How to Shop for Surge Protectors

The Workbench Life: Baby Blogs

By Leah B. Newman for The Workbench Life

Your computer, home electronics, and even  workbench tools, are all investments. Surge protectors protect your electronic investments, just like insurance protects your car and home, so it’s vital to know that it’s giving you what you need.

Surge protection options

Surge protector strips detect voltage surges and divert the surge back to the outlet’s ground wire. When shopping for a strip, the most important thing to look for is the clamping voltage of the device. This tells you how much voltage is allowed through before protection kicks in. Electricians recommend choosing a surge protector under 400 volts.

A battery backup system is costlier, but keeps your electronics running in the event of a power outage. (This is especially useful when paired with a computer, as it prevents files from getting lost.) In a battery backup system, the outlet charges the battery instead of powering the electronics directly. Because the electronics run on battery power all the time, they cannot be affected by surges. Battery backup systems are rated just like surge protectors, and should be 400 volts or less.

Whole-house systems are installed between the electric meter and the home’s main electrical panel. These systems offer the greatest level of protection, but they cannot stop surges that are created by appliances inside the home.

Surge protector longevity

There is no hard and fast rule about how long surge protection strips provide security, but they do wear out. A single large surge can blow a brand new surge protector, or they can lose effectiveness after hundreds of small surges.

Most surge protectors have a diagnostic LED light to let you know the strip is doing its job. As long as it is plugged into a grounded outlet and has not received too many voltage surges, the indicator light should show you that it is working.

Final thoughts

So what do professionals use? An electrician I consulted with recommends purchasing a whole-house unit and pairing it with battery backup systems and surge protector strips. Whole-house protection may seem like an expensive option, but these units can cost as little as $50. Installation will cost you more because they have to be attached to the main ground of your house — but it’s still cheaper than replacing all of your electronics.

Use battery backup units with your most sensitive equipment. This includes computers, new televisions, and any device with a microprocessor. Other appliances can be plugged into traditional surge protection strips. This gives your devices double protection and is the best way to prevent damage from surges.

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Leah Newman, an
alumna of the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia,
has written for United Way Worldwide, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Daily Glow, and a number of other online
and print publications.