Which means, you might think your appliances are protected against dangerous power surges when they really aren’t. But unlike a sponge, a surge protector can ’t just wring out all the voltage it’s absorbed and start fresh.
You see, every surge protector has a specific amount of voltage that it can absorb before it dies. Likewise, if a surge protector with 1,000 joules takes ten 100-joule hits, it won’t offer protection anymore and will need to be replaced.
Unfortunately, surge protectors aren’t designed to give you any indication of how many joules they have left. Some models use LED lights that cut off when they’re out of joules but these rarely work correctly.
And it’s impossible to estimate how many joules your surge protector should have left because it all depends on: These surge protectors protect against smaller voltage surges that are created inside the home, usually from larger appliances cycling on and off.
Our team of reliable electricians is ready to help protect your home and expensive electronics from dangerous electrical surges. First, though, let’s take a quick look at how surge protectors work and why they all eventually wear out.
Surge protectors have a limited supply of protection Every surge protector has a finite supply of protection that we measure in “joules”- a unit of energy (Every surge protector has its “joule rating” labeled on the device itself). And every time the surge protector absorbs excess electricity, it uses up more of its “joules” (a unit of energy).
For example, a surge protector with 2,000 joules will run out of protective power and need to be replaced after taking twenty 100-joule hits. Some models have flashing lights or beep when it’s worn out, but these features can ’t always be reliable.
However, we know this is an important question since your surge protector is likely protecting expensive appliances. So, to help you ensure that your electronics stay safe from dangerous voltage spikes, follow the tips below.
You can usually find a manufacturer’s equipment guarantee online if you’ve lost the paperwork or packaging for your surge protector. The general idea is that the longer you’ve had the surge protector, the less likely it’s still protecting your electronics.
Replace the device if you find out if isn’t rated correctly for the appliance(s) it protects. The general rule of thumb is that the more expensive the electronic, the higher the protection it needs.
I live in an area that’s prone to frequent electrical storms, so I’ve always been fanatical about keeping my electronic stuff plugged into surge protectors. The protective components inside surge protectors work by shunting power surges to ground.
That’s what we want of course, but every voltage and current spike that a surge protector is subjected to damage those protective components to a certain extent. If the local power grid is relatively stable and electrical storms are rare, a surge protector can work well for years.
It’s important to also understand that a surge suppressor won’t protect your equipment from a direct lightning strike. If lightning directly strikes the power grid near your home, you’ll likely lose at least some of your surge protectors AND possibly everything that’s plugged into them.
Bottom line: If you live in area that gets hit with frequent thunderstorms, you’d be wise to replace your surge protectors at least every other fall. And you should replace them immediately if your house’s power grid receives a direct lighting strike.
When it comes time to replace your surge protectors, you’ll be able to find them at almost any local retailer that sells electronic gear. With an incredible range of prices and features, not to mention a barrage of questionable marketing promises, it's hard to figure out what's worth the money, and what's nonsense.
Typically, power strips are cheap, multi-outlet products that are merely an expansion of a wall outlet. These usually have a circuit breaker (on/off switch) of some sort, but most don't offer any real “protection” from electrical issues.
Over time, the parts inside the protector wear down, reducing its effectiveness. To get some answers, the Wire cutter did a massive test on surge protectors, essentially blowing them up to see how well they worked.
There are a number of products on the market that claim to “condition” the power from the wall, promising improved performance in your gear. All electronics have a power supply that takes the incoming wall current (120v in the US), filters it for noise, and converts it into whatever the device needs.
If you want total protection, consider that phone and cable lines can carry power spikes too. Many surge protectors come with USB connections, so you can charge your mobile devices without having to use a wall warts.
Eve Systems While not offering much protection, a portable power strip might prevent marital friction, and/or invoke bliss from travel companions. Most portable power strips add two to three additional outlets, plus offer direct USB charging (see number 8).
If you know you've had a serious electrical event (like lighting blew out a transformer down the street), it's probably worth replacing your surge protector just in case. If you live in an area with lots of thunderstorms, your gear is probably more likely to experience power surges.
Even if you live in the desert, your A/C or refrigerator could kick power spikes back down the lines to your A/V gear. We don't currently have recommendations for specific surge protectors, but you can find plenty of options for as little as $20 or less at Amazon.
Note that CNET may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site. But, if you’re still using an old surge protector you purchased ten years ago, it’s probably long pastime to replace it.
These devices sit between the electrical socket and your gadgets, protecting them from any power surges and ensuring they receive a consistent voltage of electricity. It’s possible for a voltage spike caused by an issue in the power grid to damage your expensive electrical equipment, and that’s what surge protectors are designed to stop.
When they receive a power surge from the electrical outlet they’re plugged into, they have to do something with that extra voltage to get rid of it and shield the connected devices from it. A typical surge protector uses a component called a metal oxide variety (MOVE).
It’s practically impossible to tell exactly when a surge protector stops functioning as intended. Some surge protectors have built-in lights that are designed to alert you to this problem and inform you when the protector needs to be replaced.
But don’t assume your decade-old surge protector is still working properly because the warning light hasn’t come on yet. He's written about technology for nearly a decade and was a World columnist for two years.
Chris has written for The New York Times, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than 500 million times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
Living in a world powered by electronics, most households have at least one surge protector for their computers, entertainment centers, mobile devices or kitchen appliances. To make sure your surge protectors are keeping your devices safe, without potentially causing devastating damage to your home, we’ve compiled a list of essential safety tips.
The Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and Internet ETL certifications help you ensure you’re buying a surge protector that’s been tested and inspected by professional safety organizations. These certifications demonstrate that the surge protector meets electrical safety standards in the U.S. You can identify UL and ETL-certified surge protectors by looking for the logo on the device, checking the owner’s manual or inspecting the device’s packaging.
When you overload a surge protector, you can trip the circuit breaker or blow a fuse. Repeatedly overloading your surge protector can cause greater, more expensive damage to your home’s electrical system or even spark a fire.
This electrical current overload can result in a fire or can cause a circuit breaker to trip, de-energizing computers and other equipment throughout the area that are connected to a surge protector.” It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day life and forget about the surge protector that’s been hiding behind your entertainment center since you bought your television years ago.
Blankets, rugs and pillows prevent surge protectors from expelling heat generated by electrical energy. In case of an electrical malfunction, you want to keep flammable materials as far from surge protectors as possible.