Last month, we talked about whole house surge protectors, which are surge protectors that connect to your breaker box and protect your entire house from surges.  This month we will discuss dedicated surge protectors, which protect specific items from surges.

First, let’s review what a surge is.  A surge occurs when too much electricity (technically too much voltage) flows through to the item.  When that excess electricity reaches the item (let’s say a computer), it can cause extensive damage.  Surge protectors do what the name implies – they protect the item so the surge does not reach it.

When do you need a surge protector?

  • Computers.  Computers contain very delicate components that can be damaged by power surges.  If that happens, the best case is it will shorten the life of your computer.  The worst case is it can completely destroy the system and you will lose all your files.
  • Entertainment center components and other high-end electronic equipment.  These also contain delicate components that are easily damaged from power surges.
  • Appliances.  Newer kitchen appliances like refrigerators, specialty countertop appliances, and laundry appliances are much more sophisticated today, meaning the electronics are much more sensitive to surges.

Buying a surge protector

There are infinite numbers of surge protectors on the market, ranging from basic power strips costing $10 or less all that way up to uninterruptable power supply (UPS) protectors that can cost more than $100.

One important consideration is to check the protector’s Underwriters Laboratories (UL) rating.  Without getting too technical, make sure the protector meets UL 1449 standards, UL’s minimum performance standard for surge protectors.

You will also want to check a few ratings:

  • Clamping voltage indicates what voltage will trigger the surge protector (usually 330, 400 or 500 volts).  Generally, the lower the voltage the better, so if you can afford a model with a lower trigger, go for it.
  • Energy absorption/dissipation tells you how much energy the unit can absorb before it fails.  The higher the number, the greater the protection.  You will want at least 200 to 400 joules; 600 are even better.
  • Response time measures the amount of time it takes for the surge protector to respond; look for a response time of less than one nanosecond.

Here are some other things to consider:

  • Make sure the protector has an indicator light that tells you if it is functioning as a surge protector.  Surge protectors that also function as power strips can provide power even after they have lost their surge protection capability.
  • Look for a surge protector with a guarantee.  Some units provide guarantees to actually replace your computer.
  • If your computer is connected to the phone line via a modem, make sure you purchase a surge protector with a phone-line input jack.
  • Similarly, if you have a cable line hooked up to your entertainment system, consider a cable surge protector.