We recently had a power outage. When the power came back on, my computer has
been acting really bad – slow, shutting off and on. I had it on a standard
power surge protector (the Home Depot style). There were also several TVs in
the neighborhood which stopped working.
A) Is a standard power surge protector good enough?
B) Do you know if the power companies are liable for these power surges in
any way? I live in California.
In this excerpt from
“Answercast #77, I look at ways to protect computers and other equipment
from fluctuations in power supply.
Protecting equipment from power outages
Well, clearly a power surge protector didn’t help you in this case.
It’s important to realize what a power surge protector does. It protects from exactly what the name implies – a surge of power. If the voltage for example (which would normally be 120 volts here in the United States) happened to shoot up to 160 or 240 or one of the other higher voltages, the surge protector should protect your equipment by shutting down. Basically, the fuse should trip or something else should cause the power to be turned off to your equipment completely and before any damage occurs.
The problem is that that is only one type of problem that can happen to your power.
The power could go too low.
It could go on and off rapidly
That is actually not that uncommon – like in our case here up in Washington. When trees fall on our power lines, the power will flicker. That too can cause problems for your computer (and in some cases) can damage the computer.
Protecting from power disruptions
What you need of course depends exactly on where you live and what kind of power issues you might run into.
Here (as I said, in Washington), the power fluctuations that we’ve had have yet to cause me any concern for any of my computers. Yes, they’ll reboot occasionally if the power flickers substantially, but for the most part, there’s been no loss of equipment or damage due to that.
I’m taking a risk (it’s a calculated risk) by plugging directly into the power through surge protectors, but still plugging directly into the power supplied by the power company.
If I wanted to protect myself more completely (and this would apply if what you experienced is something that happens often)… is to run your power through what’s called an “Uninterruptable Power Supply” or UPS.
What a UPS is is basically a big battery. They actually use the same technology that you’ll find in an automobile battery – a sealed automobile battery, but usually much smaller. You’ll find out that they’re very heavy. That’s because the batteries themselves contain a fair amount of lead, which is very heavy.
What happens is you plug in the UPS into your power company supplied power, and then you plug your equipment into the UPS. If the power flickers coming in, or if the power goes away, the UPS automatically and almost instantaneously keeps the power running off of the battery – so your equipment actually doesn’t notice the flicker. It doesn’t notice the power going away.
How long your equipment can keep running off only that UPS battery depends on the size of the battery and how much equipment you’re trying to run off of it.
I have a UPS in my home. It is not necessarily to protect any equipment from power surges or power problems. It is to keep my network running for a while in the event of a power outage. If I lose power here (which happens maybe once a year and varies from a few minutes to a at worst a couple of days)… when that happens, my network will keep running. I believe it will run upwards for an hour or two, based on the equipment that I’ve got plugged into the UPS and the size of the UPS itself.
What that allows me to do, of course, is use my laptops (which are themselves running off their own internal batteries) and continue to connect to the internet long enough to… I don’t know get; an important email out; shut down some service that I might otherwise not need; let some people know that we’re out of power; whatever.
It gives me an opportunity to clean things up on the internet should I need to.
UPS: Un-interruptible Power Supply
Like I said, an uninterruptible power supply would probably solve the problem that you ran into.
They’re not cheap. I think you’re talking probably $100 at least for the smallest one. But they can in fact protect your computer from a wide variety of power problems. You might consider them good insurance, especially if you live in a place where this could happen from time to time.
Power company liability
Now, as to the other question, “Is the power company liable?”
I’m not a lawyer; this is not legal advice. I really don’t know. That being said, I’ve never heard of a power company being liable. I would assume that it would depend on exactly why the power went out. If it was intentional or malicious on the power company’s case then… maybe.
But for the most part? Like here, if a truck drives into a power station, or a tree falls onto a power line and breaks it? No. The power company is not liable for that and they’re not going to be liable for any damage that results. It really is on you to protect your equipment.
(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)
Next from Answercast 77 – Where can I get a copy of Windows 8 to download and try?