While conflated with the abilities of a power strip, surge protectors are electrical panels that offer more than just additional outlets. Surge protectors are an affordable way of protecting your electronic devices from unexpected power surges that can lead to irreversible electrical damage. In some cases, they may be called surge suppressors. This blog will cover how surge protectors work to guard your appliances and how to utilize them to mitigate the possibilities of a fire.
To understand the fundamental job of surge protectors, you must understand how they work and what a power surge is. A power surge is an increase in the amount of voltage traveling through electrical devices that surpasses the standard voltage level of 120 volts. Some of the instances in which a power surge may occur include the use of high-powered devices, bad wiring, unprecedented lightning, or an issue with a utility company’s equipment.
Typically, a power surge is not detected until the user realizes a device has stopped working. Other than the potential for a fire, most power surges go undetected. With this in mind, your home may experience hundreds of electrical surges throughout the year without any visible damage. Power surges can heat up wires and components within electronics, and can cause them to burn out. While surges do not always break electronic devices, they can put excess strain on these components and reduce their service life.
A surge protector guards against the aforementioned damage that power surges can cause. The surge protector works by pulling current from one outlet and delivering it through the devices you have plugged into it. Surge protectors contain a metal oxide varistor, or MOV, which diverts all extra voltage to ensure devices receive a consistent level of power.
MOVs work similar to pressure-sensitive valves. As the MOV detects high voltage levels, it reduces resistance. If voltage levels are too low, it increases resistance. Moreover, it will activate to redirect excess voltage. A MOV consists of three components, including metal oxide that is connected to your power and grounding line by two semiconductors. Each semiconductor has varying resistances that cause the electrons to move to change the resistance when the voltage is too high or too low.
As previously mentioned, surge protectors and power strips are often conflated. While they may look alike, they are very different. Both provide multiple outlets, though only a surge protector guards against power surges. A power strip is a low-cost, multi-outlet strip tasked with expanding your wall outlet. Additionally, it usually has a circuit breaker with an ON/OFF switch, but it does not stop or reduce electrical problems.
It is important to note that surge protectors have a level of protection measured in joules. This joule rating indicates how much energy the surge protector can absorb before failing. When the joule rating is high, the surge protector provides greater protection by handling a single large power surge or many smaller surges. That being said, prioritizing which devices you are connecting to your surge protector is paramount.
Newer appliances are generally more sensitive to power surges due to the smaller components they have and their fragility. Some devices that can be protected by a surge protector include computers, televisions, microwaves, modems/routers, video game systems, and high-end audio equipment. However, it is important to keep in mind that surge protectors do not always work, thus, do not assume your devices are 100% protected from surges while being connected to surge protectors.
While there are many reasons why a surge protector fails, selecting one with an indicator light lets you know when the MOV has worn out. Also, surge protection cannot guard against lightning, so if you need protection against lightning or other serious surges, you can invest in a whole-house surge suppressor for the main electrical panel in your home. When selecting a surge protector, you should think about what it is you want to protect, how many outlets or ports you need, take advantage of warranties, confirm that it has an indicator light, and verify that it is a transient voltage surge protector.
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