Is main panel surge protection worth it?

Someone told me that surge protection only *really* works when it is at the Main panel.
- Is that true? - Is it worth putting in when upgrading the main panel? - How much should it cost for a 200A supply?
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It is certainly true that you want to stop these transients as soon as possible. The panel protector works so well because it has a very short path to ground. Make sure that is a good ground and that all of the other providers, phone, cable etc, use it. Then your point of use protectors are only stopping things that happen past your main. That is usually the lightning that hits the tree in your yard.
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well worth it cost $75 to over a million buck, depends,, probably $300 area be good enuff and might be all it takes to bump you into a secret % off your homeowners insurance annual cost, if so, it'll pay for itself pretty quickly.

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Jeffrey J. Kosowsky wrote:

It cost me very little about ten years ago. Remember however that you still should use point protection for expensive sensitive equipment.
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I installed mine for about $50 in 10 minutes. Haven't had any problems since. Of course I hadn't had any problems before either, so it doesn't prove much; but for $50...
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What kind of surge protecter did you put in for $50? I ask because a real whole-house protection system from PolyPhaser or APC will run you about $2000 for the parts alone and installation of a satisfactory ground system is not trivial.
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toller wrote:

before
Obviously we are not talking about the same thing! Mine was a small box that attaches to the breaker box I bought at HD for $50. It has 4 wires; one to each leg, and two to the ground bus.
I am not sure how effective it is, but seemed worthwhile for $50. I have never had a surge problem, nor have I heard of anyone having a surge problem that would justify a $2,000 investment! Perhaps your electrical system is different.
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The quality of the protector is defined by its life expectancy. A number defined by joules. As joules increase, the life expectancy of a protector increases exponentially. Minimal parameters for residential AC electric protection is 1000 joules and 50,000 amps. Most (but not all) 'whole house' protectors meet this requirement.
The quality of a protection 'system' involves more than just a protector. As others have noted, 'system' quality is defined by the earthing system and how connections are made to that 'system'. Some characteristics that make quality. Every incoming utility has its own, separate, less than 10 foot, dedicated connection to a single point earth ground. IOW every earthing wire (from cable, phone, AC electric breaker box) runs independently until all meet at that earth ground. No splices, no sharp bends, not inside metallic conduit, and run separated from all other non-grounding wires. That means a grounding wire must not be nylon ty-wrapped to a phone wire or cable wire to make it look neat. Neat tends to mean less 'quality' protection. That grounding wire should make a bee-line right to single point earth ground.
Does that bare copper ground wire rise up from breaker box, go over top of foundation, and then drop back down to an earthing rod? Then the system has less 'quality'. Too long. Too many sharp bends. That earthing wire should go right through foundation wall to connect short to the earth ground rod.
If a plug-in (point of use) protector does anything effective, then that protector is already inside the appliance. Appliances already have effective 'point of use' protection. Protection that can be overwhelmed if the primary and secondary protection systems are not properly installed. The 'whole house' protector is called secondary protection. Primary protection not properly installed is demonstrated in these pictures: http://www.tvtower.com/fpl.html
Most homes have near zero protection - even with plug-in protectors. Installing a properly earthed, $50 'whole house' protector causes a major increase in protection. But protection numbers exceeding 97% is not sufficient for high reliability facilities. To get closer to 100% protection, high rel facilities will spend an additional $1000s. For most residences, the earth ground rod is sufficient earthing. But to enhance that earthing, one installs Ufer grounds or halo grounds. They cost so little if we built homes as if the transistor exists. But we don't.
One may even put rebar mesh in the concrete basement floor and connect that mess also to the earthing system. Purchase a 2000 joule protector for AC electric, enhance the phone protector (provided free by the telco) with larger protector devices, and reroute utility pipes and well water pump wire so they too enter at the same service entrance.
Even a $50 protector is a massive improvement over what most homes have. But don't confuse a protector with protection. Any protector without a less than 10 foot connection to a single point earthing ground does not provide effective protection. Shunt mode protectors do not stop, block, or absorb surges - as plug-in protectors would have us believe. Protectors are effective when connecting a surge, less than 10 feet, to earth ground. Therein defines 'quality'. Not some silly warranty that is so chock full of exceptions as to be rarely honored. 'Quality' is first and foremost defined by the one thing everyone forgets because it is out of sight - rarely observed - earth ground.
To hype their ineffective protectors, some manufacturers will vastly increase the price and offer what looks like a big buck warranty. However lets look at one warranty exemption from APC:

