16:48 PM

DYK: The Differences Between Surge Protectors and Power Strips

After learning more about surge protectors, I recently gave each of my kids a surge protector.

My children are grown. Maybe they already have their key electronics plugged into surge protectors. Maybe they know the difference between power strips and their look-alike counterparts. But in case they didn’t know, their mama enlightened them.

Power strips and surge protectors look a lot alike. Both offer several outlets for plugging in multiple appliances and electronics. The difference between them is that power strips are strictly for convenience, while surge protectors do what the name implies: They protect your belongings from electrical surges. They do that by diverting brief increases in electrical voltage to a ground line before they can reach — and damage — your electronics.

Whether caused by a major voltage spike, or a low-level pulse, power surges can tear down the circuitry system in your electronics. Surge protectors are designed to prevent power surges from causing damage to the items plugged into them.

If you’re not sure whether the strips around your house are power strips or surge protectors, do a quick inventory. Surge protectors will have a sticker or stamp that indicates they are UL-listed “1449.” If you don’t see that listing, it may be a power strip. You may want to go shopping for a surge protector.

At stores, power strips and surge protectors are typically lumped together, so be sure you’re buying a surge protector. Purchase one with a light that comes on when it’s plugged in; when this light no longer appears, it’s time to replace your surge protector.

Rated by the amount of joules of energy they can absorb, surge protectors carry various ratings. For smaller electronics, like printers and smartphones, a rating of 1,000-2,000 joules is sufficient. Larger electronics, like laptop computers or home theater systems, are best protected with surge protectors rated 2,000 joules or more.

Of course, surge protectors are more expensive. While a power strip might cost $15, a surge protector can cost several times this amount. But the amount it can save you makes the extra investment worthwhile.

Maybe my kids already had functioning surge protectors. Even so, they each got a new one, just in case.


Jackie Kennedy has worked with Georgia’s electric cooperatives for 25 years, producing newsletters, press releases and articles about the industry or energy-related matters. She is the author of People, Power, Progress: The Story of Jackson EMC, published in 2013. In her blog, she grapples with a variety of energy efficiency topics.