Your guide to whole home surge protectors

How they work, pros and cons and how to choose the right one for your home

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Christopher Murray

Christopher Murray is a professional personal finance and sustainability writer with six years of experience. He writes about everything from budgeti…

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Being a homeowner in an exercise in constantly staying ahead of whatever unexpected thing will befall your house next. What will break? What storm will hit? What exactly does a termite look like anyway?

There will definitely be situations you didn’t anticipate and things will break a lot. Taking some simple precautions can save you hundreds — if not thousands — in the long run.

Adding plug-in surge protectors or a whole home surge protector is one of those small things you can do that, in the event of a power surge, will protect your home in many ways. Our guide can help you understand surge protectors, the pros and cons of getting one and how to choose the right one for you and your budget.

What is a whole house surge protector?

A whole house surge protector is a device that can help prevent fires and can keep your electronics from frying in the event of a power surge. Whether the surge is due to a lightning storm or poor wiring, your electronics will be protected.

When we think of surge protectors we usually first think of those power strips that you can buy at Target for $10 - $20 when you need more places to plug-in devices. While not all power strips are surge protectors, many are. You may have thought this was just a way to add a few extra outlets to a room, but surge protectors serve a bigger purpose. 

Whole home surge protectors have the same basic function. These types of protectors are hard-wired by an electrician into your electrical panel and operate in much the same way as a plug-in protector, just on a larger scale. Many homes are now being built with whole house surge protectors. 

How does it work? In the event of a power surge, the surge protector diverts extra electricity away from your devices and into a grounding wire. Instead of individual electronics taking the force of the extra electricity which can cause your circuits to fry, the surge protector helps protect your belongings.


How much does it cost?

How much a whole house protector costs will vary depending on your location and the electrician you work with. Typically, you’re looking at around $300 to have one installed, with $700-$1,000 being on the high end.

Pros and cons of whole house surge protectors

Here are a few of the pros and cons of purchasing a whole house surge protector: 

Pros of whole house surge protectors

  • More likely to help you avoid power surges. Built-in protectors are more reliable than their plug-in counterparts. An electrician is the one who must install it in your electrical panel, so it’s a much more high-tech version of the plug-in options. 
  • Fairly affordable home upgrade. Compared to other home improvement projects, getting a whole house surge protector is a relatively affordable endeavor. 
  • They’ll safeguard larger appliances and electronics. Plug-in options have more limitations; whole home surge protectors can help you make sure your larger appliances and electronics are covered. 

Cons of whole house surge protectors

  • You’re still not 100% protected. Whole whole-house protectors offer a lot of protection, but they still aren’t perfect. That’s why investing in both types of surge protectors is a good idea. 
  • If you live in a high cost of living area, installation may be expensive. While whole home protectors can be affordable, for people who live in locations where electricians get paid a lot more per hour (New York, Alaska, California), you could end up paying closer to $1,000 to get your protector installed.

By and large, yes, surge protectors are definitely worth it. Small power surges happen very frequently, but larger ones are the most damaging. Typically, these occur due to lightning strikes or faulty wiring. 

If you’re wondering if you should buy a surge protector, consider the cost of replacing any appliances or electronics that could be affected by a surge. TVs can cost hundreds of dollars, while refrigerators, washing machines and HVAC systems can all cost thousands. Setting up a whole house surge protector can last you for 5-10 years (depending on the quality of the protector) and can be an affordable way to protect your home’s most valuable assets.


Does home insurance cover power surges?


You may be wondering, would my home insurance also provide a layer of protection against power surges (or at least their results)? Power surges will be covered by some homeowners insurance policies, but it’ll ultimately depend on the type of policy you have and the way the power surge occurred. For example, if the damage was done by a lightning strike, many standard homeowner policies will cover you

Power surges are caused by more than just lightning though, so you’ll want to check into personal property coverage, which may cover your belongings in the event of a power surge caused by poor wiring. Personal property coverage can protect items like your laptop, TV and more. 

You’ll need to check in with your insurance agent to see what your personal insurance company covers.

Whether or not your insurance rates will be lowered by having surge protectors is difficult to tell. Each insurance company will be different, and some may offer discounts for protecting your home with a whole home surge protector. Check-in with your agent and let them know you’re thinking of getting a whole home protector installed, or you’re currently using surge protectors, and see if they can give you a discount. Since it’s improving the safety of your home, they may be willing to offer a price reduction.

How to choose the right whole home surge protector

The right surge protector for your home depends on a number of factors including the size of your home, the type of electronics and appliances you're looking to protect, the level of risk in your area of potential surges and your budget for the project. 

What to look for

Since typically whole home surge protectors needed to be hard-wired into your electrical service panel, getting the recommendation of a trusted electrician is a good idea. However, here are a few features to look for:

  • Absortion rate: Whole-house systems should be rated to stop at least a 40,000-amp surge. 
  • NEMA rating: The National Electric Manufacturers Association has a rating system that covers electric device enclosures. Ratings for whole house surge protector vary from 1 (the lowest, basic protection) to 4x (the highest, greater range of protections). Avoid buying a surge protector that doesn't have a NEMA rating. 
  • Other features: LED display or alarms to let you know if the unit is damaged or not operational.

FAQS about surge protectors

How long do surge protectors last?

Your surge protector will definitely not last forever. The average lifespan hovers around five years, but if you frequently experience power outages, you’ll likely want to replace yours more frequently. 

Can I plug a surge protector into an extension cord or another surge protector?

Nope, you should definitely not plug a surge protector into either an extension cord or other surge protectors. These are huge fire hazards, as power cords especially are designed to handle one source of energy. Only plug surge protectors into your wall outlets. 

Do surge protectors come with warranties?

Your more expensive surge protectors may come with a warranty. This warranty will typically be limited and is designed to help you replace any electronics damaged during a power surge that the protector couldn’t handle. When you’re looking for a protector, read the manufacturer label or look up the product to see the terms of the warranty, if one is offered. 

Will a surge protector help me save on my power bill?

A surge protector simply helps protect your electronics and electrical system, it doesn’t do much in terms of saving on energy.

A whole home surge protector is one more way you can protect your home from of many possible perils that can befall it. Another element of protection: making sure you have good home insurance coverage. Compare rates today to make sure you're not overpaying.