Opinions on Whole House Surge Protectors ? (2024)

These are now available in my area ( northern California) for about $900 installed. The electrician we use is recommending it, although I would expect that. Our house was built in 1955. Most of the wiring is original. Most of the outlets have been replaced with GFCI outlets. We installed solar power a while ago, which meant new panels and additional circuits and everything is new and up to code from the solar system to the panel. But again the wiring in the walls is old

One of my housemates plugged in the emergency space heater when he shouldn’t have (it’s only supposed to be used when the central heating is out), and at the same time that he was running his microwave and his coffee maker, and overloaded that circuit. That specific outlet had to be replaced, the electrician says everything else looks OK, but he is recommending the whole house surge protector because of the amount of electronics we have, including home automation, home security, and medical monitoring. Pretty much everything is on individual surge protectors, but he thinks there’s additional protection from the whole house device. I’m not 100% convinced.

Anyway, just wondered if anyone here has any opinions.

I see the NFPA is now recommending them for all new construction. Here’s a recent Bob Villa article on the Device class with some recommendations:

@HalD @nathancu @Automated_House @ritchierich @johnconstantelo

I had one installed after a renovation and recommend them. Benefit is it helps when power comes back on from your utility and any surges that could happen. Also if there was a lightening storm and lightening struck a near by tree and power comes up through a buried cable.

Just a little extra piece of mind.

I don’t recall paying $900 and only a few hundred but this was also 6 years ago so my pricing is off. Plus I know CA prices are higher.

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I am a retired engineer and I installed a whole house surge arrestor about a year ago. It cost me about $150 to do it myself. Our house was built in 1959. I installed a Square D HEPD80 Whole Home Surge Arrestor.

I did it for different reasons. Our utility had frequent faults on our street and it took them 2 months to find and take care of the problem. Only after the house behind us had a minor fire due to one of these faults did they take action.

I my case the only known damage was a half dozen plug in surge arrestors being destroyed over a period of 2 months. When the MOV in a surge arrestor fails it is a loud event like a small explosion or gun shot. Kind of unnerving. I quality surge arrestor will stop passing power after it has been damaged, to protect your devices from additional surges. Therefore you are forced to replace them.

I say known damage because these surges probably shorten the life of our electronics, without causing immediate failures.

Our neighbors lost expensive TVs, Ovens with electronics, etc.

Even with a whole house surge arrestor you still want quality plug in surge arrestors at each valuable or mission critical electronic device. Surge arrestors work best when they are installed close to what you are protecting.

A whole house surge arrestor would not have prevented what happened at your house, but it could help prevent other things from being damaged. Your existing plug in surge arrestors may have prevented your electronics from being damaged.

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I don’t know enough about whole house surge protectors to have a useful opinion. I do know that a number of folks in my Texas country neighborhood have them.

We had a 90 minute power outage a couple of days ago when the local area had high demand. When it came back on I discovered that three Zooz Zen26 switches in a three-gang box were all non-functional. They were “chattering” and showed offline in the app. Multiple tries at cutting the breaker didn’t bring them back.

Gotta wonder if a whole house surge protector would have made a difference. And, of course, gotta wonder why these three in particular failed.

By luck I had extras from a couple of years ago when I replaced almost half of my Z-wave devices with Zigbee.

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Whole house surge protectors are typically pitched as protection from surges from the utility company and/or lightning strikes. You said you are on solar, so not sure what your susceptibility to utility power surges is. You’ve also said you live in the SF Bay area. We don’t see lightning here very often so I feel that risk is pretty low.

I can see getting one if you hadn’t already invested in PoP surge protection. While it might not reduce the cost, it would be a single, simplified surge protection solution. You’ve indicated you already have PoP surge protection so, perhaps, a whole house solution is overkill. Or you could get one just to have “belt and suspenders” protection :slight_smile:

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We are north of San Francisco in a fairly rural area (you can hear coyotes most nights, and see deer walking down the street fairly often) and we do get lightning strikes that take out the power in our neighborhood probably twice a year. In fact, one of the reasons we went to solar was because the pg&e power went off so often.

We are still grid-connected, though. During the day, if we generate more power than we can use it feeds back to the grid, and in the winter, particularly at night, if we need more power than we have stored, we draw from the grid. So there is an active grid connection which creates a vulnerability there.

I’m tending to lean towards it now that I’ve seen the new code changes, but I’m still researching. Still, as you mentioned, “belt and suspenders” and all that, and for me, as a wheelchair user, I do tend to overinvest in fire prevention. :thinking:

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I installed one myself a few years ago. It certainly can’t hurt. I totally agree about also keeping/using surge protectors at critical/valuable devices.

