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It's Time to Check Your Surge Protectors

They can wear out!


Welcome to Product Support, a column devoted to helping you get the most out of the gadgets and software you already use.

Here in the high tech future of 2021, it is basically guaranteed: your home does not have as many outlets as you need. In your endeavors to create more, you'll find help from power strips, which simply give you more places to plug, and surge protectors, which offer additional outlets as well as protection from dangerous surges of electricity.

But if you haven't given much thought to your wires-and-0utlet situation, odds are you're due for an audit. Surge protectors can wear out, leaving you vulnerable to losing gadgetry if the worst should happen.

Most surge protectors function by using an element called a "metal oxide varistor" (MOV) which can redirect power surges away from your gadgets and into the ground wire of the outlet they're plugged into. MOVs can only pull this stunt so many times, however, after which you are left with a mere power strip.

Surge protectors can wear out, and they may not be able to tell you they're exhausted.

Cheaper surge protectors may not give any indication as to the state of their MOV, leaving you to guess whether or not it has any capacity left. If that's the case with your current kit, there's no time like the present to ditch it and upgrade to a more sophisticated model.

Others, like the Tripp Lite TLP1208TELTV, will actually stop providing any power at all once their protection is worn out and include integrated breakers that will trip in the case of a surge. A hassle, but one that will keep your gadgets safe. Power conditioners like the Furman PST-8 are a further step up, actively smoothing out the power to your gadgets to reduce noise and interference that can come from "dirtier" power -- at the cost of a higher price tag, of course.

Other often more affordable surge protectors instead opt to include integrated LED lights to indicate when a strip is properly grounded, and whether or not its protection is still active. These lights will simply turn off if the strip has taken more than it can bear or is improperly configured, which means you won't be left powerless, but also need to keep an eye on your strips.

Read the manual!! Seriously!

Many surge protectors also come with insurance policies where the manufacturer will agree to reimburse the cost of equipment damaged by a surge, to a varying degrees. While they may add a little peace of mind, they also come with very stringent requirements on how the surge protector needs to be installed and used. In short: correctly. It may sound boring, but read the manual. Daisy-chaining, overloading, and using ungrounded outlets can both open your gadgets up to danger and also negate any insurance.

So if you haven't thought about your surge protectors in a while, or decided to skim the last time you expanded your outlet situation, there's no time like the present to do a check. You may never know if you've saved yourself from a disaster, but that's better than getting hit by a surge and finding out the hard way that you definitely didn't.

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