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Are Surge Protectors A Fire Hazard

author
Carole Stephens
• Wednesday, 30 December, 2020
• 12 min read

Some surge protectors will have a light that comes on when protection is failing but in other cases, they should simply be replaced periodically. A power surge is a spike in electrical current that occurs suddenly and usually stops right away.

surge protectors
(Source: 943thepoint.com)

Contents

It can also be caused by high power use devices which turn on or off, such as the air conditioner or refrigerator. Past recalls have included power strips or surge protectors which turned out to be defective or faulty and may have increased the risk for a surge protector fire.

Consumers should periodically check recall websites to ensure that their products are not listed as dangerous. By following a few safety tips and staying alert, the danger of surge protector fires or other electrical hazards can be avoided.

“We started kind of seeing these types of fires that occurred, specifically one that had some significant damage to a home. Underwriters Laboratories, a safety certification company, issued a warning where they described the surge protectors as “potentially dangerous” and “may pose a fire hazard.

“"These surge protectors are predominately found on the outsides of homes near the air conditioning unit, and wired to the main shut-off,” explained Benninghoff. We can not stress how important it is that upon installation of any surge device the ground be checked for quality.

Judy Donate was preparing for a dinner party that night when she peeked outside. So I open the back door and with that, he ran out the front door and smelled it and went around the side of the house,” Donate said, referring to her son who was there at the time. He quickly asked for a fire extinguisher, and Donate called 911.

fire surge protectors hasn yet started
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Firefighters said the home's siding helped prevent the fire from spreading and causing more damage. “Thank God (my son) was here because I wouldn't have been sitting in the kitchen had he not been here, and my husband is losing his eyesight.

Donate has already filed a claim with her insurance company and was able to get back inside the home shortly after firefighters responded. The department is urging homeowners to check the make and model of their surge protector to ensure it is not one of the listed units.

“They're mounted on the side of the homes right near that main power shut-off, and if you find one, and you have a question about one, contact a licensed electrician or your air-conditioning company. A surge protector was the chief suspect in a February fire that started in the home office of Michelle de Putron.

Her heart had to be restarted by rescue workers, who were unable to resuscitate DE Patron’s dog, Perry Mason. A San Jose fireman was injured when he stepped into a hole the surge protector burned in the into the floor of her office.

“This time of year, with holiday decorating, we put a little more emphasis on overloading circuits,” said Alex Filip, a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. “We realize very few people are able to calculate the number of ohms or watts the unit they are going to plug in is going to take, but they do have limits,” Filip said.

wood grain power strips surge invisible go protectors wait geekologie
(Source: geekologie.com)

My wife’s synthesizer, amplifier and mixer and another electronic instrument were plugged into an APC Surgeries made in 1996. A second early vintage Surgeries connected a computer and television in another room Last year, Schneider Electric announced a voluntary recall of approximately 15 million APC Surgeries surge protectors made before 2003, following reports of fires caused by the devices.

Schneider will replace them for free (http://recall.apc.com/en), and based on complaints of fires this year, there are plenty of these devices still in use. In a complaint to the CPC last month, a couple reported that they awoke at 2 a.m. on Sept. 6 “smelling wires burning.” They shut off power and searched their house, finally discovering a burned APC surge protector behind their entertainment center.

“It burned our carpet, part of the entertainment center and ruined our DVD and stereo system that were plugged into the unit,” the couple reported. The recalled and improperly used power strips in my home may have left me vulnerable to a fire similar to the one that nearly killed her.

Know which one you’re using: The packaging on a surge protector will give a rating in joules, which tells how much energy the device can absorb before it fails. While one brand of surge protectors was recalled in late 2013 over a fire hazard, it is possible that other companies’ products may pose a similar risk.

In May 2018, a fire department in North Carolina issued a press release that shared a notification from UL LLC, a global safety consulting and certification company, warning consumers of certain surge protectors that may pose a fire hazard. On October 3, 2013, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a recall of 15 million Schneider Electric APC SurgeProtectors.

belkin sn slashgear
(Source: www.slashgear.com)

Multiple injuries were also reported, including burns from touching a surge protector and smoke inhalation. The affected surge protectors, also sold under the manufacturer’s previous name American Power Conversion, had been on sale since 1993.

