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Everything you need to know about surge protectors

Protect your electronics from getting fried

Illustration of power cords plugged into surge protectors. Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / Overearth

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Electronics like tablets, computers, gaming systems, and TVs are some of the most delicate and expensive belongings to replace.

During an electrical surge, these devices can randomly—and instantly—suffer extensive damage. Electrical surges can do everything from shortening the life of your electronics to ruining them beyond repair and recoverability.

A surge can happen for several reasons, like during a summer thunderstorm or lousy wiring. Since these situations often don’t come with a head’s up, proactively protecting your electronics with a surge protector is a good idea.

Here’s what you need to know before you buy a surge protector.

What is a surge?

Two surge protectors against a green background.
Credit: Reviewed / Belkin

Protect your electronics with a surge protector.

The circuits, wires, and devices in our homes can only handle certain amounts of electricity. Sometimes, extra electricity is forced into one of those circuits, causing what’s known as a surge.

The most well-known reason for this is a lightning strike; when lightning hits your house, all that electricity enters your electrical system and can overload any connected electronics.

However, smaller surges happen regularly in your house, caused primarily by larger appliances turning on and off. For the most part, these aren’t a problem, but over time can start to damage and degrade unprotected electronics.

What does a surge protector do?

A surge protector is large with multiple power outlets and plugs into a socket. Surge protectors are designed to absorb (and then redistribute) the excess electricity in a line from a surge.

When a surge goes through the wires, the protector captures that extra electricity and releases it into the ground wire, preventing it from reaching your devices. This can defend your devices like phones, laptops, televisions, and games systems from gradual degradation from small surges and catastrophic failure from a lightning-strike type surge.

Surge protector vs. power strip: Know the differences

A person plugs an electrical cord into a surge protector.
Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / Toa55

Surge protectors will absorb and redistribute excess electricity.

Not all power strips are surge protectors. A power strip gives you extra plugs into one outlet, allowing you to use more devices in one location. However, a basic power strip won’t provide any protection in the event of a surge.

Only surge protectors can do that, so make sure that’s what you’re buying.

Unplug electronics in a thunderstorm—even with a surge protector

Power strip-style surge protectors do protect against massive surges like lightning strikes. However, that protection is not 100%, and a large enough electrical surge can make it past many basic surge protectors.

They are a great line of defense against unexpected major surges, but if you know lightning is in the forecast, you should still play it safe and unplug your electronics.

Consider whole-home surge protection

Three white surge protectors against a green background.
Credit: Reviewed / Anker

Don't leave your electronics unprotected during electrical surges.

Whole-home surge protectors offer increased protection against lightning strikes or grid-initiated surges. It also safeguards hardwired devices, like heating systems and fire alarms, rather than plugged into an outlet.

Whole-home surge protectors are more expensive than a single power strip-style surge protector and typically need to be installed by a licensed electrician. A whole-home surge protector offers peace of mind that small, single-outlet units simply cannot.

Don’t leave your electronics unprotected and vulnerable to electrical surges. Always use a surge protector, and if you can, invest in both whole-home and individual outlet solutions.

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