If you’re looking to save money on home insurance, first look to discounts. However, basic maintenance is homemade insurance that saves big money.
For many people, their home is their castle. It is the place where they can relax and enjoy their favorite luxuries, like television, the internet, or music. As time has led to these technologies evolving, so has it led to many of their components growing increasingly more sophisticated and, in many cases, more delicate. This delicacy can prove to be a major problem for the average homeowner when it means that their important devices like computers, entertainment systems, and even common appliances fail without warning, and often to the inexperienced, without cause. Perhaps basic maintenance is homemade insurance?
How can you prevent this damage? What factors can lead to this damage, and how do you know what devices are most prone? Arming yourself with the knowledge necessary to protect your high-value products is the first step to preventing significant losses of time, money, and irretrievable data.
Why do electronic components fail?
Component failure is a common occurrence in most American households. Whether it be a microwave, a blu ray player, or even something as simple as an electric toothbrush, studies over the last ten years have shown many electronic devices to have significant failure rates within their first three years of service, with some devices such as laptops surpassing the twenty-five percent mark for failure.
There are several reasons why device failures happen. Some of these reasons – such as faulty construction or out of tolerance parts – are unlikely to be repairable or even predictable by the average consumer, while others, such as environmental factors and upkeep, can be controlled to help minimize the likelihood of a component’s failure during its intended life cycle, and in some cases even extend an object’s life beyond its intended usage.
Understanding Product Lifespan
The first stage to maintaining and understanding electronic components is to understand the period of time most products are built to last.
Many users, especially those from older generations, have certain expectations concerning lifespan of products and components that far surpass the standards most devices are actually built to. As an example, the typical television is built for an average of fifty thousand watt hours of usage. Depending on the type of TV you purchase and your usage habits, this provides units with what many consumers consider exceptionally short lifespans. The average user is estimated to run their television for approximately 4-6 hours per day, and based on this model a typical television’s expected operable lifespan sits between three and a half years on the low end for a modern plasma HD screen to around six to six and a half years on the outside for a newer LED model. While an individual’s personal usage experience will vary, these estimates are a good start to determining expected operable lifespan of your unit. Most devices produced nowadays are built with similar operational parameters in mind, with computers, home theater systems, stereos, and even cell phones typically built with between two and five years of fully functional use planned by the developer.
This lifespan is a product of a concept known as planned obsolescence. Simply put, it is more cost efficient for manufacturers to ship products with lifespans planned within certain parameters than it is to engineer a product for a greater lifespan, when a significant portion of consumers are typically ready to upgrade within that period to begin with. What this means for consumers is that you should not rest your hopes for a unit’s long-term viability on the producer’s manufacturing standards, and that basic maintenance is necessary to maximize the lifespan of the unit.
What factors do I control that affect the life of my goods?
There are several key factors that affect the lifespan of consumer-grade electronics that users have a great deal of control over, most of these related to the environment surrounding the product in question. With computers it is air flow and basic cleaning, also applicable to products like video players and game consoles, and nearly every device you use can benefit from proper understanding of your home’s electrical system and humidity levels. All of these factors are simple to understand and maintain, and can add significant lifespan and reliability to all of your devices.
On top of simply improving the life and efficiency of your electronics, understanding these factors can help to improve the safety of your household as a whole by minimizing fire and electrical shock threats, providing added incentive to learn the best ways you can protect yourself, your home, and your goods against common, and sometimes catastrophic, failures.
The First Step
The first and most obvious step to protecting your electronic components is understanding the basics of their power source, electricity, and how to protect your devices against too much.
In relation to the typical American home, there are only a handful of things the average user needs to know; what AC and DC current are, and how they affect your devices.
AC, or alternating current, is the typical electrical current found in power lines and house wiring. Alternating current is called so because the waveform of the current alternates the positive and negative charge locations. The simple explanation for why this is useful is power distribution: AC power is easy to convert and transfer, and is therefore the method used by power companies to distribute power to homes.
DC, or direct current, is essentially one half of an AC current waveform. DC current always maintains positive and negative electrical values in the same form, and as such is much more stable and safer to use.
Most, if not all, devices in your home run off of DC power provided by running your incoming AC power through what is called a converter. Without this converter, most household appliances would not work correctly. The converter itself, though, does little or nothing to provide its host device with protection against power spikes and power surges.
Power spikes and power surges can happen for a variety of reasons, ranging from broken power lines and lightning (external sources) to simply turning on or off a high-power object within your own home, such as a refrigerator or other major appliance (internal sources.) The end result of either method of producing the spike or surge is the same, though; a rush of extra electricity beyond the standard capacity of your lines that can damage, if not outright destroy, sensitive electronic devices.
What methods can I use to minimize the risks of power spikes and power surges?
When it comes to protecting your electronics and appliances against the threat of electrical surges and spikes, there is no better method than using surge protectors.
Surge protectors provide protection for electronic devices by putting a barrier in the form of a fuse, holding cell, or bypass, between the incoming current and the device itself. This allows the device to weather surges and spikes with ease.
Surge protectors come in several varieties and levels of protection, even including units that can be mounted near your home’s fuse box for large-scale protection, though these units often have little to no effect on internal surge sources. In most cases, though, the standard “power strip” is more than ample protection for most devices, provided you pick one with a good degree of protection.
Surge protectors’ protection levels are judged on many different criteria, but in general the quickest reference can be found in a rating of how many joules the unit can protect against. It is easy to find units in the three thousand joules plus protection range quite cheap, and for most major electronics such as televisions and computer systems a level of between 2400 and 4600 joules is more than ample for nearly any situation. Many lower level electronics or appliances, such as microwaves, can get by with even lower levels of protection, with surge protectors in the 250-600 joule range not uncommon in hardware departments.
