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Jun 10, 2023

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Prevent appliances and electronics from damage—and potentially extend their lifespans—with one of these whole-house surge protectors.

Protecting your home's major appliances and electronics against damage from power surges is a smart move considering the extreme weather that's battering the country from coast to coast. We're willing to bet that your smart refrigerator and new home theater setup are plugged into power strip surge protectors—but chances are, your current coverage is nowhere near enough for large appliances in your house.

While devastating ice storms and tornadoes can certainly cause outages, it's repeated low-level surges from, say, a faulty transformer or a brownout, that can be the most damaging over time—and cut short the lifespan of pricey appliances and electronics. The best way to ensure that everything from your HVAC system compressors to your computer is safeguarded from surges is installing a hardwired, whole-house surge protector to your home's electrical system. Thankfully, whole-house surge protectors are relatively affordable, and, if they fail for any reason, there's often residential damage coverage in addition to a product warranty.

Here's how to find the best whole-house surge protector for your home, along with everything you should consider before you buy.

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Whole-house surge protectors cost anywhere from about $60 to $300, with a lifespan of roughly five to 10 years. Despite the added fee, it's best to call on a licensed electrician for safe installation.

There are three types of surge protective devices, or SPDs.

The bottom line? The best approach is two-layer protection: Install a Type 1 or Type 2 whole-house surge protector and use Type 3 specifically for sensitive electronic equipment.

The National Electrical Manufacturing Association, or NEMA, enclosure standards denote where whole-house surge protectors can be installed. The lowest rating is NEMA 1, for indoor installation only. The highest for surge protectors is NEMA 4, which includes dust- and waterproofing, and NEMA4X, which adds protection from corrosion. Both of these level four ratings are suitable for indoor and outdoor installation.

The amount of electrical current a surge protector can absorb is measured in kiloAmps. Generally, the higher the number, the more protection you'll get. Look for whole-house surge protectors that are 30 kA and up to ensure all your appliances are protected.

The standard U.S. certification for all SPDs is UL 1449. You'll likely also see CSA on packaging, which is the equivalent Canadian standard certification for electrical and mechanical products.

Keep in mind that the surge protector needs to work with your breaker box's manufacturer (not all do) and must be compatible with your electrical system's current. Also, if you're installing a whole-house surge protector inside a breaker box, make sure there's enough room inside to accommodate it.

Most whole-house surge protectors come with a limited 10-year or lifetime warranty, plus residential damage coverage if the device fails.

The Type 1 and Type 2 whole-house surge protectors we recommend come from well-regarded companies in the industry, including Eaton, Siemens, Square D, Leviton, and Intermatic. We aimed to provide options across a range of price points and offer whole-house surge protectors that meet different coverage needs, especially for areas that get hit hard by storms and frequent power outages. We also compared models' warranties, various certifications and ratings, and compatibility with breaker box manufacturers.

This whole-house surge protector comes out on top because it offers an excellent lineup of features, including superb coverage and broad compatibility for a fair price.

The Type 2 SPD delivers 108 kA of protection and has a NEMA Type 4 rating for indoor or out door use, plus it's universally compatible with any manufacturer's breaker box. It also comes with a limited lifetime warranty on the device and, should it fail, coverage for connected residential equipment.

Siemens's premium FS140 whole-house surge protector is hands-down the best choice if you live in a region with frequent power outages, like the Southeast or parts of Texas.

This Type 2 SPD can handle surges up to 140 kA and has a NEMA Type 4X rating for installation indoors or out. It also features commercial-class diagnostics with a three-stage status notification system that includes an audible alarm and a red LED indicator if coverage is compromised.

Another plus is that you can install it without purchasing extra materials, as it's compatibility with any standard 30-amp 2-pole circuit breaker.

The Siemens FS140 comes with a limited 10-year warranty and coverage for connected equipment. It's a bit larger than some similar options, so double-check dimensions before buying.

Even if you don't know much about whole-house surge protectors, you can tell by looking at the Intermatic Smart Guard that it's serious business. It is, in fact, one of the most advanced models on the market. The caveat is, with a NEMA 1 rating, it's rated for indoor installation only.

Despite the Smart Guard's 10 kA surge capacity, it offers robust coverage with up to six modes of protection for every type of circuit, whereas most whole-house surge protectors offer up to four.

It's designed with three protection modules that operate independently. That means if one module fails, your home isn't left unprotected. It also means that you don't have to install a brand new SPD after a surge because the individual modules are easy to replace.

With an 80 kA surge current rating, a NEMA 4X rating, and an LED status indicator on the front, this versatile Type 1 whole-house surge protector punches well above its price point. Installation is incredibly straightforward and, thanks to its compact design, the HEPD80 doesn't take up too much room next to a breaker panel.

Another huge benefit is the six modes for every type of circuit—most models offer up to four. This whole-house surge protector comes 5-year product warranty, which is less than the competition, though you'll get up to $50,000 of coverage on connected residential equipment.

This Type 2 surge protection panel is designed to flush-mount next to a main breaker for straightforward installation. It offers 50 kA of surge protection and it's easy to see the LED status indicators front and center. It also comes with a limited lifetime warranty.

The standard junction box adds to its durability over time and works well for light commercial use, though with a NEMA 1 rating, this whole-house surge protector can't be installed outdoors.

If you want to easily upgrade your current electrical system, this low-cost whole-house surge protector is your best bet. The Type 2 protector is designed to work as an add-on, offering 36 kA of protection. And, like our top pick from Eaton, it's universally compatible with electrical panels from every manufacturer. It also has a NEMA 4 rating for indoor and outdoor installation.

This surge protector also comes with a limited lifetime warranty, plus coverage for connected equipment. For the low price of about $60 at the time of this writing, it's a small investment with a big payoff.

Rachel Klein is a Senior Commerce Editor for Popular Mechanics, where she writes about everything from garden hose reels and patio furniture to mesh wifi systems and robot vacuums. She started her career as a daily newspaper reporter and was a travel editor for more than a decade before she started testing and reviewing luggage, noise-cancelling headphones, and other travel-related products. Fast-forward another five years and her area of expertise includes home decor, appliances, tech, and outdoor adventure gear. In her spare time, you'll find her planning her next trip, reading historical fiction, and seeing as much art as she can squeeze into a weekend.

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