Which Whole House Surge Protector and Why Buy One?

I didn’t have a whole house surge protector. After a storm, I found that the display was blank on my Total Control 12 zone sprinkler controller timer (which is really a computer). I tested the transformer and found it was dead. The fuse in the sprinkler controller had burned, so I was hoping that the sprinkler controller was still good but the whole controller was fried. I had to run out to buy another one for $235. This was the fourth sprinkler controller I had to buy since I built my house 19 years ago and the last one was purchased only 12 months ago.

After installing the new sprinkler controller, I found that the rain sensor was not lit and I also needed a new $59 rain sensor. I told my neighbor that I had to purchase my fourth sprinkler controller and he mentioned that he also is on his fourth sprinkler controller!

My landscape lights in the front yard also stopped working. I tested the transformer for my LED landscape lighting and found that power was going in but not out. It was installed 12 months ago but now I needed a new transformer. The good news is that because I have LED landscape lighting, the transformer is only 150W and only cost $75.

This Old House shows the extensive damage to appliances and electronics that can occur at the time of a lightning strike or an electric power surge and the damage that can occur years after the power surge.

My 4th sprinkler computer and rain sensor damaged by electric power surge

sprinkler computer damaged by electric power surge

What’s causing all of this electrical damage?

Electric power line surges likely caused by nearby lightning strikes or electric company transformer problems due to the storm and lack of a whole house surge protector.

The storm last week just cost me $369 and I didn’t have to pay for labor because I tested and replaced the equipment myself. If I paid an electrician to fix my landscape lights and a sprinkler company to fix my sprinkler, it would’ve cost another few hundred dollars for labor and they would have marked up the parts.

Electricians and sprinkler companies have to make a living like everyone else and are entitled to markup the parts which cost a tremendous amount of time for travel to the supplier, waiting to get the part, and travel back to the job. In fact, getting the parts and supplies is one of the most time-consuming aspects of an electrician’s job. It took me a total of three hours to pick up a new sprinkler controller (two trips to the supplier).

So far, I have spent $1,074 just on parts (no labor) which I know were damaged because of electrical surges. Additionally, I’ve had other repairs on my Sub-Zero (compressor had to be replaced), Whirlpool front loading washer machine (motherboard was burned out), dryer and stove which I now suspect have been due to electrical surges. Fortunately, those repairs, including parts and labor, were covered by my appliance protection policy.  I’m starting to wonder if I still need the appliance protection policy if I install a whole house surge protector.

The solution to prevent damage from electric power surges

What’s the solution to electric power line surges? A whole house surge protector.

I started looking at different whole house surge protectors and decided that I liked Leviton best. There were several reasons but a quick look at the Home Depot website illustrated (Every time I search the Home Depot website, it showed completely different results for the same search phrase). I found the following whole house surge protectors and compared the first three: 1) Square D $247; 2) Leviton $50; and 3) GE $91.57.

Comparison of three whole house surge protectors at Home Depot:

Square D

SquareD whole house surge protector

  • Price: $247
  • CSA Listed: No
  • Joules: 564
  • Maximum Amperage: 36,000
  • Manufacturer Warranty: 18 months


Leviton whole house surge protector

  • Price: $50
  • CSA Listed: Yes
  • Joules: 3400
  • Manufacturer Warranty: 10 years


GE whole house surge protector

  • Price: $91.57
  • CSA Listed: No
  • Joules: 2724
  • Maximum Amperage: 24,000
  • Manufacturer Warranty: 3 years

I have a 3,725 sq ft house with a lot of expensive appliances and I want to make sure that I don’t want to shorten the life of my appliances even if they don’t fail immediately because of an electric power surge. I decided to purchase the best whole house surge protector that I could find. I called Leviton and spoke with Emanuel Ramondino for at least 20 minutes while he gave me an education about whole house surge protectors and helped me decide which one to get for my house. In fact, I called Leviton numerous times with question after question. Each time I called, a seriously knowledgeable engineer answered immediately.

I finally decided to get the maximum protection available for a residential house which is either the Leviton 52120-M2 with maximum amperage of 100,000 or the Leviton 52120-CM2 which has a counter which shows the number of surges it protected.  The counter is not necessary but I will get the 52120-CM2 because I’m curious to see how many electrical power surges I’ve been getting.  See all of the Leviton modular whole house surge protectors.

Whole house surge protectors can fail during the process of protecting your electrical components and appliances.  When that happens, a whole house surge protector may have saved you thousands of dollars but may need to be replaced.  That can be costly, particularly if you have to pay an electrician to disconnect the bad whole house surge protector and replace it with a new one.

