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  1. #1
    Willem Tenwolde's Avatar
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    Default Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    I have 4 Belkin surge suppressors for TV and Computer equipment and entral AC power on attic installed after a lightning storm fried my AC motherboard ($600) . This week we had one of those standard power failures we have regularly here in Houston and my 17KW generator kicks in with no problems. This time we heard a couple of loud "pops" in the house and thought it came from the computer room upstairs, but then we smelled smoke from behind the build in TV in living. Cables behind the TV were in flames, a foot high and I extinguishedthe Belkin and cables with an ABC Kidde. The Belkin had started the fire. Later I checked the one upstairs and this Belkin smelled badly (the upstairs "pop". Because this one was not molten I opened it, saw that the motherboard was fried and almost had started a fire like the one behind the TV.
    Question 1.: why did the two breakers not trip?
    Question2. : Should I get rid of the two other Belkin's because I am afraid that the equipment will be "saved" the house will burn down if we are not home.
    I checked the Amazon site about this belkin and found about 73 compalints, many similar like mine. See some pics.

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    The breaker did not trip (assuming they were not defective) because there was no "current" overload.
    The only thing a standard breaker "sees" is current flow, not voltage or frequency. If there is not enough current flow then they do not trip.
    I would check the generator for correct power and connections at the house circuits both voltage and frequency. There is a strong possibility that your suppressors were fried due to a voltage spike either through the power company grid, your generator, or an incorrectly wired transfer switch.
    Might I suggest a whole house suppressor at the main panel? cheaper and more effective than plug in strips. While you are at it, have a competent electrician check the neutral connection and grounding electrode.

    Jim Luttrall
    www.MrInspector.net
    Plano, Texas

  3. #3
    Willem Tenwolde's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    Jim, fast reply with excellent diagnostics and suggestions!
    Thank you very much, Willem


  4. #4
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Luttrall View Post
    The breaker did not trip (assuming they were not defective) because there was no "current" overload.
    The only thing a standard breaker "sees" is current flow, not voltage or frequency. If there is not enough current flow then they do not trip.
    I would check the generator for correct power and connections at the house circuits both voltage and frequency. There is a strong possibility that your suppressors were fried due to a voltage spike either through the power company grid, your generator, or an incorrectly wired transfer switch.
    Might I suggest a whole house suppressor at the main panel? cheaper and more effective than plug in strips. While you are at it, have a competent electrician check the neutral connection and grounding electrode.
    Jim is right on in his reply. I'd line to add a few thought to his reply as I have had some experience in this area.

    Yes, have a GOOD primary surge protector installed at the service panel. You may have to do a little rearranging of circuits as most require the first 2 breakers (240 VAC) on the panel. By good I don't mean what you can get at a box store or the cheapest in the electrical supply store. You will need research here. You will look for one that has status lamps and an alarm. The alarm should activate from massive surge or end-of-life. Yes, end-of-life.

    Surge protectors should be changed at the manufacturers recommended end-of-cycle. Why? They get stress for taking small hits that you don't see, but add up to the slow loss of coverage. Last summer my primary went off after 7 years of service---I still had protection, but it needed to be replaced. The second thing you need to look at is secondary surge protection. This is all the surge protectors that you have behind equipment.

    Don't forget to protect the phone line and the cable/SAT lines too.

    Yes, they will cost a little, but consider them to be a cheap insurance policy. If you have a known strike and some are destroyed---replace all---even if they appear to be working.

    Primary surge protection is needed nowadays because a lot of equipment has electronics in it that didn't years ago. Refrigerators, stoves, washing machine, dryers, furnaces, just to name a few. That is why I said get a good primary protector---that will be the only thing between you and the surge.


