A lot of electronics requires a lot of outlets. With a basic desktop computer, for example, you need an outlet for the monitor, CPU, speakers, wireless router, modem, printer, and any other gadgets you may wish to connect. For a home theater system, there’s the television, stereo receiver, preamp, subwoofer, speakers (sometimes), turntable, DVD or Blu-ray player, gaming consoles, and cable set-top box.
While the typical solution is to get either a surge protector or power strip, these options have important differences to consider. Most surge protectors are also power strips, but power strips are not necessarily surge protectors. You’ll often find them in the same aisle at the hardware or store. But you should know the difference before buying.
What Is a Surge Protector?
While power strips are basically multi-plug extension cords, surge protectors are designed to keep electronic equipment safe from electrical surges or spikes.
Surge protectors work by diverting excess voltage into the grounding port of a wall outlet. Without this feature, the excess voltage would flow through all connected power cables and cause permanent damage to connected devices. The effect of excess voltage can be obvious, like when a light bulb blinks out, or it can be more discreet, gradually weakening circuitry over time. Sophisticated gaming rigs with complex microprocessors may result in terminal failure if power surges or spikes are permitted.
An extreme example of excess voltage is a lightning strike. But you’re more likely to experience electrical surges and spikes when the local utility company switches power grids or has equipment problems. Even though they try to maintain a steady flow of electricity throughout, disruptions sometimes occur.
The most common instance of excess voltage is when there’s a shift in energy demand, especially if the building has old or bad electrical wiring. Ever notice lights flickering or going dim whenever the refrigerator, air conditioner, hair dryer, or other powerful appliance turns on? That sudden energy draw can cause a momentary surge to the demanding circuit and affect all connected outlets. In North America, anything above the standard voltage of 120V is considered excess. Smaller surges can happen anytime without signs or warning, yet still surpass a product’s normal operating voltage.
What to Look For
Surge protectors come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some attach directly to the wall and work like a surge protector outlet. Most others are equipped with a cable that can be anywhere between one to 12 feet in length. When choosing the right surge protector, you’ll want to make sure it has:
- Outlets for all of your electronics.
- Spacing to fit power bricks.
- Long enough cable.
You won’t be doing yourself any favors by purchasing a six-outlet surge protector when you have 10 devices to plug in. The last thing you want to do is daisy chain another surge protector or power strip to make up the difference. That increases the risk of overloading the electrical circuit and it voids the warranty. If you’re uncertain as to the exact number of outlets you need, it's better to overestimate rather than underestimate.
Not all surge protectors are designed with power bricks in mind. Some power bricks are so bulky that they can block a free outlet (or two or three) when plugged in. Even if your current equipment uses standard two-prong plugs, it’s worth choosing a surge protector that has some outlets spaced apart. You’ll still be able to use them all now, yet retain the flexibility to handle any power bricks in the future.
A surge protector won’t do much good if it can’t reach the closest wall socket. Sure, you could use an extension cord, but doing so doesn’t guarantee full protection and often voids the product warranty. So when in doubt, choose surge protectors with the longest length power cable.
Performance Ratings to Consider
Product packaging is designed to attract attention while conveying information. This can seem confusing, what with all the specs and features. Focus on these ones first:
- Joules (higher is better): The number of joules listed for the surge protector represents the energy absorption rating. Think of it like a shield that blocks excess energy. Higher numbers mean the surge protector can sustain more (or bigger) hits through single or multiple events before wearing out. So if a surge protector has 500 joules of protection, it could theoretically handle ten 50-joule hits, or four 125-joule hits, or two 250-joule hits, or one 500-joule hit. Small electronics (like lamps, radios, and battery chargers) are fine with joule ratings under 1000. But for computer or home theater equipment, you’ll definitely want to consider surge protectors with joule ratings of 2500 or more.
- Clamping Voltage (lower is better): The clamping voltage—sometimes referred to as the Voltage Protection Rating (VPR) or Suppressed Voltage Rating (SVR)—indicates when the surge protector will activate to divert excess voltage to ground. While the protection offered by joules sounds good, it’s the clamping voltage (maximum voltage to be allowed through) that ends up being more effective. Lower numbers mean the surge protector is less tolerant of excess voltage. So when comparing a surge protector with 330 V clamping voltage (best option) versus one with 500 V clamping voltage, the latter will allow a higher surge or spike to occur (which can damage components) before doing anything about it.
- Response Time (lower is better): The response time (typically measured in nanoseconds) indicates how quickly a surge protector will react in order to divert excess voltage. While electronics seem to work instantly, they actually require time to operate. Response time goes hand-in-hand with the clamping voltage. Surge protectors with lower response times activate faster in order to redirect excess voltage before it has a chance to cause damage. If you want the best, choose ones with response times of one nanosecond (or less).
