What Is The Difference Between A Power Strip And A Surge Protector?

What’s the first thing someone does when they need more outlets than what the two socket wall option provides? They look for an extension cord. An extension cord or extension lead, power board or power strip, whatever you want to call it, provides extra outlets for that specific need but it doesn’t address the bigger issue with multiple items sharing power from one source. That would be the possible creation of power surges from attached equipment drawing too much power into the strip. The result is damaged equipment and quite possibly a fire. The answer to this issue is a surge protector with multiple outlets. Which leads to the question: What is the difference between a power strip and a surge protector?

What Is A Power Strip?

Basically, it’s a tool that allows you to plug multiple items into a standard wall outlet via a series of connected electrical outlets.

It comes in forms ranging from a single plastic coated head with two or more outlets to a device with a bank of outlets encased in a metal oblong box. The latter typically has an LED switch that lights up when flipped to the “ON” position.

The cord length will vary on each, but leads to a male plug that connects to the wall outlet. This allows the user to attached multiple electronic devices to the power cord without needing extra wall outlets.

Power strips come in handy when power supply is in short demand, but they are a temporary solution to what could be misused for long term necessity. In other words, a power strip is not meant to be used as a permanent rewire for electrical power.

The power strip doesn’t regulate power flow or block over-voltages; it merely distributes the power to any equipment on the live circuit so that the equipment can operate.

How Does A Power Strip Differ From A Surge Protector?

Here’s the kicker. A power strip is not a surge protector, but a surge protector can be a power strip.

Flickr photo by Xjs-Khaos

The two look identical at first glance. Both have LED switches that alight when on. Both are encased in a protective metal box and have a series of outlets mounted into the casing.

The difference is that a surge protector can block power surges; a power strip cannot.

Every home experiences the duress of electrical fluctuations. That’s because power distribution isn’t perfect. Many factors can interrupt power flow and create unstable situations. While there are some external forces on the blame list at times, most of these causes come from happenings within the home.

Watch the lights flicker when you turn on the air conditioner or when the refrigerator compressor kicks on. That “sag” in power can disturb power flow and create a hazardous situation for electronics that require a constant connection.

Your computer is a perfect example of this. If the power supply dips below what your computer requires, it may shut off. Whatever you were doing at the time will be lost. That premature shut down can damage the circuits inside the computer.

Or that trip by the compressor on your fridge could create a surge on the line. A refrigerator uses a large resource of power when it turns on. This draw of electricity can create a back surge on the circuit once power is attained. This surge then travels to the nearest outlet and enters whatever is attached on the other side.

Using your computer again in this example, a strong enough surge can melt or degrade circuitry, resulting in a damaged machine.

The result is a costly repair or complete replacement.

A surge protector acts as a barrier to surges. It catches the line surge and blocks it from entering your electronics while allowing normal power flow through. The excess flow is absorb by the semiconductors within the device and sent to a ground wire where it is slowly released harmlessly.

Read more about how a surge protector works.

How To Tell If A Power Strip Is A Surge Protector

Quite simply, a surge protector will indicate so on the package. It often states a joule rating, which measures its surge absorption power (higher is better).

Unless a power strip says it has surge protection, it doesn’t. It may indicate something similar, like surge suppressor or surge arrestor. These are the same things as a surge protector.

What It Boils Down To

A power strip should only be used in a temporary situation and on items that are not component sensitive. Very few electrical items today lack some kind of circuitry. Lamps might have delicate lighting rigs and even some motorized electronics are equipped with digital readouts.

Your best bet is to apply surge protection when in doubt.

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