Leviton is one of the companies at the forefront of whole-house structured wiring, surge protection, lighting controls and other systems. We recently asked the company a few questions about the value of whole-house Surge Protective Devices (SPDs) and what builders should look for. Leviton makes a range of products that support a layered or “cascaded” system of surge suppression, starting at the electrical service panel or even at the meter, and ending with surge suppressing receptacles and USB charging ports.
TecHome: What’s the importance of whole-house surge protection?
Leviton: With the popularity of home automation devices, smart appliances and other electronic equipment in today's homes, the requirement for “whole house” surge protection has become a necessity. The bottom line is that surges or spikes can actually destroy any sensitive electronics within the devices we use in our homes, such as HDTVs, DVRs, computers, refrigerators, microwave ovens and more. Damage can range from complete failure to a reduction in useful life. To some, whole-house surge protection is achieved simply by installing a surge protective breaker or panel at the home's main breaker load center(s). However, true whole-house surge protection requires surge protective devices at various levels within the home to provide the most reliable protection: a surge protection network, if you will.
Having a tiered approach drops the incoming surge energy to a more manageable level for the equipment being protected. Each Surge Protective Device reduces the spike/surge to some extent, but there is always residual energy that gets through, so having a tiered approach allows the next SPD in the circuit to lower that surge energy and bring it closer to the intended power system voltage (i.e. 120V AC). Internal power surges, such as from power tools or vacuum cleaners, can generate surges back into the home’s electrical system, so the tiered approach provides surge protection there as well.
TecHome: What are some features and specs homebuilders should look for?
Leviton: Homebuilders should always look to see if the Surge Protective Device is listed as UL 1449 3rd Edition compliant; look for the “Type” designation on the product and make sure the device is listed as a Type 1, Type 2, Type 3 or Type 4 Surge Protective Device.
Surge panels may be installed either indoors or outdoors. If you’re installing an outdoor panel, be sure the device is listed as NEMA 3R, 4 or 4X rated. For mounting surge panels indoors, the Leviton 51120-1 or the 42120-1 provides enhanced noise filtering with superior surge protection. These devices are mounted to the load side off the main disconnect switch of an electric service panel and protect against residual lightning energy and other externally generated surges, such as those caused by utility company capacitor back-switching.
If you’re using DHC/X10 (Decora Home Controls) in your home, another surge panel from Leviton that you should consider is the 32120-1 (or even the 52120-M2H for a large residence).
For surge receptacles you should consider the following two features:
- Tamper-resistant receptacles that are safer for children and meet the latest National Electrical Code requirements, such as the Leviton T5280 series.
- An audible alarm that alerts you when the surge protection has been compromised. The alarmed surge receptacles are available from Leviton in either tamper (T7280 Series) or non-tamper-resistant (7280 Series).
TecHome: What technologies do you use in your residential surge protection products?
Leviton: Our Surge Protective Devices feature Metal Oxide Varistors (MOVs), which are the industry standard due to their reliability, durability, availability and reasonable cost in a price conscious market. MOVs divert the extra energy from a surge to ground or neutral in the Surge Protective Device, protecting your equipment and other devices on the circuit.
TecHome: Any issues with using meter sockets? Why not just protect at the circuit panel?
Leviton: Meter socket adapters typically require support from the local utility company in order to be installed. Just having a Surge Protective Device at the circuit panel is not enough to provide a true whole house surge protection network. The tiered approach is necessary to fully suppress the surge event to a manageable level for downstream electronic devices.
TecHome: Are surge-protected receptacles becoming more popular? Then again, why bother if using whole-house protection?
Leviton: Surge receptacles are becoming more popular again due to the increased awareness of the benefits of the tiered approach. Note that without the third level of protection, you do not truly have whole-house surge protection. The best protection is found when the Surge Protection Device is close to the equipment that is being protected; therefore surge receptacles are really your last line of defense.
TecHome: Are any of Leviton’s USB charger outlets surge-protected (both for the electrical and USB outlets)?
Leviton: Leviton manufactures a wide array of receptacles with surge protection. However, we are not aware of any USB outlets currently available in the market that meet the UL 497B standard of surge protection.