Experts sound off on protection against lightning’s effects

Jul 24, 2011

The following article was published in Florida Today on July 24, 2011:

Experts sound off on protection against lighting’s effects

Brevard County averages more than 22,000 lightning strikes a year, each with the potential to fry air conditioners, refrigerators and other pricey appliances.

So Florida Power & Light customers recently found an offer in their mailboxes: Blunt the sticker shock of having major appliances zapped by lightning with a special surge protector installed at the base of their meter. It would detect electrical surges almost instantly, grounding them before they enter the house and damage anything.

The offer from FPL Energy Services Inc. — a subsidiary of FPL parent company NextEra Energy Inc. — asks customers for an extra $9.95 a month for the meter surge protector, or about $120 annually.

But is it worth it?

“The answer is, it depends,” said Richard Kithil, president and CEO of National Lightning Safety Institute, an independent lightning safety advocacy group based in Denver.

FPL’s SurgeShield is probably not worth it if you have a $100 deductible on your homeowner’s insurance, Kithil explained. “But if you have a $500 deductible, you have a different equation. So you roll the dice in how much you want to do and how much you want to spend. It basically comes down to the consumer’s fear factors.”

The bill insert and direct mailings say FPL Energy Services Inc. recommends the product. It is written in the fine print that SurgeShield is not “offered, backed or administered by FPL.”

FPL Energy Services and other companies that advertise in the electric company’s bill insert pay for the space, which helps offset the cost of producing and mailing bills, FPL officials said.

What’s covered

The SurgeShield’s 15-year limited warranty covers up to $5,000 per appliance, per occurrence, with a maximum of $500,000 over the life of the warranty. Items covered include air conditioners, washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers, electric ranges and hot water heaters.

But to be covered, the appliance must be a motor-driven device within the home. There are no guarantees that SurgeShield will completely protect sensitive electronics such as computers. That takes plug-in surge protectors inside the home.

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