- UL 1449 (must have): The Underwriters Laboratories UL 1449 is the recognized safety standard that applies to every Surge Protective Device (SPD). This standard lists the certification criteria, design requirements, and product performance testing that manufacturers need to meet in order for a surge protector to be considered safe for consumer use. If a surge protector doesn’t have this displayed somewhere on the box, it may not be a good choice for protecting your equipment.
Many surge protectors offer an array of extra features. While nice to have, they can also bump the purchase price. More expensive doesn’t automatically mean better. Focus on needs first and make sure you don’t overlook the aforementioned performance ratings. It’s up to each buyer to decide whether or not these extras are useful:
- USB ports
- LED displays
- Ethernet, coaxial, and/or telephone jacks
- 3-line (or all-mode) protection
- Built-in circuit breaker
- EMI/RFI filtering and/or power conditioning
- Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) battery backup
- Replacement (or protection status) indicator lights and/or audible alarms
- Energy-saving (e.g. primary plugs, timers, etc.)
- Wireless remote control
- Motion sensors
- Whole house surge protection
As with most consumer electronics, surge protectors come with a manufacturer’s warranty that covers connected equipment up to a specified maximum dollar amount (which varies from product to product). Hopefully, you’ll never have to use it, but it’s always best to be prepared. Make sure you thoroughly read the fine print regarding the warranty coverage. Some claims require the surge protector, all the equipment connected to the surge protector (even if it wasn't damaged), and original receipts to be honored.
There’s usually a lot of exclusions, conditions, and limitations that need to be met before you’d see a dime, and full reimbursements are never guaranteed. You can also expect claims to take three or more months to process.
- It’s critical to plug a surge protector into a properly grounded wall outlet. Using a three-to-two prong adapter does not count. Otherwise, it won’t be able to protect from surges like it’s meant to.
- Joules aren’t everything. Be sure to equally consider both the clamping voltage and response time.
- Don’t daisy chain surge protectors with other surge protectors, power strips, or UPSs for more outlets. You run the risk of overloading your home's electrical circuits, igniting an electrical fire, or voiding the surge protector’s warranty.
- Surge protectors gradually wear out over time and won’t always indicate when a replacement is needed. There’s no set rule, except that it’s a good idea to buy new surge protectors after the old ones have done their job (i.e. if there have been serious power fluctuations, blown transformers, or lightning strikes in your area.)
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A higher number indicates greater protection. Look for a protector that is at least rated at 200 to 400 joules. For better protection, look for a rating of 600 joules or more. Response time: Surge protectors don't kick in immediately; there is a very slight delay as they respond to the power surge.What is a surge protector should it be used for your electronic devices? ›
Surge protectors are designed to suppress any voltage spikes that try to come through your power supply into your computer or other electronic device.How strong of a surge protector do I need? ›
1,000 to 2,000 Joules
If you're trying to protect things like cell phones, basic laptops, printers, routers, and copiers, you'll want a surge protector with a rating between 1,000 and 2,000 joules. This rating is also large enough for your power tools and other building appliances.
Units with surge protector ratings of 1000 to 2000 joules will provide sufficient protection for power tools and office equipment such as printers, copiers and routers. Consider the highest joule ratings—2000 and above—for home theater components, gaming consoles and any computer that stores important data…Are higher joules better for surge protector? ›
The joule rating of your surge protector determines how much energy your surge protector can absorb. The higher the joule rating, the greater the protection.How many joules are needed to protect a TV? ›
A common question we hear is, how many Joules do I need to protect my TV? For HDTVs it is best to consider the highest Joule ratings – at least 2000. Austere recommends the V Series Power (3000 Joules) for 4K HDTVs less than $1,500 and VII Series Power (4000 Joules) for 4K HDTVs more than $1,500 and 8K HDTVs.What should you never plug into a surge protector? ›
Power strips/Surge Protectors/RPT's can only be used for low power load equipment such as computers and AV equipment. They are NOT allowed to be used for high-power loads such as microwaves, coffee pots, refrigerators, toasters/toaster ovens, or space heaters. Doing so creates a serious fire hazard.Should all electronics be plugged into a surge protector? ›
In short, any expensive electronics will benefit from a surge protector. Without a surge protector, a power surge may shorten the lifespan, wipe out all the data, or destroy the entire system. Think of it this way: which lost devices would cause the most inconvenience? Plug those devices into a surge protector.Are electronic surge protectors worth it? ›
Surge protection plans are definitely worth the money, especially if the homeowner's insurance plan doesn't cover power surge damage. If a power surge caused by a lightning strike or electric company maintenance work occurs, most homeowner's insurance plans cover the damage.Are expensive surge protectors worth it? ›
What is this? To put it simply, it's not 100% necessary to own a surge protector but it's a wise choice if you have a lot of expensive equipment that needs protecting. Adding one will certainly protect your tech and potentially avoid a lot of crying and heartache later.