The burn marks resulting from the fire only stopped when Lizzie's dad unplugged the Welkin surge protector from the outlet. A call to Welkin, one of the biggest names in consumer electronics, did little to reassure her the company would look into the cause of the fire.

Fire hazard, ” reads one Amazon review posted in 2010, along with pictures of a charred, black, melted plug of the same model Welkin surge protector. Earlier this year, Amazon stopped selling the six-outlet commercial surge protector with a rotating plug.

When Steinmetz filed a claim for the damage to her furniture, Welkin asked for the device, so they could analyze it to find out what went wrong. Since Rater knew Welkin had requested the device, he didn't continue with more invasive tests that would have made it difficult for the company's analysis.

“I'd like to understand the failure mechanism, so I could guard against it in the future,” Rater said, imagining he were in Welkin's position. Polk said, “We cannot send the device back,” so Rater lost the opportunity to continue his own tests.

surge protector fires
(Source: www.clickorlando.com)

Welkin also refused to tell Channel 2 Investigates how many complaints it has received of fires started from the devices since 2011. On the Consumer Product Safety Commission's website, PRC 2 found five reports since 2012, not counting Steinmetz's fire.

When buying a surge protector, experts said buyers should always look to make sure it's UL-certified and has at least 600 joules, the minimum amount needed to protect most electronics in a home. While they wouldn't tell PRC 2 why, we know that Home Depot, where Steinmetz purchased her surge protector, has since stopped selling it.

Fire Hazards of Surge Suppressors IntroductionVaristorsMCOV ValuesCoordination of Arr esters and SuppressorsReaction of Manufacturers Suggestions surge suppressors hidden inside wallsConclusionAnnotated Bibliography Electronic equipment containing transistors, and particularly equipment containing integrated circuits (e.g., personal computers, television receivers, videotape recorders), are vulnerable to damage by transient overvoltages (also called “surges”) on the ac supply mains. In the absence of a surge suppressor, such transient overvoltages may have peak voltages as high as 6000 V, which can destroy transistors, integrated circuits, and other electronic components.

These transient overvoltages are commonly caused by lightning and switching reactive loads on the ac supply mains. As a result of the threat and vulnerability, it is good engineering practice to plug every personal computer or other electronic system into a surge suppressor.

For example: The University of Washington posted a webpage about the fire hazard of surge suppressors, which mentions that “two families on Bainbridge Island lost their homes due to fires caused by Multiple Outlet Power Surge Suppressors” during the one-year ending Feb 1995. This webpage has been summarized at the website of the safety office at the University of California at San Diego.

amazonbasics hazard might fire check they psa
(Source: programage.com)

The U.S. Department of Energy's facility at Hanford posted a Lessons Learned with a photograph of a surge suppressor that “started a small fire at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center on 28 Aug 1999. In January 2003, an employee of the Green sport Yard in Houston arrived at work to find the office full of smoke from a burning surge suppressor, with a second surge suppressor of the same model hot and ready to burn.

Various are included inside surge suppressors, which are mostly commonly packaged as an outlet strip, but can also take other forms. Some engineers have criticized UL for including this performance rating in their tests, which are supposedly confined to safety considerations.

However, without this UL voltage protection rating, manufacturers would still be clamoring for the lowest possible voltage protection level, and the claims between competing manufacturers would be at different peak surge currents or different surge current wave shapes, thus precluding meaningful comparisons by consumers. There are numerous disturbances of the utility voltage that can cause the peak voltage to exceed the nominal value of 170 V: Loss of the neutral conductor on common 120/240 V ac systems can cause a temporary overvoltage on half of the branch circuits inside a building.

During such a temporary overvoltage, the RMS voltage of the 60 Hz sinusoidal waveform is abnormally high for durations for minutes, or even hours. There are temporary overvoltages (also called “swells”) during which the RMS voltage of the 60 Hz sinusoidal waveform is abnormally high for durations between a half-cycle and a few tens of minutes.

