Do I Need A Surge Protector For My AC?

Yes, you need an AC surge protector to safeguard your air conditioner from power spikes and surges. Both the National Fire Protection Association and the Institute of Business and Home Safety recommend that you invest in one.

But what does the surge protector do? What’s a power surge in the first place, and when do power surges happen? Read on to find out.

What are Power Surges and What Causes Them?

A power surge, also known as a spike, is a sudden increase in the voltage traveling through the power lines in your home. These surges happen in microseconds, without warning, and can occur even without your knowledge.

A surge can happen for various reasons. However, the three most common causes are lightning storms, fallen power lines, and operational failure.

  • Lighting storms: A single bolt of lightning can generate billions of joules of electricity – more than enough to fry all the electronics in the entire neighborhood.
  • Fallen power lines: A fallen power line isn’t only a risk factor for a power outage. It can also cause a power spike. Power lines often fall due to construction accidents, high winds, storms, etc.
  • Operational failure: Issues relating to operational failure include circuit overload at your local power company and equipment breakdown. These issues may also happen without warning.

The Potential Cost of a Power Spike

The consequences of a power spike can be devastating. An overflow of electric current sent through any electric appliance can damage the appliance. It can melt the wires inside the appliance and cause the item to malfunction.

For air conditioners, specifically, a power spike can compromise the wiring, resulting in short-circuiting. It can also melt internal components. Larger power surges even can fry the air conditioner altogether.

The worst part is that even the best appliance warranties rarely cover all damages from power spikes. Very rarely do insures cover damages from natural causes, for instance. Instead, policies are mostly limited to man-made causes, such as circuit overload at the local power supplier.

Though you can’t completely prevent power surges, power surge protectors offer a way to tame any power spikes to minimize damages.

How a Power Surge Protector Works

The best air conditioner surge protectors implement one or both of the following working mechanisms;

  • Divert excess energy away from the air conditioner: In this method, the surge protector diverts excess charge to the grounding wire. The solid mass of the earth below our feet has a net negative electric charge, meaning that a positive electric charge is naturally attracted to it.
  • Break the electric circuit to prevent current overload: If the surge is too big, then directing it to the earth may no longer be the safest bet. Instead, it’s better to break the circuit altogether to prevent current flow.

In the first method, the surge protector continues to function normally after the surge incident. However, in the second approach, the protector is destroyed such that you must buy a replacement. However, a new power surge controller is much cheaper than buying a new AC, right?

Benefits of an AC Surge Protector

First, it would help if you considered a surge protector for your air conditioner because ACs are expensive to repair and even more costly to replace. Even a simple AC check costs at least $70, and the average cost for repair nationally is $225. So the minimum you can expect to shed on a professional repair job is $175.

In the worst-case scenario where the AC is totaled and replacement inevitable, you could spend thousands of dollars, depending on the type and size of the AC. Unfortunately, very few models cost below $300. At the other end, prices can be as high as $3,000+.

A surge protector can protect you from potential repairs and replacement – for as little as $20. Even if the protector is damaged, the cost is much smaller than repairing or replacing an air conditioner.

The other main benefit is that surge protectors preserve the life and integrity of the AC’s main components. Remember that the AC isn’t just one device. Instead, ACs house multiple electronic parts that work in harmony to ensure proper air conditioning in your home. The standard modern AC comprises high-tech devices for precise temperature control, intelligent control features, noise-reducing components, and variable-speed controls.

A power surge can easily compromise the functioning of one or more of these components, ultimately compromising the efficient functioning of the AC. For example, if the in-built thermostat is damaged, how would the AC maintain comfortable room temperatures?

Finally, a power surge protector can also prevent potential fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association, about 48% of reported home structure fires are caused by electrical distribution equipment, such as wires, outlets, cords, plugs, and switches.

Usually, too much electricity flows into a single appliance, causing the appliance to melt. And before you know it, the appliance is up in flames. The easiest way to prevent such fires is using a power surge protector. Surge protectors monitor the amount of power flowing through your appliances and cut off the electrical supply if a dangerous surge is detected.

Power Surge Protector Configurations

If you’re convinced about the need for a power surge protector for your air conditioner, the next step is to find the right one. There are three broad configurations to consider;

  • Type 1 surge protectors

Type 1 surge protectors are mounted on the line side above the main service entrance between the utility pole and the point at which electricity enters your service panel. This category of devices helps protect the entire home against external power surges caused by lightning or utility malfunctions. They’re the first line of protection against power charges.

  • Type 2 surge protectors

These are branch surge panels installed on the load side of the primary service entrance to prevent surges in that particular branch circuit. Type 2 surge protectors also help protect the home and appliances from surges caused by lightning and power supplier malfunctions. They mainly work by limiting the load passing through a circuit branch.

  • Type 3 surge protectors 

Also known as power strips, Type 3 surge protectors block lower level surges that may damage electronics such as TVs, computers, and other household appliances. These protectors are typically available in 15-amp, 20-amp, and 120-volt applications. They provide point-to-use protection and are considered the last line of defense against potential power surges.

Factors to Consider When Shopping for a Surge Protector

If you’re specifically shopping for a surge protector for the AC rather than the whole home, then you’ll need a Type 3 protector. Consider the following factors to pick out the right one;

  • Surge protection information: First off, the surge protection information must be displayed prominently. Otherwise, consider other options.
  • Amount of protection in joules: For the standard-size air conditioner, you need at least 5,000 joules of surge protection. Larger AC units may require larger surge protectors.  
  • Failure indicator: The best power surge protectors have a small LED that lights up when the protector is working and remains off when it’s not working. The LED may also produce a green light when the protector is working and red when it’s not working.


An AC surge protector can be the life-saver you need when lightning strikes, or there’s a power overload at your local electricity supplier. That small device can protect your AC from a damaging power spike and save you hundreds to thousands of dollars in repairs or a replacement. If you haven’t done so yet, you should strongly consider getting one.