Install a 'whole house' protector from Square D and the APC warranty is void. Warranties are chock full of exceptions so that those warranties need not be honored. Benchmarks in surge protection (a brand name known to everyone who knows surge protection - Polyphaser) provides no warranty. Therein lies the trend. The smaller a warranty, then the better 'quality' that protector.
How to define quality? Quality of the protector OR quality of the protection 'system'? Start with earth ground inspections both for house and for utility pole. No earth ground means no effective protection - a problem that all plug-in protectors prefer to avoid discussing. No earth ground means no effective protection. A problem commonly observed among protectors that are both expensive and low quality.
toller wrote:

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How effective can that protection be if there is no grounding conductor in the plug?
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Grounding an AC power plug is not earthing. Impedance in wire dictates that a connection from incoming utility wire to earth ground must be short, direct, and independent. Short as in 'less than 10 feet'. Wall receptacle is typically many times too far away. Making matters worse, that safety ground wire (ie romex wire) is bundled with other wires and has too many splices.
Effective shunt mode protection cannot exist at the appliance. Obviously - all but no earth ground connection which is why plug-in protector manufacturers avoid this entire subject. Protection that can be effective is already inside the appliance. That series mode and galvanic isolation inside appliances is not overwhelmed when a 'whole house' shunt mode protector is properly earthed.
Appliances already contain effective 'point of use' protection that is effective IF a destructive transient is earthed at the service entrance. Inernal protection circuits that don't require earthing at the appliance AND assume earthing will be performed at the service entrance. No 'whole house' protector means appliance internal protection may be overwhelmed.
Again, that wall receptacle has all but no earth ground - due to excessive wire impedance and other electrical factors. So plug-in protector manufacturer simply avoids the entire technical discussion. They don't even claim to provide protection from a typically destructive transient.
Greg wrote:

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I have a whole house surge protector at my main panel *and* I have good quality surge protectors on all outlets for electronic equipment.
I figure "good quality surge protectors" are those which come with a warrantee which covers any equipment plugged into the protector. They cost a lot, but you get what you pay for...
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That statement is just TOO glib and simplified to be "true". What seems reasonable: A surge protector in the main panel, with a good connection to ground, is a very cost-effective first line of defense. It might actually do all this is reasonably needed, excepting very sensitive and very expensive equipment.

Given that it is quite cheap, and probably quite effective (assuming you have a good ground at the main panel, without that it is probably still somewhat effective), it seems to be a no-brainer to install it.
The ones that are easiest to install look like a 2-pole breaker, and clip onto the distribution rails in the main panel like a breaker. They have a ground/neutral pigtail hanging out, which you connect (via the shortest possible path) to the ground/neutral bar. Remember, in the main panel, ground and neutral are just about always bonded together, with the main ground connected right there. We have a Square D (I forget the model number) in our main panel.

That's a loaded question.
Let's look at one extreme: You have an existing main panel which has spare space for the surge suppressor, and which has a really good ground. You buy the surge suppressor at an electrical distributor, through a drinking buddy who is an electrician and gets a good discount. You install it yourself in 10 minutes. Total cost: $50-$100 for the suppressor, and $3 for a beer for your buddy. Our Square-D suppressor was about $70 plus tax, and I had left space for it, and I know that there is an excellent ground right there.
Other extreme: Your main panel is stuffed to the hilt, so the surge protector has to be in a separate box (requiring a hole to be drilled in the main panel, and conduit fittings attached). There is no good ground present (and never has been), and several grounding rods need to be installed first; in extremely rocky ground this might require trenching or drilling. And you don't want to do any of this yourself, and hire an electrical contractor. As you should, you first pull a building permit (in many jurisdictions, for example ours, a permit would be required for this). At this point your are probably looking at a few thousand $ (beginning with the permit fee of a few hundred $), plus a visit from the building inspector. When the building inspector comes by he finds that your whole electrical system is a desaster waiting to happen (remember from above, it didn't have a good ground either), and red-tags your house, causing the power company to shut off power to you until you have the expensive contractor rewire the whole thing. At which point you are better off mailing the keys to the bank that holds the mortgage, declaring bankruptcy, and moving to Canada.
[ For amusement, I can make the story a little nastier: Don't do like a neighbor of ours did, when he had a "technical disagreement" with the building inspector: He pulled out a loaded shotgun and pointed it at the inspector. Good thing he didn't fire it. The building inspector came back the next day, this time in the back seat of a green car with blue lights on top, and two burly deputies in the front seats. The relationship between applicant and building department went down hill from there. ]
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