  5. #5
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    Quote Originally Posted by Willem Tenwolde View Post
    I have 4 Belkin surge suppressors for TV and Computer equipment and entral AC power on attic installed after a lightning storm fried my AC motherboard ($600) . This week we had one of those standard power failures we have regularly here in Houston and my 17KW generator kicks in with no problems. This time we heard a couple of loud "pops" in the house and thought it came from the computer room upstairs, but then we smelled smoke from behind the build in TV in living. Cables behind the TV were in flames, a foot high and I extinguishedthe Belkin and cables with an ABC Kidde. The Belkin had started the fire. Later I checked the one upstairs and this Belkin smelled badly (the upstairs "pop". Because this one was not molten I opened it, saw that the motherboard was fried and almost had started a fire like the one behind the TV.
    Question 1.: why did the two breakers not trip?
    Question2. : Should I get rid of the two other Belkin's because I am afraid that the equipment will be "saved" the house will burn down if we are not home.
    I checked the Amazon site about this belkin and found about 73 compalints, many similar like mine. See some pics.


    I *NEVER* use those cheapo surge suppressors that are plastic for just that reason. When MOV's (Metal Oxide Varistors) fail, they explode. When they fail, the fail shorted. ALWAYS use a metal chassis suppressor. Tripp Lite or Monster Power centers are good.


  6. #6
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    Willem, good thing you were home. Yes, get rid of those other two units, or enclose them in metal cabinets. You deserve a refund at the very least.

    John Kogel, RHI, BC HI Lic #47455
    www.allsafehome.ca

  7. #7
    Willem Tenwolde's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    Thanks Jim Lutterall
    Thanks Rich Goeken
    ThanksJay Urish
    Thanks John Kogel
    You're a great knowledgeable support!

    In short I need:
    1. Find a real competent electrician, familiar with standby generators (Generac 17KW and transfer switch in my case)
    The generator worked fine since 2008 (IKE storm)
    2. He will check the neutral connection (ground electrode!), the power output, connections at the house, voltage and frequency
    3. Find a good primary surge protector to connect to panel that came with the generator(nad not to the old panel?), that needs to have the following specifications:
    a) Joule rating maybe >3400
    b) Clamping voltage 330 volts or LESS, UL-1449 voltage rating
    c) The earlier mentioned warning lights and audible alarm if system (metal oxyde varistors) are worn out
    d) Possible warranties and replacement of worn out suppressor, but I am not a great believer in the small print exclusions that the lawyers put in.
    I briefly looked at the Panamax SEP 200 I fount at the following site:

    :ModusModern: Installing Whole House Surge Suppression

    My old GE panel has still a couple of breakers left that are not switched to the new generator panel.
    Most lights, AC, washer , refrigerators, ovens etc are now in the new panel with the transfer switch, with 16 Siemens breakers
    I have not found out if you need "free" breaker (positions) to connect the suppressor to or replace breakers with special suppressor breakers
    Also what's better a breaker type suppressor or a separate box suppressor like the SEP 200 Panamax that connects immediatel after the meter?
    Any suggestions of a couple good brands.

    Then I will find individual non plastic ones.

    Another site Surge protector - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    gave me also some insight in surge suppressors and I found that Generac has an "optional transient voltage surge suppression into a single, pre-wired package. " for commercial applications. I will go the a Generac dealer/service business and ask the about it and also check out if they might have the electrician I am looking for.
    All, thanks again for super comments
    Willem


  8. #8
    wes thom's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    Quote Originally Posted by Willem Tenwolde View Post
    3. Find a good primary surge protector to connect to panel that came with the generator(nad not to the old panel?), that needs to have the following specifications:
    a) Joule rating maybe >3400
    b) Clamping voltage 330 volts or LESS, UL-1449 voltage rating
    Some corrections. It is not the primary protector. It is only the 'secondary' protection layer.

    A minimal 'whole house' protector starts at 50,000 amps. Only then does a protector remain functional during all transients.

    A light does not report a protector defective. Lights report a protector was grossly undersized. Some 'more normal' failures are never reported by those lights.

    Better generators feature circuits that make that 'suspected' transient impossible. Some will save a money with a cheaper generator. Then spend massive more for protectors that do not even claim to protect from that transient. You saw the result.

