently to kill bacteria, and also may contain an acidifying agent that kills the bacteria. Commercial preparations of cookie dough are not a food hazard.
If you want to sample homemade dough or batter or eat other foods with raw-egg-containing products, consider substituting pasteurized eggs for raw eggs. Pasteurized eggs are usually sold in the grocer’s refrigerated dairy case.
Some other tips to ensure egg safety:
- Buy only refrigerated eggs, and keep them refrigerated until you are ready to cook and serve them.
- Cook eggs thoroughly until both the yolk and white are firm, not runny, and scramble until there is no visible liquid egg.
- Cook pasta dishes and stuffings that contain eggs thoroughly.
7. Answers C or D will earn you two points each; answer B, one point. According to FDA’s Guzewich, bleach and commercial kitchen cleaning agents are the best sanitizers–provided they’re diluted according to product directions. They’re the most effective at getting rid of bacteria. Hot water and soap does a good job, too, but may not kill all strains of bacteria. Water may get rid of visible dirt, but not bacteria.
Also, be sure to keep dishcloths and sponges clean because, when wet, these materials harbor bacteria and may promote their growth.
8. Answers A and C are worth two points each. There are potential problems with B and D. When you let dishes sit in water for a long time, it “creates a soup,” FDA’s Buchanan said. “The food left on the dish contributes nutrients for bacteria, so the bacteria will multiply.” When washing dishes by hand, he said, it’s best to wash them all within two hours. Also, it’s best to air-dry them so you don’t handle them while they’re wet.
9. The only correct practice is answer C. Give yourself two points if you picked it.
Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food, especially raw meat, poultry and fish. If you have an infection or cut on your hands, wear rubber or plastic gloves. Wash gloved hands just as often as bare hands because the gloves can pick up bacteria. (However, when washing gloved hands, you don’t need to take off your gloves and wash your bare hands, too.)
10. Give yourself two points if you picked B or C. Food safety experts recommend thawing foods in the refrigerator or the microwave oven or putting the package in a water-tight plastic bag submerged in cold water and changing the water every 30 minutes. Gradual defrosting overnight is best because it helps maintain quality.
When microwaving, follow package directions. Leave about 2 inches (about 5 centimeters) between the food and the inside surface of the microwave to allow heat to circulate. Smaller items will defrost more evenly than larger pieces of food. Foods defrosted in the microwave oven should be cooked immediately after thawing.
Do not thaw meat, poultry and fish products on the counter or in the sink without cold water; bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature.
Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Discard the marinade after use because it contains raw juices, which may harbor bacteria. If you want to use the marinade as a dip or sauce, reserve a portion before adding raw food.
11. A and B are correct. Give yourself two points for either.
When buying fresh seafood, buy only from reputable dealers who keep their products refrigerated or properly iced. Be wary, for example, of vendors selling fish out of their creel (canvas bag) or out of the back of their truck.
Once you buy the seafood, immediately put it on ice, in the refrigerator or in the freezer. Some other tips for choosing safe seafood:
- Don’t buy cooked seafood, such as shrimp, crabs or smoked fish, if displayed in the same case as raw fish. Cross-contamination can occur. Or, at least, make sure the raw fish is on a level lower than the cooked fish so that the raw fish juices don’t flow onto the cooked items and contaminate them.
- Don’t buy frozen seafood if the packages are open, torn or crushed on the edges. Avoid packages that are above the frost line in the store’s freezer. If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. This could mean that the fish has either been stored for a long time or thawed and refrozen.
- Recreational fishers who plan to eat their catch should follow local government advisories about fishing areas and eating fish from certain areas.
- As with meat and poultry, if seafood will be used within two days after purchase, store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator, usually under the freezer compartment or in a special “meat keeper.” Avoid packing it in tightly with other items; allow air to circulate freely around the package. Otherwise, wrap the food tightly in moisture-proof freezer paper or foil to protect it from air leaks and store in the freezer.
- Discard shellfish, such as lobsters, crabs, oysters, clams and mussels, if they die during storage or if their shells crack or break. Live shellfish close up whe the shell is tapped.
12. If you are under treatment for any of these diseases, as well as several others, you should avoid raw seafood. Give yourself two points for knowing one or more of the risky conditions.
People with certain diseases and conditions need to be especially careful because their diseases or the medicine they take may put them at risk for serious illness or death from contaminated seafood.
