Most of us have more devices and appliances than plugs on the wall. That is why you’re likely to find a surge protector behind most people’s HDTV’s and sound systems, as well as under their workstations.
What is a surge protector?
A surge protector is something that protects your appliances and electronic devices from power surges or voltage spikes.
When do you need a surge protector?
All home appliances, devices and electronics are prone to experience power surges. If a power surge goes a bit too high, it can cause a major (or even permanent) damage to your appliances and devices by frying the circuits or melting the plastic.
If you’re using a lot of devices and ever worrying about them getting zapped by a power surge, then you’ll definitely need a surge protector.
How does a surge protector work?
A standard surge protector typically transfers the electrical current along the outlet to several devices that are plugged into the power strip. If the voltage happens to reach a certain point, the surge protector will simply divert the extra electricity with the help of what is basically a pressure-sensitive valve.
With the correct voltage, electricity will flow as though as normally; but with the voltage spike or surge, the surge protector will immediately kick in, redirecting the excess.
What is the difference between a surge and a spike?
When the voltage increase lasts only one or two nanoseconds, it’s called a spike. But when the voltage increase lasts three nanoseconds and above, it’s called a surge. That’s it – that’s the difference. But with even those minuscule nanoseconds – even just billionth of a second – they can cause major or even permanent damage on your electronics especially if the surge goes high enough.
Once you’ve learned the basics about surge protectors – while finally realizing that you’re using more devices than you can imagine – you’ll probably go to an online store and immediately place an order.
But before you get to purchase one, first things first: It is important to know that not all surge protectors are created equal. Some may even put your devices at risk.
It is helpful to read online guides or better, talk to a professional (preferably a qualified electrician) to help you buy the right surge protector for your needs.
1. Know the difference between surge protectors and power strips
First of all, you’ll need to understand that not every power strip is a surge protector.
Power strips are usually cheap, multi-outlet devices that are mere extensions of a wall outlet. They usually have a circuit breaker, or “on/off” switch of some kind, but most of them do not offer real protection from voltage spikes or power surges. While some power strips may offer some level of protection to your devices, most of them are pretty much like outlets, only they’re not fixed onto the wall.
2. Buy the right number of ports
It is good to know that you should buy a surge protector that will exactly serve your power needs. However, don’t assume that every surge protector on the market has six or eight ports the most. Some models have 10 to 12 ports, and they are well-spaced so that you can use them all. Buying the one with the right number of ports ensures that you don’t have to create a (potentially dangerous) “daisy chain” of surge protectors.
3. Consider the device you’re going plug into the surge protector
Think about all the gear you’re going to plug into the surge protector that you’re planning to buy. While you can buy the one that you can afford, you’re going to save some money if you buy a surge protector that’s appropriate for the equipment that will be powered. For example, your HDTV or home entertainment center will need a more robust surge protector than your lamp or smartphone charger.
4. Check for the UL safety seal
Make sure that the surge protector you’re planning to purchase is certified safe by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). To be considered safe, a surge protector must at least meet the 1449 UL standards, which is required for the label “transient voltage surge suppressor”. These specifications will make sure that the surge protector you’re going to buy will actually protect your electronic devices you plug into it, and not put them at risk.
5. Know a surge protector’s joule rating
A surge protector offers protection in amounts called joules. Its joule rating or absorption rating represents how much energy it can absorb before it fails (and your gear will now be in danger). The higher number of joules, the better protection that a surge protector provides to your device.
Surge protectors don’t normally display how many joules of protection are left, but most models feature a LED indicator that lets you know that protection is there. Once the light goes off, it’s an indication that a surge protector should be replaced before it can inflict serious damage to your devices. However, these lights might be ignored or cannot be immediately seen when surge protectors are placed behind a home entertainment system or under a work desk.
No surge protector lasts forever. The parts and components inside it wear down over time, thus reducing its effectiveness. If your current unit has been in use for a number of years, then it’s time to invest on a new surge protector – it will bring you a greater peace of mind.
6. Check the warranty
Some models offer a warranty (up to a certain amount) on the device connected to them if a voltage spike or power surge does get through. Check to see what the warranty covers (and what it doesn’t) and how you can file a warranty claim in the event the device fails to protect.
The best surge protectors on the market:
If you really care for your electronic devices, you’ll want nothing less than a surge protector that will keep your devices safe from power surges as much as possible.
The Tripp Lite TLP1008TEL will do just that. It has ten outlets, with six packed together and four spaced out, allowing you to keep the larger plugs away from the rest so that you can actually use all of the plugs.
It also offers a pretty impressive 2,880 joules of protection, allowing you to get plenty of use out of it. Like many other surge protectors on the market, the Tripp Lite TLP1008TEL has a LED indicator to let you know how much protection is left.
If you place great emphasis on aesthetics, you might consider the Austere VII Series Surge Protector. With an overall elegant design (the braided cord looks nice), this surge protector will look great for your stylish home office space or sleek home entertainment nook.
And it’s not just pretty – it also has all the things that you are looking for in a surge protector. It boasts eight outlets, two USB-A and two USB-C ports, and one 45-watt, high-powered USB-C port (for faster charging). It is built to handle a remarkable 4,000 joules of surge suppression. Its own PureFiltration technology insulates the power signal from external EMI and RFI disturbances to deliver video and audio clarity to your HDTV and sound system.
For its impressive features and a knock-out design, it’s not surprising that it doesn’t come cheap. It is priced at least $200 (see Amazon listing). But if you want a premium surge protector that’s dependable – not to mention attractive – to protect your expensive electronics, you won’t mind shelling out a lot of money for this one.
From the most expensive surge protector on the list, now we move to the cheapest option – Amazon’s own eight-outlet surge protector. For less than $20, it can get the job done in protecting your precious electronics and devices.
It is rated for a surprisingly beefy 4500 joules, so it should last you for a long time. It’s an extra value out of your purchase. Its eight ports allow you to keep a few gadgets and devices safe with it. The spacing between the ports is quite nice, so that a couple of oversized charging bricks won’t have to be a snag to their neighboring ports.
If you want a comprehensive surge detector, the APC Surge Arrest P11VNT3 will be your guy. It has a total of 11 outlets, plus ports for coaxial, DSL/telephone and RJ-11 cables.
The 11 outlets are laid out in a wedge formation. Six of them are on the bevel (three on each side) and spaced far apart enough to accommodate bigger plugs and adaptors. All of the outlets are equipped with sliding safety shutters.
Its eight-foot cord has a fully rotating shoulder where it connects to the power strip, allowing you to orient it in any direction without bending or kinking it. The APC SurgeArrest packs a decent 3200 joules of protection. It features a light indicator that lets you know about its “protection” status.
At present there is only a handful of surge protectors on the market that cater to devices with jumbo plugs, adaptors and transformers. If you are looking for such a surge protector, we’ve got the perfect recommendation: the Belkin PivotPlug BP112230-08.
It boasts a total of 12 outlets – four in a standard spacing down the middle, and then four more on each side that can also pivot to 90 degrees. With this surge protector, you can connect virtually every type of oversized plugs. It also has a cord management clip that helps keep cables tidy and organized, preventing them from getting tangled.
While this surge protector doesn’t have a resettable circuit breaker, it packs a hefty 4320 joules. Once it fails, the Belkin PivotPlug BP112230-08 continues to deliver power after its ability to protect is used up.