You can find a surge protector for just about any electronic application you need. They range from very cheap to very expensive and the price is dependent on what you need it for and who makes it. This can make shopping for surge protection very confusing for newcomers to the market. For some, it is easy to confuse a power strip for a surge protection device that has six or more outlets on one strip. They look the same, but they provide completely different functionality. The most confusing thing about surge protectors: how they work.
In a nutshell, what it does is it clamps excess voltage on a power line in your home and prevents it from entering electronics with sensitive components. The surge protector will absorb this excess and divert it to a ground where it the extra heat will slowly dissipate harmlessly away. Should the power surge get to your electronics, it is likely they will cease working properly, either instantly or in time.
Why they are so destructive is that electronics made today are not able to sustain prolonged and increased energy levels. A surge is classified as such by how long it lasts. If it consists of more than a few milliseconds, it is considered a surge. A spike lasts less than a millisecond but can still deliver as much damage as a surge. In most cases, a spike and a surge can cause a circuit to trip. Some surge protectors are manufactured with circuits that will trip in the event of a spike to provide extra protection.
Along with the circuits, surge protection devices use MOV technology. MOV means metal oxide varistors. This is a little semiconductor that attracts the extra voltage towards the grounding mechanism in the surge protector. MOVs degrade with every surge so most manufacturers will include several types of protection in one device.
MOVs are much faster to react to surges than circuit breakers so there benefit comes in the form of better protection despite their relatively short lifespan. To put it in perspective, a circuit will trip one million times slower than the reaction time of a MOV.
There are also gas tube diodes that can stop power surges. These are often used in cable protection like cat5e lines and Ethernet connections, but they can be used in conjunction with standard surge protectors. Gas tube diodes do not degrade, but they are slower to react than MOVs. Combined however, they provide superior protection.
Surge protectors that plug in to your wall outlet are called point-of-use devices. These are the most common forms of protection devices used. As stated there are several kinds of devices available, but this type represents the majority used. To find the best one for you, there are some terms you should be familiar with.
The first is Peak Surge Current. These are specifications you will find on the packages of most surge protectors. Peak Surge Current is the maximum amount of surge on the line that a device can absorb. If the peak is surpassed the suppression device will shut down and cease to function. A good PSC for point-of-use devices should be in the 50,000 amps range or higher.
To measure how much of the surge a device can absorb, you consider the Joules rating. This is the range a device can handle at one time. Most protectors range from as low as 500 Joules to as much as 4500 Joules. Obviously the more you have the better protected you are.
As mentioned, the more surges a device absorbs, the sooner it will cease to function. Therefore you need to find a device with a high Performance rating. The only problem with this is surges are unpredictable and you never know how much of a surge is passing through your equipment. Because of this, performance can vary from device to device. A device that lasts for a couple years in one home may last only a few months in a home where surges are prevalent.
Due to the wild nature of power surges, manufacturers often make higher quality protection units to compensate for decreased performance. These higher quality surge protectors will offer more serious protection to the consumer. Do not expect a surge protector to stop a lightning strike however. They only protect your electronics from standard power surges. Lightning blasts are just too powerful to be contained by a small device. They would melt the surge protector and anything behind it.
It is always best to disconnect your equipment in the event of a lightning storm. No manufacturers will provide warranties from lightning damage on your home or to your equipment. You should also disconnect any phone lines and coaxial connections so that surges won’t “hop” into them. This can happen if there is any static electricity.
Understanding surge protectors, how they work, and how to find the best one for your home and your electronics is the first step to protecting your gear. Knowing these simple basics will help you choose the best surge protector for the price in the future.