It’s a common problem in most households – electrical outlets! Who doesn’t look behind the TV unit and fear the bundle of cables coming from the TV, the DVD player, the video console, the list is endless. We plug “just one more” appliance in and hope that it doesn’t blow all our most expensive electronics. Unfortunately, many times we do it without paying attention to the difference between a surge protector and power strip.
Many of us will buy a power strip without thinking about the options available. There are many power strips and surge protectors that will improve the safety in our homes and/or the ability to reduce our electric consumption.
The average home normally has two outlets close together. We all know that this is rarely enough, so a few more outlets are necessary.
We are going to take a close look at power strips and surge protectors and in particular, look at the specific features that will reduce the risk of accidents in the home. In the first place, it is important to understand the difference.
Power strips and advanced power strips
What is a power strip?
A power strip is a device that you plug into your AC outlet in the wall. It has a long cable and many power outlets allowing you to distribute power to multiple appliances.
You will often have more room to place your appliances. There are many different power strips available, some have 4 outlets and others can have up to 8. A great feature you should look for is a USB outlet in the power strip.
Try to avoid buying a power strip before thinking about your needs. You should think about the length of the cord you require as well as the number of outlets you will need.
It is better to spend a little extra and has a few outlets free than not to have enough. As tempted as you are to plug one power source into another (also known as daisy-chaining power strips), it is strongly not recommended.
Now that you know what is a power strip, let’s take a look at a more advanced variation.
What is an advanced power strip?
Advanced power strips, or APSs, are designed to combat ‘Vampire Load’. This is literally an appliance or device that is switched off but still sucking up power. That consumption can cost up to $200 per year. An APS will shut off the power supply to those devices that are turned off.
Are they also surge protectors?
Now, this may sound like the beginning of a question on an IQ test but many are. However, that’s not always the case. Confused? Let me explain it better.
The two devices look very similar. And they are used for mainly the same reason, but not necessarily in the same way.
What is a Surge Protector?
You might be confused by thinking about what is a surge protector. A power strip is a device that will allow you to plug various appliances into one outlet.
Although a surge protector also has that advantage, the significant difference is that it will protect your electrical devices from voltage spikes. It’s the protection that makes all the difference.
The Ins And Outs Of Surge Protectors
How does a surge protector work
A standard home in the US has a voltage of 120 volts. Consider the voltage like electrical pressure.
The appliances will receive 120 volts of electrical pressure and whether it’s a charger or a TV, the machine will be fine. Occasionally, this amount of pressure is increased and here are some of the most common causes:
- Faulty wiring
- Restoration of power after a blackout
- Utility companies switching grids
Imagine the pressure of electricity flowing to all your electrical appliances after a blackout. It is possible that it will go over the standard 120 volts. And cause damage to your appliances.
Even if it doesn’t break them at that moment, it will cause the appliance or device damage and wear down over time.
Why do I need a Surge Protector?
You’re probably wondering “Why do I need a Surge Protector?”. Let’s answer that question right away.
Remember how does a surge protector work? Simply put, a surge protector will block the extra voltage, protecting your valuable appliances.
The main question to answer when deciding on buying a surge protector is to ask yourself what type of electrical appliance or device you are plugging into the outlet.
A power strip is probably enough if you are going to plug in a lamp. The power used is low and if a light bulb blows it has a low cost.
It is advisable to use a surge protector when the appliance requires a lot of electricity. Or for more expensive appliances.
Some of the most important devices to use a surge protector are modern electronics like home entertainment systems, computers, and microwaves. They don’t necessarily use massive amounts of power but they do contain microprocessors.
These microprocessors are integrated into the main part of the machine and are very delicate, easily damaged by power surges.
Using a surge protector for your computer is a must, considering the cost to replace a broken one. Or at least some of its components.
It’s not only the financial matter but also the cost of potentially losing your data. And the hassle of having your equipment unusable until repaired. It is wise to get into the habit of using a surge protector for all of your expensive electrical appliances.
There are also some smaller electrical appliances that use far more power than you had imagined and should also be used with a surge protector. In the kitchen, kettles, toasters, coffee makers and hot plates are some of the biggest electric “junkies”.
Air compressors are incredibly useful for home improvement projects but do consume a lot of power, as do portable heaters. Also, hair-care appliances such as dryers, wands, and irons take huge amounts of electrical power. All of these should be used with a surge protector. Not with a power strip.
Surge Protector vs Power Strip
What to look for when buying a power strip
As we mentioned before, the main things to have in mind are the number of outlets you will need and the length of the cord. You will also want to think about the type of appliance you are going to be using and how the power strip will be used.
We also suggest that you check the distance between each outlet ports. It is all very well having 6 or even 8 ports. But some of them have outlet ports very close together. And if you have a large power adapter like on some laptop chargers it might block the use of others.
One of the common reasons for using a power strip in the home might be for the iron. When ironing, it is even more important to think about the safety aspect, more so if you have children or even pets. Rather than just focusing on the electrical power, think about the cord and little people falling over it!