Most facilities will run on 120 or 240 volts. For a 15 amp power strip on a 120-volt circuit, the power strip can handle up to 1800 watts. If you are on a 240-volt circuit, the power strip can handle 3600 watts of power.What should I look for when buying a surge protector? ›
Choose a surge protector with a joule rating at the very least in the 200 to 400 range. Sensitive or costly equipment, such as computers, displays and audio/video equipment, warrants a joule rating of at least 1000. A joule rating over 2000 indicates maximum protection.Should I plug in my computer to the wall or a surge protector? ›
You should use a surge protector with your computer. It is filled with voltage-sensitive components that a power surge could damage very easily. At the least, this damage will shorten the life of your computer, and it could wipe out all your data or destroy your system.What level of surge protection do I need? ›
Generally, you'll want to look for point-of-use surge protectors rated for at least 200-400 joules, but 600+ joules is even better. Surge protectors rated for 1000+ joules are optimal for protecting electrical devices like lamps, small kitchen appliances, digital clocks, etc.How many joules is a lightning strike? ›
With an average bolt of lightning striking from cloud to ground containing roughly one billion (1,000,000,000) joules of energy, that is a lot of power in every lightning bolt!Is 2500 joules enough for a surge protector? ›
With joule ratings, higher is better, because that means the surge protector can sustain bigger or multiple hits. A 1000 joule protector is fine for small electronics, but larger ones need protection of at least 2500 joules.Is it better to leave surge protector on all the time? ›
Answer. When you turn off a surge protector -- or suppressor, as some people call them -- it's virtually the same as unplugging it; it will save a small amount of energy and is a little safer in a storm than having the surge protector on. However, it's the best solution.Does Smart TV need surge protector? ›
Desktop computers, laptops, televisions, gaming systems, and charging phones should all be plugged into a surge protector, so they aren't damaged in a storm. A power spike or power surge can shorten the life of these devices or even wipe out all of your data.Is 1000 joules enough for a TV? ›
The absolute minimum joule rating that I would suggest would be 2,000 joules. However, for anything really valuable, I would highly suggest 3,000 joules or more.Does turning TV off at the wall save electricity? ›
Turning a TV off at night completely and removing from standby will save electricity and will save you a small amount of money.
- DC SPD TYPE2 600V BUD-40/2 IEC. ...
- Belkin 3-outlet Mini Surge Protector with USB Ports. ...
- Anker PowerPort Strip 12. ...
- Monoprice 12 Outlet Power Surge Protector. ...
- APC SurgeArrest P11VNT3. ...
- Cyberpower CP1500PFCLCD UPS. ...
- Belkin PivotPlug BP112230-08. ...
- Refrigmatic WS-36300.
Most estimates put the average lifespan of a surge protector at three to five years. And if your home is subject to frequent brownouts or blackouts, you might want to replace your surge protectors as often as every two years.Which is safer power strip or surge protector? ›
The Level of Protection
A power strip does nothing besides give you extra sockets to plug into and an easy on/off switch. If you want any protection at all, you need a surge protector.
You do not need to turn off surge protectors or disconnect devices connected to surge protectors. Power strips provide extra outlet space but do not provide any protection against damage caused by power surges.Is turning off surge protector the same as unplugging? ›
Surge protector power strips typically have such switches and help protect your appliances and electronics If you plug all of your products into a power strip and flip off the power strip when these items are not in use, they are truly off. Unplug Your Products.Should I plug my refrigerator into a surge protector? ›
We do not recommend connecting a refrigerator or freezer to a surge protector. The reason we do not recommend this is explained below: The compressor is sensitive to temperature and current overloads and will shut itself down with a power surge.Which is better surge protector or circuit breaker? ›
Circuit breakers keep wires from starting a fire. Circuit breakers are necessary. Surge protectors protect electrical appliances from voltage spikes. Surge protectors are optional, but highly recommended in Florida due to high number of lightning strikes in the area per year.Do laptops need surge protectors? ›
When you charge your phone or computer during a power surge, you'll absolutely want to use a power strip surge protector to ensure you can continue using your gadgets in the aftermath. Your laptop may not power up: During a power surge, it's possible that your laptop's motherboard could be hit by excess electricity.What is the difference between a surge protector and a voltage protector? ›
A: A surge suppressor blocks or shunts high voltage spikes in the AC power line in order to protect sensitive electronic components. A voltage regulator takes incoming AC voltage and stabilizes it, which can provide significantly improved and more reliable performance from an audio or video system.What is the difference between Type 1 2 & 3 surge arresters? ›
Type 1 & 2 surge arresters are installed directly under the incoming breaker. We use Type 1 when there is a lightning bolt installed on the building roof. When there's not, we use Type 2. Type 3 is installed in parallel with the sensitive loads ( Computers, printers...etc. )
