As we enter winter, the chances of experiencing a power outage at your home or business increase. If you’re like most people, you probably don’t give much thought to your generator until there’s a power outage. If you rely on the electronics in your home or business, however, it’s important to know that generators can actually damage them. Here’s what you need to know about how generators work and how they can affect your electronics.

Backup generators are powered by internal combustion engines fueled by gasoline, diesel, or natural gas. The very nature of these generators leaves them prone to variations in engine speed and voltage output. While most have some built-in components to maintain consistent levels of power output, variations almost always occur. Power surges and sags induced by the switching of generators on and off can directly damage circuit boards, memory chips, integrated circuits, and other sensitive electronic components. To ensure they are kept safe from these severe conditions, surge protection should be installed between the generator and vulnerable electronics. 

So what type of surge protection should be used?  There are two types – (1) shunt mode that diverts energy to the ground line and (2) series mode that handles surges in real time.  Shunt mode protectors contain metal oxide varistors (MOVs) and should be avoided for two main reasons.  First, they shunt surges to the ground which standby generators often lack and second, the surge protection doesn’t start working until a fixed clamping level is reached so they cannot protect from surges over a variable voltage range.  Modern fixed mode power supplies are designed to operate at 85-175V in the U.S.  In order to be adequately protected from surges over that voltage range, it is important that the surge protection you choose also operates over that range, so look for series mode surge protection with wide voltage range capability.

When generator power is in use, it is important that you don’t overload the branch circuits being fed by the generator.  If using an extension cord from the generator to the equipment, you must also consider the voltage drop that occurs from the length of the cord between the generator and the load. 

With proper surge protection in place, a standby generator can be used safely and without causing damage to sensitive electronics, providing peace of mind that your equipment stays safe during an outage.