Now, I will say it has not prevented relays blowing in some of those older Z-Wave switches after power returns. I was hoping it would but no dice there.

I do live in a severe storm prone area (NTX) and other than the infamous switches mentioned above I have not had any other problems during chronic electrical storms and/or power brown outs and outages.

All that’s mostly anecdotal so take it at face value.

As to cost, even for CA that sounds high. The unit itself should be $100-$150 (retail), additional 50A breaker ($15 retail) and no more than half hour of an electrician’s time. Now if you need a new panel due to no space in the existing panel then I could see the higher cost.

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Agree with @Nezmo, the price seems high.

I’ve used this one or its predecessors in several houses. It costs about $108 these days, plus whatever it costs to get an electrician to install it for you (I understand you couldn’t do it yourself).

For the last 40 years or so I’ve taken steps to implement lightning protection in homes where we have lived. I’m a firm believer, having been through the engineering challenge in the ‘70s to “lightning proof” ship-to-shore radio stations. Having been in a transmitter building on a “dark and stormy night” and experienced a direct hit to the tower that took out the commercial FM station we shared it with–complete with fireworks and smoke–yet seeing our shore station continue to operate made me a firm believer! A surge suppressor is only part of the work needed for such an installation, but it covers most of the common issues a home faces–at least when it doesn’t have a 300’ tower behind it! :smile:

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If you’re still on grid, put one in. It’s part of NEC now I believe. and I like keeping my smart switches around. I put one (Square-D’s) in when I put in the SPAN panels… (Coolest part on the panels is I have actually seen small surges get tackled by that device in the data- it shows up as a weird anomaly on the power produced line for that circuit and I’ve seen no less than 1/mo. since installing the panels about a year ago, but I digress…)

The price however - woah. I think the one I put in was about 100 bucks. My installer for the panels threw in the actual install for free because he was already doing a two-panel electrical install and it’s only slightly harder than a typical breaker install. (knock out a hole at the bottom of the panel, run wire - connect to breaker.) So… you’re paying for something there that’s not device or installation. Insurance?

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and Hal - That’s EXACTLY why I put it in. Besides being code - when Snowmageddon was over. (For non-Texans - that was Feb a cpl. years ago, when we lost the grid) The bouncing up and down as the substations came back on was exactly what took me out. Besides the 60A Tandem breaker that fried, I lost about 12 GE Jascos and a Zooz Z32. The outages didn’t get me - it was the 3rd or 4th bounce on the power return that did it. The lights got bright for a moment, all the pc’s reset then half of the lights (everything on the 60a leg that fried) went out. :wink: Yay.

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I’ll check around on the price.

I’m waiting to hear back from the first electrician on what model he would use.

Our electrical system is fairly complex, we actually have 3 separate panels because of the solar backup system, so that may be affecting the cost: he didn’t writeup a full estimate for me yet so I don’t have the details.

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I came thru that with no issues, unless you count being trapped in the house for 8 days due to ice.

We went thru two of three days of ERCOT rolling blackouts. About 5 hours after those ended something blew between the local substation or the lines to our little neighborhood. We were without power for 53 hours while the house cooled down to near 50 degrees.

I was braced for electrical issues but… none.

Now I’ve probably jinxed it for next outage

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There’s another option I haven’t tried personally, but our son has used at his house. There are now surge protectors available that simply snap in to a panel like a circuit breaker does, using two slots like a 240v circuit such as a water heater or stove would. Super easy to install and priced in the same ballpark as the device I used. You do have to find one compatible with whatever panel(s) you have, as opposed to a more universal solution that mounts externally and is wired in.

One advantage of the snap in protector is that it sits right on the bus. It doesn’t have the pigtails that look like inductance to the fast rise-time of the surge waveform. When installing the external device, it is advised to minimize the length and any bending of the pigtails for that reason.

Just another option, but as you like to say, “Choice is good!” :wink:

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One thing to note is they typically aren’t rated as high as a standalone SPD. For example, the GE Model # THOMESURGEP is rated at 36kA where the Square D Model # HOM2175SB is only rated to 25kA. But, if you don’t have space inside your panel for a standalone or an accessible knockout, this option is probably better than nothing.

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True. And it is an “easier” solution for a flush-mounted breaker panel–although there are faceplate kits for some of the SPDs that mount in a side knockout of the panel that allow you to bury it in the wall with the surge protector front face flush-mounted as well. If there’s enough room between the studs or one is willing to do some additional framing work… :yum:

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My Square D HEPD80 Whole Home Surge Arrestor is rated for 80kA and only cost me a little over $100. Today I see them new on eBay for $84.

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