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Thunderstorms and More Thunderstorms – How safe are your electronics?


Heather Cooper on June 15, 2011 in Advice for Business Owners

Haven’t we had some wicked thunderstorms already this year in southern Ontario? A couple of weekends ago, the power went out at my house on a Saturday morning right when I had two batches of brownies in the oven. They later became the joke of the 80th birthday party I attended due to the fact that they were the “Barbequed Brownies”.

When the hydro went off that day, not only did I run the half-cooked brownies out to the BBQ, I ran around the house unplugging all of my electronics. My “other half” questioned this.

Aside from the fact that it is a leftover reaction from when I was a child, I was really just being extra careful. You see, after my good friend and our Director of Client Services and Business Development, Elaine Holding, had the misfortune of a nearby lightning hit wiping out all of her electronics a couple summers ago, we had a special circuit breaker installed below our breaker panel. If you’ve watched Mike Holmes, you might know what I am talking about. I think the one we have is called, “SURGEBREAKER PLUS Whole House Surge Protector” and is a couple hundred dollars at a certain Do-It-Yourself superstore.

I’m very pleased that we have installed this. It was far cheaper than any insurance deductible would be and gives me great peace of mind, but I am a person who always likes to be doubly sure (nothing’s perfect).

It’s not just a lightning surge that can cause damage. The power fluctuating off and on repeatedly, “brownouts”, or regular “surges” can also cause damage. I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot on my plasma TV and I’m not risking it.

As for my computer, I’ve always had a small UPS as those “surge protector” power bars don’t offer all that much protection. They can handle a little blip in the voltage, but not a lightning strike. If they could, Elaine would not have had so much damaged equipment.

So, my main Desktop computer, which is basically the server for our house (because, even if we are using a laptop, we save all files to the Desktop to make sure they are in one, consistent place that gets backed up occasionally) has a small UPS.

A UPS is an “Uninterruptible Power Supply”. It’s got surge protection and a battery that automatically powers a computer (or anything) when the hydro goes out. It gives you the opportunity to shut down your computer properly. Another friend learned a hard lesson about shutting down a computer the correct way years ago when he kept shutting his off by flicking the switch on the power bar. I told him “don’t do it!” and I’m sorry to say, I was right. His hard drive got corrupted and he lost everything.

The UPS that I have is an “APC Smart UPS” and I paid about $130 for it. It also comes with a cable and software that you can put on your computer so that when the power goes out the UPS tells the computer to start shutting down properly. You don’t even have to be there. I highly recommend one of these. Higher end UPSs, such as the ones we use at SB Partners, don’t “switch over” to battery when the power goes out – they are always plugged into the battery, while the battery constantly charges from the outlet. The servers get a constant flow of power no matter how many times the power flickers off and on.

So there you have it. Think ahead to protect your home and office electronics and you too can sit admiring the lightning during a storm like I can now do.