What is a Surge Protector?

EnergyCalendarMarch 12, 2019

Have you ever experienced an electrical surge? Has this ever affected any of your electronics?

Electrical surges can be costly. Especially if they end up overpowering your computer or some other expensive electronic device. You can protect yourself from these surges by getting a surge protector.

In this article, we’ll explain what a surge protector is, how they’re different from power strips, and what you need to know to buy the right one for your home.

What Is A Surge Protector?

A surge protector (also known as a surge suppressor) is an electronic device that’s used to help protect your other electronics from voltage spikes. Generally speaking, a surge protector looks like an extension cord with a plug at one end and a series of outlets on the other end.

Surge protectors are often confused for power strips, but the two are different.

Surge Protectors Vs Power Strips

Surge protectors and power strips look very similar. Ultimately, they’re both long extension cords that provide a series of extra outlets for you to plug in your belongings. That being said there are some differences.

The biggest difference is indicated by their names. Surge protectors are meant to help protect your electronics from excess electricity. If your home experiences a surge of electricity, the surge protector should help protect your electronics from overloading and possibly breaking.

Power strips, on the other hand, simply give you more places to plug in your electronics. A power strip can help you plug more electronics into a single outlet, but it will not protect those electronics from a possible surge.

So, if you’re just looking to increase the number of electronics you can plug into one place, a power strip is probably fine. But if you’re looking to protect those electronics from surges of electricity, you’ll want to invest in a surge protector. The packaging will explicitly say whether or not the cord you’re looking at is a surge protector.

Terms You Should Know

There are so many brands and models of surge protectors out there. It can get a little overwhelming if you’re looking for the best one for you and your electronics. How do you decide which surge protector is actually the best?

Here are a couple of terms that will help you more accurately compare surge protectors to one another.

UL rating - The “UL” in UL rating stands for Underwriters Laboratories. This independent organization tests different electronic devices including surge protectors to make sure they meet specific safety standards. The UL rating will give you a general idea of whether or not a surge protector is worth buying. At the very least, it will let you know if the company making that particular surge protector is willing to let their products undergo some sort of third-party testing to show that they meet specific safety standards. The UL rating is not the only metric you should measure surge protectors by though. You should also look at a surge protector's clamping ability and joule rating before making your final purchasing decision.

Clamping voltage - The clamping voltage (also called the clamping level) tells you how much voltage your particular surge protector has to experience before it will start protecting your electronics. The lower the clamping voltage, the sooner your surge protector will start protecting your electronics. So be sure to buy a surge protector with a low tolerance for excess electricity to best protect your electronic possessions. You can tell what your surge protector’s clamping voltage is by looking at the packaging. Be sure to compare multiple brands and models to find the best deal available.

Joule rating - Not only do you want a surge protector that will start suppressing excess electricity quickly, but you will want one that will be able to handle a lot of electricity before the surge protector itself gives out. That’s why you’ll want to look at the joule rating. The joule rating tells you how much energy your surge protector can absorb before it stops working. The higher the joule rating, the longer your surge protector will protect your electronics. You should look for a joule rating that is somewhere between 200 and 400 joules at least, but know that some surge protectors can go up to 600 joules or higher.

Clamping speed - Think of the clamping speed as your surge protector’s response time. There’s always going to be a slight delay between when the excess electricity hits your surge protector and when your surge protector starts clamping. Considering how fast electricity moves, it’s very important to get a surge protector with as short of a delay as possible. Sometimes it’s hard to find a surge protector with a clamping voltage that’s lower than 330 volts, which is what a personal computer would require. But even if you can find one, it’s not going to be very useful unless it has a fast clamping speed as well. Again, you can check the packaging to find the surge protector with the fastest clamping speed.

Hopefully, you’re now feeling more confident about your ability to choose the right surge protector for you and your home. Electricity surges don’t happen very often, but when they do, they can be incredibly expensive.

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