    Your event is too often associated with protectors adjacent to appliances. A resulting fire is even discussed in Investigating Surge Suppressor Fires by a fire marshall:
    http://www.esdjournal.com/techpapr/P...OR%20FIRES.doc

    Read spec numbers for those Belkins. They do not claim to protect from a typically destructive transient. And, as you have learned, can be grossly undersized for transients that must be made irrelevant by earthing a 'whole house' protector. Not by a protector. By earthing. Protectors that actually do protection always have that 'low impedance' earth connection.

    A protector does not do protection. It connects that transient to what does protection. Or only does what Belkin specifications claim to do. Critically important is a 'low impedance' connection from every AC wire to earth ground. Either directly or via that protector. Low impedance has critically important parameters such as 'less than 10 feet', not inside metallic conduit, and no sharp wire bends.

    But most important is the only device in a 'secondary protection' system that does protection: single point earth ground. A ground that must both meet and exceed code requirements.

    More responsible companies provide the superior products including ABB, Square D, Leviton, Ditek, Polyphaser, General Electric, Siemens, and Intermatic. A Cutler-Hammer (Eaton) solution sold in Lowes and Home Depot for less than $50. Higher current numbers (not joules) mean even better protection and exponentially increasing life expectancy.

    Mentioned in informative articles: Ground is essential for protectors that are part of a protection 'system'. The term 'low impedance' is also relevant.

    You witnessed a fire that so many have seen. Spec numbers for that Belkin say why. Read the numbers.


  9. #9
    Willem Tenwolde's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    Wes, Thank you very much .
    I'm going to really study your critical and valuable review. There's lot of study material at least for me. Yes I read somewhere "secondary" protection and that threw me off and I should have taken that serious. After this experience, I even invited the Houston subdivision Fire Chief to see what happened. They came 4 man, but only said that I have to replace those Belkin types after surges?? What if you don't know. I need to have a great safe system. I am learning a lot and love it.
    Thanks a lot
    Willem


  10. #10
    wes thom's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    Quote Originally Posted by Willem Tenwolde View Post
    They came 4 man, but only said that I have to replace those Belkin types after surges??
    Take a $4 power strip. Add some ten cent protector parts. Sell it for $25 or $100. Due to its price, then many 'know' it must be better. And then many will say, "Replace it after every surge". Nonsense. It is only a profit center. Does not claim to protect from typically destructive transients.

    Effective protection means you never knew a transient existed. The protector must be sufficiently sized to remain functional after every transient. Never replace properly sized protectors since nobody even knew the transient existed. Grossly undersize a protector so that many will recommend replacing them often.

    Even some fire investigators do not understand the problem created by grossly undersized protectors.

    To avert a fire, a protector circuit must include a thermal fuse. A fuse completely different from the strip's circuit breaker. A fuse typically rated maybe one amp. If a transient is too large, then that thermal fuse must disconnect protector parts as fast as possible. And leave appliances connected to that transient. Sometimes that fuse does not blow fast enough. You witnessed the resulting threat to human life.

    Be that concerned, in part, because so many never learned about this threat. Be especially concerned if a properly sized and properly earthed 'whole house' protector is not protecting those Belkin strips.


  11. #11
    Garry Blankenship's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    I doubt you could find anything lightning certified. Field testing is more than complicated. There are people walking this planet who have been struck by lightning, so home inspectors theorizing what electrical properties may and/or may not have been in play is conjecture. I agree with other opinions in that the problem is not amps, but voltage. Electrical devices are amperage rated and protected. It is assumed they will only be in the voltage environments for which they are designed. I do not know lightning voltages, but understand them to be in the hundreds of thousands, ( or higher ), of volts range. Substantially beyond the 300 to 600 volts for which they are designed. Facing lightning; your surge suppressors would be like a storm water overflow system dealing with a dam failure.


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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    You might also consider a small UPS with on-board surge protection for your "expensive" equipment. I have 2 here and if they die because of a surge I don't care. Get brand names such as Trip-Lite or APC as examples. Have used those brands in business situtations and they are reliable.


