It’s well known that panel mounted surge protectors provide a much higher level of safety for the appliances in your home, but these devices aren’t nearly as user-friendly. While stand-alone surge protectors are literally a plug and play operation, panel mounted solutions require you to open your breaker box and modify the primary power feed.
Many consumers are wary of performing this installation on their own. And rightly so! Working on high-capacity power circuits can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, and many manufacturers recommend hiring an electrician to perform the installation.
That being said, installing your own surge protector can be safe. You just have to follow the correct safety procedure. In this guide, we’ll show you everything you need to know before you break out the screwdriver, so you can keep your house protected quickly and easily.
The Steps to Install a Panel Mounted Surge Protector
Before you begin, you’ll need a few different things. For tools, you’ll want a flat head screwdriver, a pair of wire strippers, some pliers, and a little electrical tape. We’d also recommend grabbing a battery-powered flashlight or lamp, as you’ll be disconnecting the power before you start work.
Step 1: Prepare the Panel
Locate the main breaker panel for your house. Before you go any further, you’re going to want to flip the main breaker switch. This will disconnect all power to your house. Opening a panel that is energized can be dangerous, so this step is crucial. We highly recommend using a voltage detector to ensure that the panel is completely de-energized. Simply touch the tip of the detector to the three main power feed wires. If the detector lights up, your panel is still energized.
Next, you’ll want to open the enclosure and find an empty knockout. This should be a circle punch on the metal back panel. Push the guard back and away from the panel to create a mounting point for your surge protector.
Step 2: Mount the Surge Protector
Once you’ve created an opening for the surge protector, you can feed its wires in through the opening. You can loop these wires out the front of the panel for now, as it’s good practice to isolate the cables until you’re ready to connect.
Most surge protectors have a few screws you need to tighten on the bottom. Others have a threaded mount that screws into your panel. Refer to the specific instructions that came with your device if your mounting system looks different than what we’ve described. There are many types!
The surge protector can be mounted either inside the panel, or outside. Because these devices have a limited lifespan, we’d recommend mounting it outside. Most models have an indicator on the front that confirms proper operation. By mounting the head outside the panel, you’ll be able to check it without opening the panel.
Have You Selected The Right Surge Protector?
If you’ve already purchased your whole-house surge protector, you can simply move on to the next step. But if you’re doing research for a future purchase, take the time to make sure you select the right model for your home. Click below to see our complete guide to selecting and sizing surge protectors.
Step 3: Connect the Wires
Panel mounted surge protectors have four wires that need to be connected. Green is your ground, white is your neutral, and finally, you have two black wires to complete the circuit.
Before you can connect these wires, you need to remove some insulation from the end in order to expose the conductor. Your wire strippers should have a number of different sized holes. Make sure you use the 14 AWG part of the stripper. Electric current travels around the outside of the wire. If you use a size that’s too small, you’ll scar the cable and reduce the effectiveness of your surge protector.
Once you’ve got the wires stripped, you can start by connecting the easiest wires. You’ll find two large metal strips on either side of the breaker panel. These strips have holes punched through them horizontally, with a screw on top. You can feed the wire through the hole, then tighten screw to hold in in place. Your green wire connects to the ground bus bar on the right, while the neutral goes on the right with all of the other white wires.
The two black wires need to be connected to a di-pole breaker. This is a three-phase power feed that provides both 240V and 120V service. It doesn’t matter which wire is connected to which terminal. Simply feed them into the port on the side of the breaker, and tighten the terminating screw.
Step 4: Re-assemble The Panel
Carefully life the panel cover and hold it in place. Make sure you are careful when doing this, taking care not to flip any of the breakers. You should first reinstall the screws in each of the four corners to hold it in place.
After, you can go through and tighten all of the rest of them. Once you are sure that the panel is tight and there are no gaps, you can go ahead and flip the main breaker.
Step 5: Confirm Operation
The last thing that you need to do is flip the dual breaker you connected in step 3. You should now see the indicators illuminated on the front of the surge protector. Check with your user manual to verify that the surge protector is fully operational.If the surge protector doesn’t illuminate, you’ll want to turn the power back off and verify that your dipole breaker is installed correctly.
Surge protectors have a finite capacity. Every time they are exposed to a surge, this capacity drops. Although a single lightning strike could use up the entire capacity of your surge protector in one shot, these kinds of events are rare. In reality, dozens of smalls urges can slowly use up your surge protector over several years. Make a monthly habit of checking the indicators to ensure your house is still protected.
It’s also important that you make sure you have the right types of surge protectors for your home. A whole house model will protect against serious damage, but we still recommend that you place an inexpensive standalone surge protector on all of the most valuable electronics in your home such as your computer, television, and cellphone.