When choosing a unit, keep in mind any other inputs your electronics might see. Electrical surges can also be carried through phone and cable lines, and as such many home entertainment systems can benefit from being outfitted with a unit that supports cable and phone line protection in addition to power source protection.
Just as important as picking a unit is monitoring its performance to make sure it is offering your devices optimal protection. Electrical spikes and surges damage power strips and surge protectors just like other devices, and it is a good idea to replace them regularly to guarantee the best protection of your other components. In addition to replacing them if you feel there has been danger of them stopping a major surge or spike, such as in the case of severe storms causing significant power fluctuations, like any electrical device surge protectors do drop in efficiency over time. A good rule of thumb is to consider their protection levels to be roughly half their initial value after five years or so of service, and to consider replacing them at that time.
Beyond those dangers presented by line power to and between devices, one other significant electrical danger exists with many home electronics, and that is the risk of static shock. While most often little more than an annoyance when it occurs to most people, static shock can seriously damage the sensitive internal components of many electronic devices, rendering them either damaged or inoperable.
Like with line power’s dangers, guarding against the risks of static shock are fairly simple, requiring nothing more than awareness of the dangers and a couple of basic precautions, such as being sure to ground yourself before touching or interacting with electronic devices by touching something metal to release any dormant static charge you may have. Another effective way to guard against static shock is to closely monitor your home’s humidity levels; too low of humidity leads to greater ease in building up static charge, and increases the likelihood of damaging your components.
Just as important as proper protection from electrical issues, and just as often overlooked, is basic cleaning of the electrical devices people use on a day to day basis.
Electrical devices, whether they be refrigerators, televisions, or personal computers, generate great quantities of heat as they operate. To help dissipate this created heat, these devices often rely on vents, fans, and coils to allow the heat an outlet away from the sensitive internal components that allow the device to work. Over time, these cooling components will often become caked in dirt and grime, lowering their efficiency and, in turn, hurting the efficiency of your devices, or even rendering them inoperable.
Cleaning these components can often be a time-consuming job, but is one of the most basic methods of maintaining performance across your appliances, as well as helping to decrease fire hazards within your home.
What products and methods should I use?
Depending on the device or appliance you are cleaning changes what methods are optimal for maintaining the object’s functionality. Many appliances will include specific instructions for maintenance of their cooling and intake parts, and in the cases of many of these objects – such as refrigerators, ovens, central heating and air units, and similar items – the best solution is to study their specific instructions, as solutions that might work for one product or manufacturer can in some cases be ineffective, if not damaging, with another.
When it comes to many home electronics, the cleaning solutions are often much simpler, and efficient cleaning can be accomplished with little more than a can of air and a dry cloth in most cases.
The first step when cleaning any piece of electronic equipment is to always make sure the device is turned off and, if possible, unplugged when you begin the procedure. Often times it can even be beneficial to leave the device unpowered for a period of time before beginning the cleaning process to allow components sufficient cooling down time. You want the device unpowered to assure that your cleaning does not interrupt any necessary processes of the object’s operation. Any removable media, such as disks or peripherals, should in most cases be removed as well to make access to all surfaces as easy as possible.
Next, remove the device to a location with good ventilation and where loose dust particles will not cause issue. Closely study the device to determine what areas need to be maintained. In general, most electronic devices will have vents for heat dissipation, and these should always be kept clear of obstructions and dirt as much as possible. Additional locations that should be monitored include toggles (switches or buttons) and device inputs, such as USB ports, coaxial cable inputs, and power supply inputs. Disk drives or removable media inputs should also be checked for dust, as these portions of the device are often the most sensitive to interference.
Once you have verified which locations need to be cleaned, using a can of compressed air gently blow out any loose dust and particles from the object. High pressure is not necessary, and can often be damaging to the device, as well as running the risk of allowing the propellant within the compressed air to condense into frost, which can be problematic if done for extended periods. If your device has any easily removable surfaces, such as side panels, vent covers, or doors, remove or open them and check for any cleaning that might be needed behind them. Watch out for fans or other moving parts within the device, and if possible find a way to prevent their movement while cleaning them. This is especially important for the ball-bearing fans often used to ventilate computer enclosures, as freely spinning the fan can easily render it inoperable, and severely hurt your computer’s performance.
Once the majority of the dust or other obstructions have been cleared, search the cleaned surfaces for any persistent grime, and if present carefully clear it away with a dry cloth. Avoid cloths made from materials that are prone to static charge, as well as coming into contact with surfaces such as circuit boards or internal contacts, as these can suffer more damage from your cloth than the dust that might remain upon them. The major surfaces to focus on should be vents, fan blades (being careful to prevent them from moving as much as possible while cleaning them,) and heat sinks, maintaining as clean of surfaces as possible.
Life Span Is Important
No amount of cleaning or maintenance will allow a device to continue indefinitely. Parts fail, manufacturing flaws are inevitable, and occasionally things happen that are simply out of either the user’s or manufacturer’s control, leading to a shortened life span on a product. In the most extreme of these cases, most products come with a manufacturer’s warranty to cover major malfunctions early in an item’s life span, and homeowner’s insurance covers many common items against extended problems from external factors, such as electrical damage or fire.
Almost all major household products produced have a specific lifespan in mind, and in the current market it is in most cases more efficient, and many times even cheaper, to simply replace an item rather than repair it. Many items are built without the idea of repairing them in mind as a practical solution at all. Nevertheless, with just a few simple tasks and a little foresight many of the most common issues with home electronics can be avoided, and your pocketbook saved from more strain than is necessary to maintain your lifestyle.
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