Surge Protectors – Are They Necessary?

lightning strike

Do I Really Need One?

Surge Protectors can be one of those over-looked items that we don’t always think of while purchasing our beautiful flat panel TV, that is until the sales associate ask… do you have a surge protector at home? At that moment you may ask yourself… do I really need one? In my own opinion, you do need surge protection. What type is what matters most.

What is a Surge?

Before we talk about what type of surge protection you need, lets first define what a surge is. A surge is an increase in the electrical charge in a power line, which in turn increases the current that flows to your wall outlets in your home.

What causes a surge? Lightning from storms do cause electrical surges but not as often as you think. But when they do happen, most surge protectors will not be able to handle the extreme voltages that lightning produces and will fail to protect your devices. The best way to protect your devices during a lightning storm is to unplug them from your wall outlet.

The biggest cause of electrical surges in your home are electrical devices that require lots of power particularly during start-up. Ever notice how your lights my dim briefly when your A/C cycles on – this is an electrical surge caused by the huge demand of power that your A/C places on the power grid. These type of power surges are not always problematic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Another type of commonly encountered surge is from power grid fluctuations. These type of surges will not always case harm and often go unnoticed.

The Difference Between Surge Protectors and Power Strips

There is a common misconception that surge protectors and power strips are the same type of device. The fact is they are entirely different.

A power strip is a device that looks similar to a surge protector that contain a series of electrical outlets contained in an electrically shielded case that will allow you to plug-in multiple devices at once.

The key difference is that power strips do not have any type of protection circuitry built-in to protect your devices, with the possible exception of a fuse which will not provide any surge protection.

Surge protectors however, do have the necessary circuitry to protect your devices.

What Type of Surge Protection do I Need?

Here we will talk about two types of surge protection: The first type is a “whole-house surge protection/suppressor” which is a piece of hardware that connects to your electrical system before the circuit breaker box within your home, and will protect your entire house from power line surges. This type of surge protector will give you better protection than a stand-alone surge protector that plugs into your wall outlet, simply due to the fact that all electrical points (outlets) are covered by this device. However, a whole-house surge protector will not protect against a surge that happens within your home unless it reaches the circuit breaker box. For this reason it is a good idea to have individual surge protection devices in all points of your home with electronics and appliances that require protection against surges.

The cost of a whole-house surge protection device varies from well under $100.00 to $250.00 or more. And installation is best left to a qualified electrician.

Monster Power HDP 850G Surge Protector

Monster Power HDP 850G
Surge Protector

For more practical reasons, most of us will opt for an individual (stand-alone) surge protector device that plugs into your wall outlet. These will give you decent protection. A word of WARNING! – No surge protector can give you 100% protection. How well these devices work will depend on how great a power line surge they encounter and their build quality. Small power line surges caused by appliances in our homes and power grid fluctuations should be no problem for these devices to handle.

Throughout the years I have personally never encountered a damaging power surge on any of my devices I deem important (TV’s, audio/video equipment and computers).  And for the record, I do use surge protectors on all of the devices listed above and none of them have ever sacrificed themselves to save my important devices. I will consider myself lucky – knock on wood.

However, I have a family member and a good friend that have not been as fortunate. They both have lost devices due to power surges. My sister lost a TV and a DVD player to a power surge caused by a severe thunder and lightning storm. My friend had a power line (grid) electrical surge that fried his brand new plasma HDTV. He didn’t have a surge protector installed. I have since advised him to do so. My sister did have one installed but it was no match for such an extreme lightning strike.

What You Should Look For:

These are some key areas you should focus on when looking for the right surge protector:

  • UL rating – Make sure the protector you purchase has been tested by Underwriters Laboratories. This non-for-profit organization does safety test and certification for electronic devices.
  • Clamping voltage – This is the voltage peak at which protection will kick in and redirect excess electricity away from your devices.  A range of 300 to 400 volts is good. The lower the value the better. These values can often be found on the back of a surge protector.
  • Joules (energy) – This rating which is stated in joules tells you how much energy the surge protector can absorb before it burns out and is no longer useful. Look for a rating of at least 200 to 400 joules. 600 joules or more will provide better protection.
  • Response time – Surge protectors have a very short delay before they respond to a surge. A longer response time means your devices are exposed to a surge for a greater amount of time. Look for a surge protector with a response time of less than one nanosecond (one billionth of a second).

    Tripp-Lite AV88SATG Surge Protector Photo credit: Tripp-Lite

    Tripp-Lite AV88SATG
    Surge Protector
    Photo credit: Tripp-Lite

In addition, be sure the protector has an indicator light (s) that shows it’s working properly. If the devices you are protecting have phone lines, Ethernet cable (for connection to a computer network) and coax cable (for satellite and cable TV), you want a surge protector that will allow for these type of connections to protect those devices.

Here are links to a few manufactures that provide quality surge protectors available at Amazon.

Tripp Lite

Belkin

Monster Power

Conclusion

All of our electronics and appliances in our homes are subject to power line surges. And due to this fact, I believe surge protection is necessary, but its up to you to protect the devices you value most. Whether it be a whole-house surge protection system or individual surge protection devices, choose what best suits your needs. And remember, there is no guarantee that even the best surge protection will keep your devices safe from harmful electrical power surges. But its better to err on the side of caution than to leave yourself at risk.

Have you ever been subject to a damaging power surge?


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2 comments

  • Thanks for the info. I had no idea about the difference between a surge protector and a power strip.
    I think I unknowingly had electrical devices at my home damaged before. We had a power outage and our power seemed to go off and on for a couple hours.
    I thought my stuff was safe but it turned out I was just using power strips in my home.
    My computer did not work the next day and I was told by my technician that I wasn’t using a surge protector which could of saved my power supply in my computer 🙁

    Wish I would of read this sooner, but nonetheless great article!

    • Thanks for checking out this article, and glad I was able to clarify the difference between a surge protector and a power strip. Sorry to hear about your computer. The odds are a surge protector would have prevented you computer from being damaged from the power line surge you most likely experienced. However, moving forward; I sincerely hope you will be using surge protection in your home.

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