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Do Surge Protectors Go Bad? + How To Tell

Surge protectors are a common household item that most people don’t think about…until they experience a power surge. These devices are designed to protect electronics from voltage spikes that can cause permanent damage, and this is more important the more expensive the device is. And if you have an extensive home theater…you probably have a lot of equipment hooked up to these electrical safety nets! But how long do they last? Do you need to replace them? Can they wear out?

Surge protectors go bad over time, because the internal components are worn out by being use for power management during power surges. Look for LED lights to confirm a surge protector is in working order, and plan to replace every 2-3 years or after large surges.

We’ll look at the implications of that for your home theater in this article, but there’s more to this conversation around how surge protectors work, how they wear out, and also what you can do to protect your entire home from power surges. Let’s dive in, starting with how (and why) these devices break down in the first place.

Why (And How) Do Surge Protectors Wear Out?

Surge Protector Failed

Surge protectors like the one pictured above (from Anker, on Amazon) are essential devices for protecting your valuable electronics from power surges. However, over time, they do wear out, but if you understand how and why surge protectors wear out you can better manage and protect your expensive electronics.

How Do Surge Protectors Work?

Surge protectors work by absorbing power spikes, also known as power surges, and redirecting them to the ground. They do this through a combination of protective components, such as metal oxide varistors (MOVs) and gas discharge tubes (GDTs), that are designed to handle high voltage spikes.

When a power surge occurs, the surge protector detects the increase in voltage and directs the excess electricity away from your electronics and towards the ground. This prevents the excess voltage from damaging your equipment.

And, as you might expect, through this process the components experience a decent bit of strain.

Surge Protectors and Power Surges (Self-Sacrifice)

As the surge protector actually operates, it breaks down. Every time a surge protector absorbs a power surge, its protective components become less effective. Over time, the components can become damaged, reducing their ability to protect your electronics.

If it’s a big power surge, they’ll heat up, for instance, and that type of thermal shift causes expansion and contraction int he parts that, yes, over time, leads them to break down and wear out as they become less and less efficient at routing that electricity around.

Another reason surge protectors wear out is due to exposure to high voltage levels. When a surge protector is exposed to high voltage levels, its protective components can become damaged, reducing their effectiveness.

It is also important to note that surge protectors can wear out simply due to age. Over time, the protective components inside the surge protector can degrade, reducing their ability to protect your electronics. If you have a surge protector with a rubber power cable and a plastic housing, these things can break down on longer time scales too, so, power strips that are already visually old should probably be trusted less, all things equal.

How To Tell If Your Surge Protector Is Damaged

Anker Surge Protector Switch Closeup

If you’ve got a surge protector handy, here are some ways you can try and figure out just how much of that surge protection capacity is still left. You won’t be able to find out exactly, but you can develop a sense of the health of the device by giving it a once over visually, and then actually testing it directly.

Visible Signs

There are several visible signs that can indicate that your surge protector is damaged. If you notice any of these signs, it is important to stop using the surge protector immediately and replace it with a new one. Some of the visible signs of a damaged surge protector include:

  • Frayed or damaged cord
  • Cracked or broken plastic housing
  • Burn marks or discoloration on the surge protector (this is a sign of a power surge or power arcing that can be very dangerous)
  • Loose or damaged outlets
  • Sparks or smoke coming from the surge protector

Continuing to use a damaged surge protector can put your devices at risk and may even cause a fire.

How To Test Your Surge Protector

In addition to visible signs of damage, there are also some tests you can perform to determine if your surge protector is still functioning properly. One simple test is to check the LED lights on the surge protector. Many surge protectors have LED lights that indicate whether or not the surge protector is still providing protection.

Pro Tip: Most surge protectors have LED lights that indicate that they are functional and ready to do surge protection.

If the LED light is off or not functioning, it may be an indication that the surge protector is no longer providing protection. Another test is to use a surge protector tester (on Amazon) to check the surge protector’s internal components. This can help you determine if there are any issues with the surge protector that may not be visible.

It is important to note that surge protectors do have a lifespan and can lose their protective powers over time.

Impact of Bad Surge Protectors on Home Theater Equipment

A bad surge protector can lead to serious damage to home theater equipment. When a surge protector is no longer able to protect against power surges, it becomes a simple power strip. This means that it will no longer be able to divert excess voltage into the grounding wire, leaving your electronics vulnerable to power surges.

As a result, your expensive home theater equipment could be damaged or destroyed. And if you’ve taken the time and effort to get things right, maybe adding surround sound, an AV receiver, an expensive TV, things like that–suddenly you have thousands of dollars worth of equipment in your home theater setup. It’s worth it to protect them.

Lifespan of Surge Protectors

Surge protectors have a limited lifespan, and as we’ve discussed their effectiveness can decrease over time. The lifespan of a surge protector depends on several factors, including the number of surges it has absorbed, the strength of the surges, and the age of the device. It is recommended to replace your surge protector every 2-3 years or after a significant power surge.

Is it safe to use a surge protector that has tripped a breaker before?

If a surge protector has tripped a breaker before, it may still be safe to use. However, it is essential to inspect the device for any signs of wear or damage. If the surge protector’s indicator light is off, it may indicate that the device is no longer functioning correctly and should be replaced.

It is also important to note that surge protectors have a limited warranty. Most surge protectors come with a warranty of two to three years. If a surge protector is no longer covered by its warranty, it may be time to replace the device, even if it appears to be functioning correctly.

Whole House Surge Protectors

Whole house surge protectors like this one (on Amazon) are installed at the main electrical panel of a house and protect all the devices in the house from power surges. They are designed to handle larger power surges than power strip surge protectors. You probably don’t know about these, but you may want to if you’re in an area with lot’s of power outages, frequent lightning strikes, etc.

These will protect your house in a more robust way, protecting all of your equipment as well, but guess what: these can break down over time and will need to be replaced too!

Watt’s the Bottom Line: Surge Protector Lifespan Redux

So, we’ve kicked this from about every direction at this point. You know that, yes, your surge protectors can break down and, yes, with thousands of dollars of home theater equipment on the other end, the stakes are high.

Your options are to manage the surge protector: check it annually or after big storms, and replace as necessary or every 3 years. You can always add whole-home surge protection to simplify this process, but, it will wear out too eventually. You can even use both options together. It just depends on how much protection you want!