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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    I came across an electrician some time ago who is by far the most knowledgeable I have met. He installed a Kohler generator system including the replacement of the main and sub panels. Each of the panels have dedicated Cutler-Hammer surge protectors. Being rather particular about my home and his being rather particular about his work we ended up with a system I have never seen in the field. I can tell you that these C-H units are not cheap but considering what I expect from them that's fine.

    If you haven't figured it out already, be leery of what the Big Box stores sell - the quality is often sub-standard. As my electrician pointed out, the brand of generators that Home Depot sells is not the same they use to power their stores.

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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    I have all of my computer hardware on UPS's. Since their is a battery in the loop will that provide superior protection compared to a primary and secondary surge suppressor setup?

    //Rick

    Rick Bunzel
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Bunzel View Post
    I have all of my computer hardware on UPS's. Since their is a battery in the loop will that provide superior protection compared to a primary and secondary surge suppressor setup?

    //Rick
    Not necessarily
    Most backup power supply's are just that, backup
    The equipment plugged into them runs on house current
    until there is a power loss then it switches to the battery
    When running on house current most are only a regular surge protector.

    ' correct a wise man and you gain a friend... correct a fool and he'll bloody your nose'.

  16. #16
    Willem Tenwolde's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    Think I found an interesting site about UPS and Surge equipment and advise Like
    Quote
    "Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) - Some units combine surge protection with a continuous UPS. The basic design of a continuous UPS is to convert AC power to DC power and store it on a battery. The UPS then converts the battery's DC power back to AC power and runs it to the AC outlets for your electronics. If the power goes out, your computer will continue to run, feeding off the stored battery power. This will give you a few minutes to save your work and shut down your computer. The conversion process also gets rid of most of the line noise coming from the AC outlet. These units tend to cost $150 or more.
    An ordinary UPS WILL give you a high level of protection, but you should still use a surge protector. A UPS will stop most surges from reaching your computer, but it will probably suffer severe damage itself. It's a good idea to use a basic surge protector, if just to save your UPS." and
    "To find out what the unit is capable of, you need to check out its Underwriters Laboratories (UL) ratings. UL is an independent, not-for-profit company that tests electric and electronic products for safety. If a protector doesn't have have a UL listing, it's probably junk; there's a good chance it doesn't have any protection components at all. If it does use MOVs, they may be of inferior quality. Cheaper MOVs can easily overheat, setting the entire surge protector on fire. This is actually a fairly common occurrence!" Unquote

    Here is the whole story "How Stuff Works"

    HowStuffWorks "Surge Protection Levels"


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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    What I have done a few times for some things, such as my computer, is to plug a good UPS (typically I use the 1500 watt and better ones) into a cheaper UPS (300 watt or so) to let the cheaper UPS take the hit first and be damaged. While I currently do not have this setup, I never had any problems doing it that way - I just got lazy when I moved and threw out the cheap 300 watt ones because they were no longer holding a charge, however, now that I think about it, I should have kept them because all they really needed to do was take the hit first. Dang! I threw 5 of those things out!

    I know what I can do, though ... I have a 300 watt one each bed and one on each side of our bed (for the clocks, etc.), when those start to not hold a charge, I will move those to the office to protect my 1500 watt ones.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  18. #18
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    The 'ol' one-timers were effective for the most part. They would blow (one time) as the sacrificial lamb, yet not blow apart.


  19. #19
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    As the discussion is trending into this area, this is a link to a white paper describing the different types of UPS designs and what you can expect from each, ranging from those that only go to UPS backup on power failure (running on AC all the time), to those that are running on batteries all the time and use AC power only to float charge the batteries.

    http://www.baservices.nl/downloads/A...rten%20ups.pdf


  20. #20
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    Rich,

    Thanks, excellent information. Also, APC is the brand I always use - cool.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
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    Default Re: Breakers didn't trip, surge suppressor in flames

    I currently use the Leviton LV50240MSA meter socket surge suppressor. Always liked the idea of getting the surge before the panel, rather than bleeding it off the bars.


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