A common power strip can power up to six devices. Using the chart below, you can see that a power strip used to power a lamp, radio, computer, printer, and two monitors can draw from 1210 to 1660 watts. A 15-amp circuit will only provide 1,800 watts and the recommended 80% circuit load is only 1,440 watts.What happens when you overload a surge protector? ›
Every power strip has a load capacity, which means it can only move so much power through its circuits at any given time. Overloading the strip can create a fire hazard, melting the plastic and damaging your home or business as well as any surrounding equipment.Does voltage matter on a surge protector? ›
A surge protector will also have a suppressed voltage rating. That ranges all the way from 330 volts to 4,000 volts. You might think you'd want the 4,000 volts, but you don't. The lower that rating, the better the protection against power surges.Is 1500 watts too much for an outlet? ›
Some recommend each outlet or circuit should not exceed 1,500 watts. Major appliances (refrigerators, dryers, washers, stoves, air conditioners, etc.) should be plugged directly into their own wall outlet since they are heavy power users.How do I know if my surge protector is overloaded? ›
If your power strip or surge protector feels hot to the touch, this is a sign that too many devices are plugged in and something should be removed from the strip. Watch for any burn marks or melted plastic on any of the components, and never put the cord for the strips under a rug or carpeting.What type of surge protector is best for computers? ›
2,000+ joules: Surge suppressors with over 2,000 joules of protection should be considered for your most important, and expensive, devices, such as computers, home theaters, gaming consoles and more.Do modern computers need surge protectors? ›
Laptops and desktop computers are both packed with voltage-sensitive components that a power surge could easily damage. Without a surge protector, a power spike or power surge could shorten the life of your computer, wipe out all of your data, or even completely destroy your system.What kind of damage can a power surge do to a computer? ›
A power surge occurs as soon as the flow of electricity gets interrupted and started again. This places electrical pressure on the wires in your computer, causing them to heat up and burn. Some wires may melt, and even if your computer survives the surge, the strain alone can cause damage in the long run.How many amps do I need in a surge protector? ›
If you're using the power strip for computers, TVs and stereos, then either 15 or 20 amps will be plenty of power. Be wary of plugging power strips into other power strips because you could easily draw more amps than available.Is 1000 joules surge protector enough? ›
Units with surge protector ratings of 1000 to 2000 joules will provide sufficient protection for power tools and office equipment such as printers, copiers and routers. Consider the highest joule ratings—2000 and above—for home theater components, gaming consoles and any computer that stores important data…
The recommended minimum protection from a whole-house system is 40,000 amps, though many are much higher. A lightning strike is usually around 30,000 amps.How many joules is the average lightning strike? ›
The average lightning strike contains about 1 million joules, enough energy to fry the founding father in his boots. “The typical house in the U.S. has 100 amp service or about 28 horsepower,” says Kirtley.What happens if a surge protector is overloaded? ›
Every power strip has a load capacity, which means it can only move so much power through its circuits at any given time. Overloading the strip can create a fire hazard, melting the plastic and damaging your home or business as well as any surrounding equipment.What is a good voltage for a surge protector? ›
A lower clamping voltage is preferred, and the best surge protectors do not exceed 400 volts.How often should a surge protector be replaced? ›
Most estimates put the average lifespan of a surge protector at three to five years. And if your home is subject to frequent brownouts or blackouts, you might want to replace your surge protectors as often as every two years.How can you tell the difference between a surge protector and a power strip? ›
One good way to tell is by flipping the strip over (don't do this if it is plugged in!) Generally, surge protectors will have information on the back about the Joule rating or other protection capabilities. If none of this information is present, it's most likely just a power strip.Where is the best place to install a surge protector? ›
As most surge protectors are installed in parallel to the power panels, normally the best place to install the device is on the main service or panel feeding the facility.What is the 30 second rule for lightning? ›
When You See Lightning, Count The Time Until You Hear Thunder. If That Is 30 Seconds Or Less, The Thunderstorm Is Close Enough To Be Dangerous – Seek Shelter (if you can't see the lightning, just hearing the thunder is a good back-up rule). Wait 30 Minutes Or More After The Lightning Flash Before Leaving Shelter.What's the most times a human has been struck by lightning? ›
Roy Cleveland Sullivan (February 7, 1912 – September 28, 1983) was an American park ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Between 1942 and 1977, Sullivan was claimed to have been hit by lightning on seven occasions, surviving all of them.Why can't we harness lightning? ›
No existing battery could survive this onslaught; batteries need to charge up more slowly. Then, even if we could design a battery that would not be vaporized by the strike, all the lightning in the world would still power only a small fraction of households.