Advantages of the 51120

  • Modular Components -The Leviton 51120 whole house surge protectors have removable modular components that can be easily replaced by the homeowner when damaged by a power surge or lightning.  No need to pay an electrician to replace your whole house surge protector.  A light on the unit indicates if it is working or needs to be replaced.
  • Lifetime Warranty – The Leviton 51120 has a lifetime warranty and the modular units will be replaced for free if they fail because of a lightning strike.  Replacing a $200 whole house surge protector every once in a while will get expensive, especially when you add in the cost of an electrician to change the damaged whole house surge protector.

Home Depot and Lowes do not sell the Leviton 51120 whole house surge protector but I found the best price using Google Shopping or on Amazon.com.

Leviton 52120 modular whole house surge protector

I have 200 amp service. Depending upon your electric service and needs, this may or may not be the correct model for your house. Call Leviton to find out which of their numerous whole house surge protectors is appropriate for you. Call 1- 800-824-3005 (press 7 for surge protectors).

What does it cost to install a whole house surge protector?

It’s not that difficult to install it yourself if you’re handy and take the proper precautions.  However, electricians don’t charge that much to install whole house surge protectors because it’s not that difficult or time-consuming. I called my electrician and asked him how much it would cost to install.  His answer was “You know how to search on the Internet.  Buy one on the Internet and I’ll install it for the cost of a service call.”  While I could install it myself, I’m not going to bother.  I will have my electrician install it.  It’s not worth my time for the cost of a service call and I know it will be done right.

Types of surge protectors.

There are Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3  surge protectors:

  • Type 1 is a whole house surge protector which installs between the electric power line coming from the street and your electric meter.
  • Type 2 is a whole house surge protector which installs between your electric meter and your circuit breaker panel.
  • Type 3 surge protectors are the small surge protectors you plug in an outlet and in which you plug your computer or appliance into.

It is recommended to use all three or at least both a Type 2 whole house surge protector and Type 3 surge protectors (such as strip surge protectors) on important appliances and computers.  A whole house surge protector should not be used to replace surge protectors at the outlets.  Most electric surges occur inside the house or building.  Inside surges are not stopped by a whole-house suppression device which only stops surges coming into the house or building from the outside.

For instance, my electrician installed another landscape transformer for my backyard on the wall next to an outlet for two 1,000 W pumps for my waterfalls and it’s plugged in to that outlet.  The pumps cause a surge when turning off and have twice blown the landscape transformer.  I will have to install a separate circuit for the landscape transformer because the pumps will likely just damage a surge suppressor strip instead of the landscape transformer.

For my house, I will use the Type 2 Leviton 52120-CM2 whole house a surge protector and several Type 3 surge protectors on my computers, TVs, copy machine, document scanner and other important appliances.

What can whole house surge protectors protect?

  • All Electric & Electronic Appliances such as dishwashers, washing machine/dryer, stove, refrigerator, garage door openers
  • Air Conditioners & Central Air Conditioning
  • LED Lightbulbs (LED bulbs are mini circuit boards that are sensitive electronics easily damaged by power surges and need to be protected)
  • Lightbulbs
  • Automatic lighting controls
  • Landscape Lighting
  • Electric Motors & Pumps such as sump pumps and waterfall pumps
  • Air conditioner compressors, air handler motors, thermostats
  • TVs, Home Theater Systems & Stereos
  • Computers, printers, modems, routers, wireless Wi-Fi routers
  • Home Office Equipment Such As Copiers, Scanners, phone systems and VOIP phones
  • Type 3 surge protectors (the ones you put on your computer and electronics).  For instance, a whole house search protector can prevent an expensive home theater surge protector from failure such as the Monster home theater surge protector.

All of the above items can be destroyed at the time of a lightning strike or an electric power surge.  Often many of these items are not destroyed at the time of a power surge but only suffer “wear and tear”.  After several power surges, these items may fail years before they should.  The early failure is rarely recognized by the owner as having been caused by numerous power surges.  The best but unseen benefit of a whole house search protector is its ability to prevent your appliances and electronics from failing early.  I recommend getting the Leviton 52120 whole house search protector with a lifetime guarantee with owner replaceable modules.  Because whole house surge protectors provide surge suppression protection for the entire house, some insurance companies offer a discount on homeowners insurance if a whole house surge protector is installed.

How to install a whole house surge protector

This video shows installation of a Leviton 51120

This video is more informative

This is the house I’m installing a whole house surge protector in

house which needs a whole house surge protector

1 Comment

  1. Dr. Martin G. Miller says:
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Very informative. I will probably install a whole house search protector at my house.

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