All types of surge protectors guard against power surges and spikes, but there are differences. Find out which is the best one for your needs with this guide.
Surge protectors help protect electronic equipment, including computers, televisions, home theaters, game systems and appliances, from electrical surges and spikes — increases in normal electrical line voltage. Surges carry less voltage than spikes, but can last longer — up to a few seconds. They're often the result a sudden change in demand for electricity, such as appliances or equipment that draw a lot of power — air conditioners, furnaces, refrigerators or laser printers, for example — turning on or off. Spikes are much shorter in duration. They last only fractions of seconds, but can carry thousands of volts. Spikes can result from storms or problems on power lines — such as shorts caused by downed trees or limbs.
Both surges and spikes can damage electronic equipment beyond practical repair — either instantaneously or over time. Even small surges or spikes can eventually destroy or affect the performance of electronic equipment, Surge protectors, also known as surge suppressors, absorb and channel damaging excess voltage away from devices connected to them. However, they have a limited capacity to absorb. Once the capacity is reached, the unit can no longer protect your equipment and should be replaced.
There's a difference between a basic power strip or multi-plug adapter and a surge protector. Power strips and adapters offer additional outlet space, but provide no surge protection. You can identify surge protectors by the ratings for joules and voltage protection on the packaging.
You can also find whole-house surge protectors designed to be connected at your electrical service panel.
Surges and spikes aren't limited to electrical lines. They can travel along any wiring. Some surge protectors — such as those designed for home entertainment systems or home offices — have connections that provide protection on other lines. Coaxial (coax), phone cord and Ethernet cable connections allow you to protect devices such as telephones, modems and computer networking devices, as well as cable and satellite equipment. Note that digital satellite lines cannot connect to standard coaxial cable jacks.
Understanding common specifications and knowing what features to look for can help you choose the best surge protector for your devices:
While many surge protectors alert you when they are no longer protecting connected devices, consider replacing your surge protectors every couple of years to make sure they offer the best protection possible.
Follow the surge protector manufacturer's instructions for use and safety.