Electronic – For mains attached circuits: what do I need to protect against and how to do it


I don't have a lot of experience with mains voltage and designing protection circuits for them. I'm not sure:

A) What do I need to protect against? I know I don't need to worry about 10kV voltage transients on the mains line, but what about 300V spikes? Mains voltage is 120Vrms nominal (in the US, for residential users), but what is the maximum that should be expected and planned for.

B) How do I protect against it? For voltage transients I can use a TVS diode, or a MOV, but I don't know how to select one. When do I use one over the other? For overvoltage protection, is there an AC version of a crowbar?

What are good guidelines about what to protect against, and how to do it for mains circuits?


To try and head off the inevitable "close for too vague" votes, I want to mention that I'm only interested in:

  • "what are the common voltage issues that residential mains wiring will present to a circuit on it" and
  • "what are the basics of protecting against these issues"

I realize that there are probably many books written about circuit protection circuits, but I think that a very basic answer would be very appropriate here.

Best Answer

Your wattmeter only has arc suppression gap set at 6kV standard. So you can expect anything less than that and possibly more , likely in Florida , with transients that do not ionize the gap.

This is why burnt out LEDs in Florida are so common with cheap PAR Lamps.

One way to suppress peak voltage is via line filter using two X1 caps and a choke or a 3rd order LPF. This reduces the 10kV spikes to <3kV or even as low as 300V but stretches them out in time.

So Optoisolator products assume you know about this and are all rated for 3kV isolation.

Any protection you add to clamp these voltages must be able to,handle the current that follows.

Gas tubes can handle 10kA surges but expect you to fuse the input.

MOV's are cheap and good but can only absorb occasional surges and will fail after so many accumulative Joules in energy. Chokes allow the rise rate in current to be limited until they saturate , then they behave like wirewound resistors.

Here is some industrial design background for line filters. Line filters in LED bulbs must pass these tests, and not all,suppliers are legit in saying they are compliant.

There is no "one solution fits all" because of other requirements for low cost, high reliability, and new EMC compliance rules for devices >= 100W must have power factor >=0.9 using active PFC etc.

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