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The Smart Guide to Surge Protectors

We get it. This is boring. Surge protectors just aren’t as exciting as smart TVs, streaming devices, game consoles, and all that other fun stuff. But consider: suffer a power surge after plugging all that fun, expensive stuff directly into a wall outlet or through a poor surge protector, and you may end up with not so fun, expensive paperweights. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about surge protectors. 

Surge Protector vs. Power Strip

A surge protector (sometimes called a surge suppressor) isn’t the same as a power strip. A surge protector defends electrical devices from voltage spikes. A power strip is just a way to get more outlets. They don’t have any added protection. 

A power surge, or voltage spike, is when a lot of power comes through the power system at once. Power surges can be caused by things like lightning strikes, short circuits, tripped breakers, problems in the electrical network, and more. They’re rare, but not so rare that they can be ignored. 

The Right Number of Joules

When you buy a surge protector, the package should say how much protection you get over the surge protector’s lifetime. They offer this protection in joules. If your surge protector says it offers 5000 joules of protection, that means it can take ten 500 joule hits or one 5000 joule hit. The bigger the number, the more protection. Anything rated more than 3000 joules is probably enough for the average home entertainment centre. But again, if you have equipment more expensive than average (or far more devices than average), you might wantto spring for a tougher surge protector.  

Consider a Warning Alarm

Some surge protectors offer a warning alarm. This could be a sound that plays or a warning light that turns on when your surge protector is running out of protection. In our above example, the surge protector might turn on its warning light after it’s absorbed 4500 joules worth of power surges. At that point, you should get a new one. 

If your surge protector has no warning alarm, light, or other indicator, you’ll just have to guess if it’s still good enough to protect your stuff. In general, the older it is, the less protection it has left. 

Check “Clamping Voltage”

Clamping voltage is how much voltage will trigger the surge protector to start working to absorb power and prevent damage to your stuff. A lower number is fine here. For example, a clamping voltage of 300V means that the surge protector will start absorbing energy when it detects 300 volts of electricity. 

The Right Number of Ports

Count up the number of things you need to plug in and make sure the surge protector you’d like to buy has that number plus a couple of extra, since you never know when you’ll need to add a device. Also pay attention to the spacing of the ports. Some plugs are larger than average and need space to accommodate them. You also may want a surge protector with coaxial cable support or USB ports. 

Pay Attention to the “Protected Equipment Warranty”

If you want a warranty, make sure the warranty offered isn’t just for the surge protector itself. You want a protected equipment warranty. That is, you want a warranty that covers the equipment that might get damaged if the surge protector is faulty. 

Think About Your Gear

Things that are more expensive and more important will demand a better surge protector. If you have an entertainment centre you spent $5,000 on that includes a TV, game console, sound system, cable box, and Blu-ray player, a $100 surge protector is a good idea. The surge protector you buy for your garage chest freezer might not need to be at the same level. 

The Bottom Line

Don’t skimp on a good surge protector. If your gear, appliances, and equipment are important to you, get protection that reflects that importance.