Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Power surges and insurance: How to deal with the other load shedding monsters

Consumers may think home content insurance will cover damaged appliances, but this isn't always the case.

The load shedding monster does not only leave you without power – it can also damage your appliances and insurers are now requiring consumers to have power surge protection if they want to claim for surge-damaged appliances.

South African short-term insurers report a 60% increase in claims for destruction of property due to power surges as a consequence of load shedding.

Now some of them demand that homeowners have a surge protection device (SPD) installed if they want to claim for damage caused by a power outage.

This condition is often overlooked and consumers only find out about it when they want to claim.

Therefore, Dr Andrew Dickson, engineering executive at CBI-electric: low voltage, cautions consumers to check the fine print on their policies to see if this applies to them.

“If you do not, you could be in for a nasty – and costly – shock should your home be hit by a power surge.”

ALSO READ: Load shedding wreaking havoc on appliances, causing spikes in burglaries

What is a power surge?

When the electricity is turned back on at a substation after load shedding, it can send a voltage pulse of several thousand volts into the network.

“The problem is that the average home runs on 230 volts and when the lights come on again, all electrical items, including lights and appliances, may receive an unexpected voltage spike, followed by a power surge of the returning main supply,” he explains.

Although this surge only lasts for a microsecond, it is enough to result in a point of failure in equipment which may cause significant damage.

“While they may be a grudge purchase, SPDs can limit the high peak voltages, diverting that extra electricity away from your distribution board.”

SPDs also cost a lot less than a new television set.

Dickson explains that SPDs clamp the voltage in the event of a voltage surge, where voltage is greater than what a home’s appliances can generally handle, providing a path to ground where the excess energy is dumped, limiting the excess voltage spreading into the home and thereby keeping the voltage at an acceptable level.

Different SPDs can absorb different amounts of energy and if these levels are exceeded, it could affect the device which is why all SPDs have an indicator to show the user that it is either operational or at the end of its life.”

ALSO READ: Load shedding can destroy your appliances – here’s how to avoid it

Choosing the right SPD

Dickson says your insurance company will likely prescribe the kind of SPD you should use, which is usually a Class 2 SPD installed within the distribution board by a licensed electrician.

It will then prevent the spread of over-voltages within the electrical system and protect whatever is connected to it.

He says you might want to supplement this with Class 3 devices which are typically plug-in adaptors at the point of consumption for sensitive electronic devices, such as TVs, routers and home entertainment systems.

Consumers should follow the SPD installation requirements in their policies and check appliances and devices after load shedding or a storm to see if the indicator still shows that they are in good working order.

Dickson warns that consumers must keep an eye on the SPDs they use as risk mitigation measures, as they will eventually fail, especially with Eskom announcing that ‘protracted load shedding’ will continue for the foreseeable future.

With this year’s rise in inflationary pressure forcing South African consumers to cut back on discretionary spending, they cannot afford not to have SPDs in place.

“Not only could this prevent having to repair or replace expensive appliances, but also potentially protect them from becoming victims of crime when power surges knock out alarm systems and electric fencing.”

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