OK, it’s time to update this first page of my site. I have decided that, because I have chosen Costa Rica as my new home, I would dedicate this page to information that may help my fellow Expats – as well as my Costa Rican friends.
I have been doing some computer repairs here, and one thing that gets a lot of attention is the weather. During the rainy season most people will try to completely disconnect their systems in order to avoid having their hardware destroyed by a lightning strike. While that is not, necessarily, a bad thing to do I contend that there is an alternative approach.
I use my computer system for work as well as for play. I do not have a TV, but I do have a fast Internet service. I choose to use available technology to protect my system from the ravages of Nature so that I can continue to use it even during the frequent thunderstorms. This is not as simple as merely buying a surge suppressor, however. The reason for that is the lack of consistent wiring methods here in Costa Rica. There is no requirement for a ground rod to be installed adjacent to the structure, as there is in the U. S.
Most of the houses around the Grecia area, including my home in San Isidro, do not have ground rods near the house. What I have found is that they have installed the ground rods at the meter boxes and connect them to the neutral lead. In many homes they do not bother to connect anything to the ground lugs in the receptacles, which prevents a surge suppressor from doing it’s intended job. Better surge suppressors will alert you to this fact by indicating that there is a “building wiring fault”.
Surge suppressors work by providing a sacrificial component that will protect your equipment from voltage surges. These are called Metal Oxide Varistors (MOVs), and are designed to become conductive when the voltage exceeds their rated limits. They then attempt to shunt the excess voltage to ground, which is extremely hard to do when the ground lug is not connected to anything. If the surge is too large the MOV will self-destruct, at which point the internal fuse will blow immediately. Most folks will then replace the surge suppressor, though the MOVs are much less expensive, and simple to replace for any qualified technician.
What I have done, for my computer system, is to connect a jumper from the neutral lead to the ground lug. While it is not as good as having a separate ground lead to a grounding rod, it will suffice by providing a path through which the MOV can shunt the excess voltage. It’s also important to choose a surge suppressor that is capable of protecting all of your equipment. I chose a model that has 13 AC outlets as well as connectors for phone lines, Ethernet and Coax connectors. That will cover everything including telephones, TV’s and Internet routers.
I have a fairly large, and expensive, workstation system. My computer is connected to a high quality surge suppressor, which is plugged into an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS). My external hard drive network and router are plugged into a separate surge suppressor which is plugged into another UPS. We get a lot of lightning strikes up here in San Isidro, but I have not have any problems and do not anticipate any, though my immediate neighbors recently lost a TV and the low noise amplifier on their WiFi dish. There is nothing you can do to protect the actual dish, since it is often the target of the lightning strike, but the TV could have been protected by a suitable surge suppressor with appropriate connectors.
I have some friends a little further up the mountain, in San Francisco, who have gone through three routers due to lightning strikes. I have tried to convince them to purchase a surge suppressor, as they could purchase two of those for the price of one of their routers, but they prefer to unplug everything whenever the weather gets threatening. I prefer to keep on working, as I derive income from my system. When it goes down it costs me money. Been working in this field over forty years, and I have yet to lose a system to lightning. And yes, I have lived in high thunderstorm areas most of those years.
That’s it for now. If I think of anything else I will add to this post.