These conditions include:
- liver disease, either from excessive alcohol use, viral hepatitis, or other causes hemochromatosis, an iron disorder
- stomach problems, including previous stomach surgery and low stomach acid (for example, from antacid use)
- immune disorders, including HIV infection
- long-term steroid use, as for asthma and arthritis
- Older adults also may be at increased risk because they more often have these conditions.
People with these diseases or conditions should never eat raw seafood — only seafood that has been thoroughly cooked.
Rating Your Home’s Food Practices
24 points: Feel confident about the safety of foods served in your home.
12 to 23 points: Reexamine food safety practices in your home. Some key rules are being violated.
11 points or below: Take steps immediately to correct food handling, storage and cooking techniques used in your home. Current practices are putting you and other members of your household in danger of food-borne illness.
9 Buyer Traps and How to Avoid Them
“A systemized approach to the homebuying process can help you steer clear of these common traps, allowing you to not only cut costs, but also secure the home that’s best for you.”
No matter which way you look at it buying a home is a major investment. But for many homebuyers, it can be an even more expensive process than it needs to be because many fall prey to at least a few of the many common and costly mistakes which trap them into either:
- paying too much for the home they want, or
- losing their dream home to another buyer or,
- (worse) buying the wrong home for their needs.
A systemized approach to the homebuying process can help you steer clear of these common traps, allowing you to not only cut costs, but also secure the home that’s best for you.
9 Buyer Traps
This important report discusses the 9 most common and costly of these homebuyer traps, how to identify them, and what you can do to avoid them:
1. Bidding Blind
What price should you offer when you bid on a home? Is the seller’s asking price too high, or does it represent a great deal. If you fail to research the market in order to understand what comparable homes are selling for, making your offer would be like bidding blind. Without this knowledge of market value, you could easily bid too much, or fail to make a competitive offer at all on an excellent value.
2. Buying the Wrong Home
What are you looking for in a home? A simple enough question, but the answer can be quite complex. More than one buyer has been swept up in the emotion and excitement of the buying process only to find themselves the owner of a home that is either too big or too small. Maybe they’re stuck with a longer than desired commute to work, or a dozen more fix-ups than they really want to deal with now that the excitement has died down. Take the time upfront to clearly define your wants and needs. Put it in writing and then use it as a yard stick with which to measure every home you look at.
3. Unclear Title
Make sure very early on in the negotiation that you will own your new home free and clear by having a title search completed. The last thing you want to discover when youâre in the back stretch of a transaction is that there are encumbrances on the property such as tax liens, undisclosed owners, easements, leases or the like.
4. Inaccurate Survey
As part of your offer to purchase, make sure you request an updated property survey which clearly marks your boundaries. If the survey is not current, you may find that there are structural changes that are not shown (e.g. additions to the house, a new swimming pool, a neighbor’s new fence which is extending a boundary line, etc.). Be very clear on these issues.
5. Undisclosed Fix-ups
Don’t expect every seller to own up to every physical detail that will need to be attended to. Both you and the seller are out to maximize your investment. Ensure that you conduct a thorough inspection of the home early in the process. Consider hiring an independent inspector to objectively view the home inside and out, and make the final contract contingent upon this inspector’s report. This inspector should be able to give you a report of any item that needs to be fixed with associated, approximate cost.
6. Not Getting Mortgage Pre-approval
Pre-approval is fast, easy and free. When you have a pre-approved mortgage, you can shop for your home with a greater sense of freedom and security, knowing that the money will be there when you find the home of your dreams.
7. Contract Misses
If a seller fails to comply to the letter of the contract by neglecting to attend to some repair issues, or changing the spirit of the agreement in some way, this could delay the final closing and settlement. Agree ahead of time on a dollar amount for an escrow fund to cover items that the seller fails to follow through on. Prepare a list of agreed issues, walk through them, and check them off one by one.
8. Hidden Costs
Make sure you identify and uncover all costs – large and small -far enough ahead of time. When a transaction closes, you will sometimes find fees for this or that sneaking through after the “sub”-total – fees such as loan disbursement charges, underwriting fees etc. Understand these in advance by having your lender project total charges for you in writing.
9. Rushing the Closing
Take your time during this critical part of the process, and insist on seeing all paperwork the day before you sign. Make sure this documentation perfectly reflects your understanding of the transaction, and that nothing has been added or subtracted. Is the interest rate right? Is everything covered? If you rush this process on the day of closing, you may run into a last minute snag that you can’t fix without compromising the terms of the deal, the financing, or even the sale itself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.