How Safe are you with a Surge Protector?
First of all, let's all get on the same page. A surge is a short duration (less than a second) temporary high voltage (also called a spike). By high voltage we generally mean more than 330 volts whereas standard 15A, 30A or 50A outlets are 120 Volts AC. These spikes can be caused by lightening, AC units, generators, heavy equipment, power outages, tripped circuit breakers or switches on the grid. These surges can cause damage to electrical equipment that is connected to it, especially anything electronic such as computers, disk drives, TV's and satellite receivers as they have sensitive components that are not designed to withstand this voltage and current.
Surge protectors take many different forms. In fact, you may have several in your RV or home already in the form of power strips. Other more powerful (able to withstand larger spikes) take the form of outdoor boxes into which you plug your RV. Inside these surge protectors are MOVs (Metal Oxide Varistors) which are like small chips that shunt the high voltage to ground. These MOV's are rated up to specific Joule (a measure of energy) and Amp (current) ratings. If that gets exceeded then the surge protector needs replacing.
If you have a surge protector or are looking at getting one, make sure that it has an indicator which tells you that the surge protector is functioning correctly. Secondly, ensure that your unit complies with Underwriters Laboratories Inc. standard UL-1449, 2nd Edition and/or IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.) standard C62.41. The SSP-30 and SSP-50's from Progressive Industries complies with all regulations and has a green light indicating that the unit is functioning correctly. Some units do not have such an indication and if you use them, you could be at risk.
So if you have a good quality surge protector then you should be okay right?
Unfortunately, no. Spikes and surges are actually one of the least common form of electrical problems that you can encounter. A far more common problem is low voltage. Low voltage (typically less than 100 volts) causes an increase in the current that flows through your appliances as they 'try' to maintain the correct output. This is especially true of anything using a motor such as an air conditioner or refrigerator. Also susceptible are microwave ovens and electronic power supplies such as those used to power laptops, cameras, video recorders etc.
Other Electrical Faults
This low voltage can be caused by poor electrical wiring in older campgrounds, circuit over-loading or supply problems ("brown-outs"). If you have a voltage meter in your coach you may have already seen this, particularly on hot days when everyones a/c units are running.
Other electrical problems include over-voltage (including accidental 240v which can be devastating), open ground (which can be fatal), reverse polarity (in which the live and neutral are reversed) and open neutral (can cause 240v to enter your coach if you are connected to 50A). Just in the last two years of traveling we have experienced four of these different conditions. Any of these conditions can cause significant equipment failure and potentially serious bodily injury.
It is for these reasons that 3 years ago we installed a Progressive Electrical Protection System. This system employs a computer which constantly monitors the power and only if it is safe to do so will it throw a breaker to let power into the rig. For example, when we were staying at the park with the bad wiring, as it got hot in the afternoon, the voltage started falling. When it got below 104v the EMS cut off the power to our rig. It also has a digital readout to tell us what the voltage level is and why it had disconnected the power. Once the voltage returned above 104v, it reconnected the power. These systems will protect you from not only surges (with a readout to tell you that the surge protector is working), but also from all the above fault conditions, as well as high and low line frequency. In a nutshull, you're covered!
They are available in 30A and 50A models and can be either hardwired into your coach or used as a portable unit that you plug into the campground power outlet. If you'd like more details, check out the Progressive Industries section on TechnoRV.com.
Summary Surge protectors are definitely better than having no protection at all. However, if you want to be fully protected, consider an Electrical Protection System from Progressive Industries (now with Lifetime Warranty).