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Do Surge Protectors Work Without a Ground? | A Quick Guide

A power surge occurs when a stimulated short burst of electricity lasts over three nanoseconds. During these brief nanoseconds, without a working surge protector, electronic equipment can be dramatically damaged. The unregulated voltage buildup causes the plugged in wires to heat up and burn. But will the surge protector work without a ground?

Surge protectors will not work properly without a ground wire. A surge protector offsets a voltage increase and protects electronics from the brunt of a power increase by sending electrical surges to the ground. Without the ground, excessive voltage cannot be expelled correctly.

Now, let’s cover a few more topics you might have questions about.

Surge Protector

What if My Surge Protector Is Not Grounded?

Older homes usually have two-pronged outlets that utilize neutral and hot power lines. This is in contrast to newer homes that use a three-pronged system that has hot, neutral, and ground wires. Designed to work with a three-prong outlet, surge protectors need a ground wire to successfully protect the electronics plugged into them.

A metal oxide varistor (MOV) is a component installed in most standard surge protectors responsible for diverting extra electricity to the ground. Without a ground, the MOV fails. The MOV only works if it can successfully make a connection between the hot and ground wire. The two semiconductors (found in the MOV apparatus) operate with a variable resistance dependent on voltage.

The electrons flow differently depending on whether they have low or high amounts of power flowing through them. When there is not enough power, the electrons in the semiconductors flow in a way to create a level of high resistance. In contrast, high levels of power result in low levels of resistance.

The low level of resistance allows the MOV to conduct high amounts of current in order to dispel the extra voltage. The voltage in the hot power line goes back to normal, and the resistance level once again becomes higher. This means it is doing its job effectively.

Sometimes people get lucky, and their appliances still work after a surge; however, unseen damage is done to their electronics. The power surge can place a strain on a machine’s parts, wearing them down, and lessening their longevity. This is why surge protectors are equipped with mechanisms to divert extra power.

How Can I Protect My Electronics Without a Ground?

The fact of the matter is that there is no way to fully protect your electronics without a ground and a good quality surge protector.

There are two main options available to you if you live in a home with no ground line: a complete rewire or grounding of any three-pronged outlets.

A Complete Rewire

Electricians can rewire your outlets and your electrical box. There is a considerable cost associated with hiring an electrician to rewire your entire home. This includes the electrician’s time, the wire used, and the replacement of any drywall the electrician needs to remove to access wires. Rewiring your house can be more cost-efficient if done during a remodeling project when the drywall has been removed from the walls.

If you lack the budget to rewire your entire house, you can start by getting a few key outlets updated. Choose outlets that will handle items that use more power. Choose a place where you want to install your electronic devices and plug in a surge protector.

Three-Prong Outlets

Another option is to ground a three-pronged plugin by utilizing the metal housing that surrounded your original two-prong outlet. Houses built between 1920 -1960 often installed two-prong outlets in a metal house. The two-prong outlet was not fitted with a ground wire; however, sometimes, their metal casings would be.

A circuit tester can reveal whether or not the installed metal house has been grounded. One of the tester’s prongs needs to be placed into the hot wire slot. The other tester prong needs to be wrapped around the screw holding the metal cover plate. The circuit tester will light up if the box has been ground.

With a grounded box, you can attach a three-prong outlet and ground it. To ground the outlet, the green grounding wire needs to be connected to the BX cable at the back of the box.

Important: Some people erroneously think that they can bypass installing a grounded outlet by using a GFCI outlet. A GFCI outlet will keep you from getting shocked or electrocuted, but it will not stop an electrical surge. Without a grounded outlet and a robust surge protector, your electronics could be fried.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, using a surge protector without a ground is not the best idea in the world. I hope this article has given you the info you needed. Thanks for reading!

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