Various are designed and intended only for protection against transient overvoltages with a duration less than a millisecond, not for regulation of the continuous, sinusoidal utility voltage! In 1990, Smith and Stander did experiments in a laboratory that showed that a small sample of consumer appliances required peak open-circuit surge voltages of more than 2000 V to cause immediate damage.

surge protector cable monster powercenter power outlet protectors electronics tvs
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The selection of the MCO rating of the variety is important, not only for ability to avoid fires caused by disturbances of the voltage on the ac supply mains, but also because of the need to coordinate a surge suppressor with an upstream surge arrested. Such a large MCO rating of the surge suppressor can still be accompanied by low voltage protection levels inside the building, as discussed later in this essay.

On the other hand, surge suppressors were often produced with little or no engineering design and testing, by simply including a variety with a 130 V rating into an outlet strip, to get the lowest possible voltage protection level. One relatively expensive surge arrested is recommended at the point where electric power enters the building, and in expensive (less than US$ 5 each) surge suppressors are recommended at many wall outlets inside the building where vulnerable electronic equipments are connected.

Better electromagnetic compatibility because there will be smaller radiated magnetic fields inside the building from surge currents. Surges inside the building with durations less than a few microseconds can be blocked by common low-pass filters in electronic equipment, as well as diverted by suppressors with an MCO of 250 V ac.

In reacting to these failures, General Electric made two changes during the late 1970s in their surge suppressors for use on nominal 120 V ac: included a thermal disconnector that would disconnect a hot variety from the ac supply mains, hopefully before the variety's epoxy coating began to burn, and increased the maximum continuous operating voltage (MCO) rating of the variety from 130 V ac to 170 V ac, to provide a greater margin of safety between the peak of the sinusoidal mains voltage and the minimum voltage at which the variety begins to conduct appreciable current. Thermal disconnectors commonly contain a wax pellet that melts at a certain temperature, allowing a spring to open electrical contacts.

The second edition of Underwriters' Laboratories standard 1449, which became effective in February 1998, requires that a surge suppressor either fail safely, or survive connection to twice the nominal mains' voltage for seven hours. The easiest way to pass this test, and still have a low voltage protective level during a surge, is to include a thermal disconnector with the variety(s).

amazon leona smail basics hazard bezos amazonbasics senators selling fire demand stop jeff
(Source: usaherald.com)

Why did UL take so long to revise its standard to prevent fires caused by surge suppressors? I know from my work in ANSI/IEEE standards during the late 1980s and early 1990s that manufacturers of surge suppressors were vehemently opposed to tests in any performance standard for surge -protective devices for failure modes, tests which might have exposed fire or explosion hazards and found their products to be UN acceptable.

A particularly horrifying fact is that many commercial surge suppressors in the USA put the thermal disconnector and variety in series, so that after the disconnector opens the vulnerable equipment downstream from the suppressor is exposed to whatever voltage killed the variety. My work as an expert witness in one product's liability case involving a fire caused by a surge suppressor gave me the opportunity in March 2001 to examine thousands of pages of the importer's documentation about failures of their products.

Incidentally, I was interested to read several consumer complaints to that importer involving surge suppressors used underneath aquariums. In contrast, engineers representing users or the public interest were concerned with thousands of standards, and both small travel budgets and limited time prohibited most users and public interest representatives from attending meetings to develop standards for surge suppressors.

When this financial support was annihilated at the end of the Cold War in 1990 and a simultaneous recession that caused utilities to decrease funding for research, I continued to attend meetings at my own expense for five years, then abandoned my work in ANSI/IEEE standards. This is just one of many examples of how drastic decreases in financial support for scientific and engineering research in the USA by both the U.S. Government and utilities have harmed the public.

As a result of concern about the possibility of fires, some users might be tempted to discard all of their surge suppressors. Products, including surge suppressors, should always fail in safe ways when exposed to foreseeable events.

hazard warning issued fire
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The problem with various in surge suppressors comes from poor design: too low an MCO rating, no thermal disconnector, cheap plastic enclosure that can burn, and no coordination with an arrested upstream (or worse: no surge arrested at the circuit breaker panel) I make the following general suggestions: Surge suppressors manufactured after January 1998 that have passed the tests in the second edition of Underwriters' Laboratories (UL) Standard 1449 may be safer than earlier models.

