Power Strips vs. Surge Protectors: What You Need to Know to Stay Protected

With all the electronic devices we use in our homes and offices, we often don’t have enough electrical outlets to plug them all into. Power strips offer a solution, enabling a single outlet to handle multiple devices. But if you don’t choose one that also offers surge protection, you could be putting your devices at risk.

A basic power strip does nothing more than expand the number of devices you can plug into a single wall outlet. They come in various models, offering an additional four, six or more outlets in a single strip.

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Surge protector – more than a power strip

A surge protector, on the other hand, is a power strip that also protects the devices plugged into it from short bursts of power – surges – that are higher in voltage than the devices can handle. Surges can result from a number of causes, including:

  • Normal operation of household appliances, such as when an air conditioner or refrigerator kicks on
  • Utility companies working on lines
  • Lightning strikes
  • Man-made issues, such as a car striking a utility pole
  • Weather-related events, including hurricanes and blizzards that damage power lines

Surges are more common than you might think. Consider weather-related surges alone. It’s estimated that 25 million lightning strikes occur every year in the U.S., resulting in some 213,000 lightning-related insurance claims. At any given moment, there are 1,800 thunderstorms occurring somewhere on the planet. And lightning can strike within 10 miles of any one of those storms.

The inherent danger in power surges 

Surges associated with lightning or utility issues travel along utility lines – both electrical and cable TV – and into the wiring in your home or office. They can damage or destroy electronic devices that are left unprotected. Even small surges can degrade the performance of electronic devices and decrease their lifespan. If you think about all the money you’ve spent on electronics – from televisions and home entertainment systems to smart devices, phones, tablets and even refrigerators – there’s a lot to lose to a power surge.

A surge protector offers protection. They can save you money by protecting data against corruption or loss, and reducing the need to repair or replace damaged electronics. Some companies, including APC by Schneider Electric, even offer warranties and equipment protection policies. They protect you in the event a device protected by a surge protector suffers damage from a power surge.

That can happen if the surge protector isn’t powerful enough to handle a given surge. Surge protectors come with different levels of surge absorption capabilities, as measured in joules. Generally, you’ll want the more powerful surge protectors for your most valuable devices, or the devices that hold valuable data.

Features to look for in a surge protector

In addition to the joule rating, other features to look for in a surge protector include protection for telephone and data lines, which can likewise be subject to surges. If you use a surge protector for your home theatre system, for example, make sure it also offers protection for your cable line.

Some surge protectors also have USB ports, so you can safely charge phones and tablets. If you plug the charger directly into a wall outlet, such devices would be subject to damage from a surge.

Another handy feature is having master and control ports on the surge protector. Say you have a television connected to an Xbox gaming device and speakers. If you plug the TV into the master and the Xbox and speakers into the control outlets, whenever the TV is turned off, power to the other two devices will be cut as well – saving you from kids who will unfailingly forget to turn them off, for example.

If you have devices that use the bulky transformer-type plugs, you may want a block outlet that swivels, so the transformer doesn’t block other outlets. Some surge protectors also have safety shutters to cover outlets that aren’t being used, to protect them from small children, for example.

Learn More About Protection for Your Electronic Devices

Buying a surge protector rather than a simple power strip is a small investment that can pay big dividends by protecting your electronic devices. To learn more, visit our home solutions page, where you’ll find information on our surge protectors and other home power protection products that bring Certainty to a Connected World.

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