Surge Protectors: The How and the Why

Surge Protectors: The How and the Why

Range Govindan
Jul 26, 2011
Q: I’m not very tech-savvy, but I'm surrounded by gadgets. I’m wondering what kind of surge protectors I should buy to keep them all safe. My apartment is very old with limited outlets, and I worry about my iMac and soon-to-arrive Samsung 40" LCD HDTV. Any advice? Marlene - In the bedroom I have a 20” iMac, printer, lamp, fan, router, and alarm clock/radio all connected to the same outlet through power strips. This is also where cellphones usually get charged. The living room has only ONE outlet, which powers the stereo/record player, two lamps, fan, dvd player, cable box, and now the Samsung [TV], plus the MacBook usually gets charged here.

What type of surge protectors should I use in these two rooms to protect my devices? What should I look for in terms of power, joules, etc? I’ve searched online and the terminology overwhelms me. Any advice, especially for specific products?

A: Power surges happen when there's an unexpected spike in the voltage supplied by an electrical source. It's usually a quick event that doesn't last long, but it can fry your electronics if you're not careful enough. While you'd expect lightning strikes to be responsible for power surges, the most common ones are caused by downed power lines, short circuits, tripped circuit breakers, and a sudden change in electricity usage. This could be caused by a nearby factory or by the on/off cycle of a large appliance on the same power line, i.e. a refrigerator or a dryer.

Power surges can damage electronics, from frying circuit boards, crashing hard drives, and effectively ruining any device that's wired into your power grid. Even if your tech isn't turned on, it could end up damaged. If your devices survive a power surge, there might be some invisible damage that will shorten their life.

Surge protectors and power strips with surge protection is a good way of protection your electronics against small voltage spikes. Surge protectors will divert the excess power into the ground wire. While getting a standalone surge protector, and maybe even some UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) for each and every outlet might be the best solution, it can get complicated and expensive quickly. If you are a home owner, you could also protect your whole home, with surge protection.

The joule rating shows you how much power the surge protector can handle before collapsing under a power surge. The higher the number, the better. Some surge protectors are only good for one power surge. Others can be used repeatedly with some minimal maintenance. In most homes, a rating of 600 joules is a good start, but when you plug in some pricey electronics, we suggest something with even more protection, at least in the neighborhood of 2000 joules.

This high number not only protects your devices, but also gives you access to a good warranty that most of these power surge manufacturers will include with their higher-end products. Expect to pay between $50 and $100 for these surge protectors, which double as power strips. The included warranties will cover between $10,000 to $500,000 worth of equipment.

These surge protectors need to be plugged in directly into the wall outlet, and each plug needs to be directly plugged into your device in order for maximum effectiveness and protection in case you wish to claim some damaged equipment under the included warranty. In Marlene's case, you'd need at least two of the following, one for each room. Depending on how many devices you have, you might even need an extra one so that all of you devices are plugged into the protected sockets of a surge protector.

1. Monster HTS 1000 MKIII: This is one of the better surge protectors models available, and it comes with a variety of features such as automatic disconnect when the power is switched off with connected devices, an audible alarm, and more. It's listed at $229.95, but you can get it at Amazon for $97.09. The warranty is for $350,000 and it has a massive 6125-joule protection. 2. Monster HTS 950: Similar to the HTS 1000, this model is somewhat less expensive but still gets the job done. Thanks to its warranty of $250,000, this slightly lower rated model will still give you peace of mind. It's listed at $149.95 but you can snag it for $64.35 on Amazon. It has a 2775 joules of protection. 3. PowerSquid Calamari: With a 3240-Joule protection and an intricate design, this surge protector/power strip will get the job done without too much of a fuss. Thanks to the way it was put together, it will allow you some new ways of managing your cables. The $500,000-warranty is also a good way of ensuring that your devices will be replaced in case of any power surge. It sells for $62.95. 4. Monoprice 8 Outlet Power Surge Protector: Here's our budget pick for a no nonsense surge protector from discount electronics retailer, Monoprice. The 8 outlet model is rated for 2100 joules and also comes equipped with 2 Built-In USB chargers and 5 individual switches for individual on/off control. There's no warranty like the models above, but it's just $18.59 and sports a 15A circuit breaker for overload protection.

Your Complete Guide to Power Surges
UPS via Surge Protectors
Philips 6 Outlet Surge Protector
Smart Power Strips
PowerSquid Surge Protector Calamari Edition Review

(Image: Flickr member DW5212 licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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