Recommended by the National Fire Protection Association and the Institute for Business and Home Safety, surge protectors safeguard electrical devices in your home in the event of power spikes and surges.
But how does a surge protector keep your electrical appliances safe when all that amped-up energy attacks? The science behind the technology isn’t as hard to understand as you might think.
People sometimes confuse surge protectors with power strips, but they’re two very different technologies. It’s essential to learn the difference, as only one of them will protect your devices from a power spike!
You probably have a surge protector (or a few) around your home or office. They are a common way to add more outlets to an existing wall outlet while also protecting your electronics from power surges.
However, while power surge protectors are a helpful piece of equipment designed to protect your home, improper use can make them a hazard.
From the risk of fire to a protector that’s ready to retire from use, keeping an eye on these devices and following a few tips can keep your electronics, appliances, home, and office safe.
How Does A Surge Protector Limit The Voltage?
By blocking or shorting to the ground any dangerous voltages, the surge protector can maintain a safe voltage within your electrical system when power surges occur. If you don’t have a surge protector, voltage spikes can fry your electronics in a flash.
Your air conditioner and refrigerator may stop working a few days later for no apparent reason, and what’s worse is that it’s tough to prove that they died due to a power surge—so having those insurance policies that cover power surges, good luck filing a claim and winning.
You’ve heard the adage: “Prevention Is Key” right? Well, shielding your home or business from voltage spikes is a no-brainer on this one. But what happens when your lights flicker for a few seconds? What should you do? This is called a brownout and occurs when the power grid isn’t supplying enough voltage to your system.
What is a Brownout?
A brownout is the opposite of a power surge. When the voltage gets too low, this is a brownout. Whether intentional, such as a deliberate load reduction in an emergency (to prevent a complete grid blackout in your town), or unintentional, like a large facility powering on a large motor and drawing down the power grid, brownouts are not acceptable.
Brownout refers to the color of the bulbs dimming when the voltage drops. Brownouts can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours, depending on what’s causing it. Usually, the first sign of a brownout is the lights dimming.
What Should You Do First In A Brownout?
When a brownout occurs, the first thing you should do is save anything you are currently working on in your computer and power it down. Then focus on turning off your Air Conditioner, TV, Electronics, washer, dryer, and other large appliances… yes, even your vacuum.
This is to prevent that brownout on the power grid from becoming a complete blackout. It’s also to protect all those things that you don’t want to be fried and have to start replacing in the next few days.
While blackouts are rare (depending on where you live, of course), they are always a possibility. So powering down anything that you don’t want to replace is a good idea.
Why are Brownouts Bad?
Computers and other valuable electronic devices are sensitive. The irregular voltage can and will damage them fast. In the case of a brownout, power down all your electronics and unplug them. This will prevent them from receiving any low voltage them and destroying them.
Surge protectors won’t protect your electronics in a brownout (or low voltage situation). But, as the electricity starts powering back up, it’s common to see a power surge directly after a brownout. So having some surge protection on your property is essential.
This is where power strips are convenient. In a brownout (if you are lucky enough to be home when it occurs), You can quickly flip the switch and turn off all power to all the electronics plugged into the power strip. If the power comes back surging, your power strip will be ready to take the heat!
Choosing the Best Surge Protector For You
It can be difficult finding the right surge protector for your needs at a good value. What makes a surge protector good? And why are some surge protectors much more expensive than others? Are there any features you should be looking out for?
Let’s break down the basics to look out for when getting a surge protector.
Surge protectors only have a limited lifespan depending on how hard they work. Even when the surge protector properly diverts a surge, the protector itself can suffer damage in the process.
As such, one of the most important features is an indicator light. An indicator light will let you know that your surge protector is working fine. Is the indicator light not working? Time to buy a new surge protector.
As for protection power, good surge protectors will come with a UL rating and a rating put out by the independent Underwriters Laboratories that test electronic devices’ safety.
Don’t bother with a surge protector that doesn’t have a UL rating. Also, make sure that the product is a “transient voltage surge suppressor” as many UL-rated power strips still might not offer surge protection.
The clamping voltage is the measurement that prompts the surge protector to start redirecting the excess electricity away from the plugged-in devices. In other words, a surge protector with a lower clamping voltage will trigger earlier, thus protecting your devices quicker.
Any surge protector with a clamping voltage below 400 volts should be good enough for home use.
This is the maximum amount of energy the surge protector can absorb. If the surge breaches this maximum, it renders the surge protector useless.
The higher the joule rating, the more energy can be absorbed by the surge protector, so a higher joule rating will often indicate a longer lifespan for the product.
For best household protection, you’ll want a surge protector with a joule rating of at least 600.
The response time is how long it takes for the surge protector to detect a surge in electricity. A lower value means a faster response. This reduces the time that your plugged-in devices are exposed to the surge, thus protecting them better.
Ideally, you’ll want a surge protector with a response time of 1 nanosecond or faster.
What products should you use with surge protectors?
The essential products to plug into a surge protector are expensive electronic devices with microprocessors. Desktop computers, laptops, televisions, gaming systems, and charging phones should be plugged into a surge protector.
Although items like coffee pots or alarm clocks can feel like essential items to protect your home, they do not need surge protectors. While it is beneficial for all electronics to have the protection of a surge protector, only items that have sensitive microprocessors need surge protectors.
You’ll want to use surge protectors for complex and valuable electronics, such as computers, appliances, and media centers. Keep in mind that it’s not enough to have a surge protector; you need one that’s appropriately suited to your needs.