It is possible that some protection from ignition or melting of the plastic enclosure of a failing surge suppressor could be obtained by placing the surge suppressor in a heat-resistant glass container (e.g., baking dish) away from flammable objects (e.g., paper, curtains, etc.). My personal practice, since I began designing surge suppressors in the mid-1970s, is to put various in a metal enclosure, preferably steel, with plenty of open space surrounding the variety inside the enclosure, to contain any fire or explosion.

In contrast, if a surge suppressor inside an outlet strip begins to burn and people are present in the room, people might notice the smoke and either unplug the surge suppressor or spray a fire extinguisher on it. Many of these suppressors were nothing more than a variety inside an outlet strip or other enclosure, with no testing for coordination with arr esters and no testing for fire hazards during temporary overvoltages, such as would result from disconnection of the neutral wire in 120/240 Vac electric systems that are common in offices and residences in the USA.

As a consequence of the lack of careful engineering design and testing, at least ten s of million s of surge suppressors sold in the USA prior to 1998-99 are hazardous. In my opinion, many surge suppressors sold in the USA before 1998-99 have a design defect, as that term is used in products liability law.

My opinion is not the result of applying knowledge in the late 1990s to products designed and manufactured during the 1980s and early 1990s. And, as mentioned below, there are several archival papers published in proceedings of international engineering symposia from 1989 to 1992 that discussed problems with MCO ratings that were too low or the lack of a thermal disconnector.

fire posters hazards
(Source: www.nas.gov.sg)

David Burrell and Ronald B. Stander, “Failures of Surge Arr esters on Low-Voltage Mains,” IEEE Transactions on Power Delivery, vol. This paper is apparently the first publication in the peer-reviewed, archival engineering literature that specifically discusses fire or explosion hazards of surge -protective devices for use on 120 V ac power systems.

Dr. Peter Hesse wrote a comment to the Burrell/Stander paper in which he mentions that surge arr esters manufactured by Dean + One in Germany have contained an internal thermal disconnector since the late 1950s. K. EDA, “Destruction Mechanism of No Various Due to High Currents,” Journal of Applied Physics, Vol.

François D. Karloff and Thomas F. Leeds, “Selecting Variety Clamping Voltage: Lower is Not Better!” Karloff and Leeds gave no numerical recommendations in their paper, and do not mention fire hazards.

Viktor Scuba, EMI Control in Low-Voltage Power Installations, Seventh International Zürich Symposium on EMC, paper 79M4, March 1987. Steve B. Smith and Ronald B. Stander, “The Effects of Surges on Electronic Appliances,” IEEE Transactions on Power Delivery, vol.

This paper is apparently the first publication in the peer-reviewed, archival engineering literature that specifically discusses the ability of UN protected electronic equipment to survive surges in a laboratory. Stander, on pages 290-291, suggests that the minimum MCO rating of a variety be at least 1.25 times the nominal system voltage.

fire hazard special protection
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Ronald B. Stander, “Use of a Metal-Oxide Variety with a Series Spark Gap Across the Mains,” IEEE International Symposium on Electromagnetic Compatibility, Washington, DC, pp. Mentions on page 155 the variety failure mechanism of a linear V-I characteristic that is not commonly recognized.

Ronald B. Stander, “Coordination of Surge Arr esters and Suppressors for Use on Low-Voltage Mains,” Ninth International Zürich Symposium on EMC, pp. Ronald B. Stander, “Calculations of Lightning Surge Currents Inside Buildings,” IEEE International Symposium on Electromagnetic Compatibility, pp.

Ronald B. Stander, “Design and Performance of Surge Suppressors,” IEEE International Symposium on Electromagnetic Compatibility, pp. Criticizes common designs of commercially-available surge suppressors, discusses failure modes, leakage current to earth (which could be an electric shock hazard to people), and criticizes hyperbole and errors in manufacturers' specifications for surge suppressors.

Ronald B. Stander, Coordinated Electric Surge Suppressor with Means for Suppressing Oscillatory Transient Overvoltages, U.S. Patent 5,398,150, 14 March 1995. The resistance of the loads on the branch circuits cause the 240 V between the pair of utility conductors to be divided.

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