Another handy safety feature you may want is a 15 amp, or even 20 amp circuit breaker. This will prevent system overload.
Some power strips will let you choose between outlets that are always on and outlets that will close the electric flow to those appliances that are switched off. These power strips will help you to save energy and reduce your electrical bill.
If you want to go for a really smart power strip, you can invest in one that has built-in Bluetooth. A smart power strip allows you to turn the device on and off and use timers all from an app on your phone. And why not go all out and buy a smart power strip with Alexa and Google Home!
The price guide for a power strip
A standard power strip with 6 outlets will cost as little at $8. If you would like one with extra features like an on-off switch and USB ports they can cost between $15 and $20. You can go further and treat yourself to a smart power strip with remote controls or voice activation. Expect to pay between $25 to $40.
As mentioned before, not all power strips have surge protection. Don’t assume that while paying a higher price you are automatically provided with surge protection.
What to look for when buying a surge protector
Obviously, some of the key things to consider when buying a surge protector are the same as those for an energy strip. Think about the length of the cord, the number of outlets and how close the outlet ports are to each other.
Regardless of the number of outlets, the price or the fancy extras you are looking for, there is one thing every surge protector must have. Always look for ‘UL 1449’. This means that the device meets all design and safety requirements and has been tested and considered safe for consumer use.
After this, you need to take a close look at the package specifications. While there are lots of numbers to confuse us, there are three general rules to remember:
- Joules: the higher, the better
- Clamping voltage: the lower, the better
- Response time: the lower, the better
The number of joules will tell you about the energy absorption rate. The higher the number, the surge protector will be able to handle higher amounts of excess power.
Most, smaller electrical devices such as chargers will cope with 1000 joules or less.
For your more expensive, larger appliances (computers, TVs) you should look for a surge protector with a 2500-joule rating or even higher.
The clamping voltage is the maximum voltage permitted to get through to your device. You may find surge protection with a clamping voltage of 500.
When the surge protector is activated it will send voltage above the 500v to the ground. The ideal clamping voltage to look for is 350v.
Clamping voltage may also appear on a package as voltage protection rate (VPR) or suppressed voltage rate (SVR)
The response time is the number of nanoseconds it takes for the surge protector to send the excess voltage to the ground. The faster the extra voltage is redirected, the less chance there is of your devices getting damaged.
Ideally, you want a surge protector with a response time of one nanosecond or less.
Other things you might like to see with your surge protector can also be found in power strips like built-in circuit breakers, USB ports, energy-saving outlets, and wireless remote control.
You may also look for surge protectors that have LED displays and a battery back up. Indicator lights are helpful so you know that the outlet is working correctly.
Electrical power doesn’t only enter your home through AC outlets. It can also enter the home through telephone jacks. Some surge protectors have additional outlets so that you can protect telephone lines from electrical spikes.
The price guide for a surge protector
A cheap 800-joule surge protector with 6 outlets and an on-off switch will cost around $12. An average surge protector with a combination of outlets and USB ports and 3940-joules has a price tag of between $20 and $30. An ‘all singing all dancing’ surge protector will set you back anywhere from $70 to $100.
As we are talking about spending it is worth looking at a surge protector that comes with a guarantee. Especially if you are going to splash out on a more expensive one.
Many of the guarantees will cover your computer as well. If you haven’t backed up your data on a cloud or NAS, you are still at risk of losing the information. Make sure to backup your data regularly since sometimes it’s more valuable than the computer itself.
There are power strips and surge protectors for everyone. Considering the prices range from $8 to $100, your decision shouldn’t be based on cost but on the needs of your additional outlets.
There are a few features that modern power strips and surge protectors have in common, such as USB ports and on/off switches. Another similarity is the option of energy-saving outlets, stopping electrical devices from receiving power and therefore reducing your electric bill. That alone will make one of these devices pay for itself.
If you are buying a new energy strip but don’t feel the need for a surge protector (i.e. it’s for smaller appliances like lamps or radios) then the former is sufficient.
Remember to choose one that will have enough outlets for your needs and don’t buy the first one you come across. For just a few extra dollars you might get some extra features you think you don’t need but will probably end up being quite useful.
Do not hesitate in buying a surge protector for your computer or home entertainment system. Even if the power surge doesn’t damage your appliances in one hit, over time they will reduce their lifespan.
That’s what you should consider when deciding on the surge protector vs power strip matter.
Again, consider your needs before choosing to buy one that looks good. In terms of safety and function, look at the joules (higher the better) as well as the clamping voltage and response time (the lower the better). Equally important, look for the UL1449 to ensure it has passed all of the safety testings.
Once you have decided on the specific information you can focus on the fun aspects.
Now that you know the features to look for, check out the best products in our other articles:
- Surge Protector for Personal Computers
- Surge Protector for 4K TV
- Surge Protectors for Space Heater
- Surge Protectors for your Home Theater
- Surge Protector For Electric Panel
- Energy-saving Surge Protector
And also, take a look at our other reviews on Surge Protector for Travel Trailers (RVs)