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Plugged In: Understanding Surge Protectors & Power Strips

Have you ever been confused by the difference between a surge protector and a power strip? You’re not alone! As a home theater expert, I’ve seen plenty of setups where people are unknowingly risking their equipment by using the wrong type of power device, or assuming they don’t need a surge protector at all!

While all surge protectors add outlets, not all power strips that add outlets offer surge protection. A surge protector typically has a switch, and a label indicating its amount of protection. Using a surge protector will protect expensive home theater equipment, especially as part of a UPS.

Understanding the difference between a surge protector and a power strip is important, but it’s just the beginning. In the following sections, we’ll explain what a power surge is, how surge protectors work, how to tell if a power strip is also a surge protector, and more. We’ll also explain why you may want to consider an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) if you’re in the market for a surge protection solution.

How Are Power Strips Different From Surge Protectors (And Does It Matter?)

When it comes to protecting our electronics, it’s important to understand the difference between power strips and surge protectors. While they may look similar, they serve different purposes.

A power strip like the one pictured above is essentially an extension cord with multiple outlets, allowing you to plug in multiple devices at once. They can be useful for organizing cords and making it easier to access outlets. However, power strips do not offer any protection against power surges.

On the other hand, surge protectors like the Anker USB C Surge Protector Power Strip from Anker (from Amazon, and pictured throughout the article) are designed to protect your electronics from power surges, which can be caused by lightning strikes, power outages, or other electrical issues. They work by diverting excess voltage away from your devices and into the ground. This can help prevent damage to your electronics and extend their lifespan.

And in case you’re thinking “it won’t happen to me,” have a look at our related posts on whether or not a power surge can really damage a TV or a home theater sound system. We think most people will benefit from taking this thread seriously!

So, does it matter which one, a power strip or surge protector, that you use? It depends on your needs. If you’re simply looking for a way to plug in multiple devices, a power strip may be sufficient. However, if you want to protect your electronics from power surges, a surge protector is the way to go.

What is a Power Surge?

Power surges occur when there is a sudden increase in the electrical voltage in your home’s power lines. This can be caused by a variety of factors, including lightning strikes, power outages, and even faulty wiring. When a power surge occurs, it can cause significant damage to your home theater equipment, such as your TV, sound system, and even gaming consoles.

Symptoms of a power surge can include flickering lights, a sudden loss of power, and a burning smell. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to unplug your equipment immediately to prevent further damage.

Home theater equipment is particularly vulnerable to power surges because it often relies on sensitive electronic components. Even a small surge can cause significant damage to these components, leading to costly repairs or replacements.

While whole-home surge protection is a brute-force tactic that can protect your entire home, this article will focus on surge protector power strips and how they can protect your individual devices. However, if you are interested in whole-home surge protection, you can check out this product on Amazon: the Siemens FS140 Whole House Protection. As well as some more discussion as the whole-home surge protection tactic in this forum.

If you think your surge protector has been through a power surge (or maybe a few…) then check out our related article on if surge protectors go bad over time and specifically how to tell if your surge protector is working.

How Surge Protectors Work

Anker Surge Protector Switch Closeup

Surge protectors are devices designed to protect electronic devices from voltage spikes and power surges. They work by diverting excess voltage away from your devices and into the ground, preventing it from damaging your electronics. Surge protectors use a variety of methods to achieve this, including metal oxide varistors (MOV) and gas discharge arrestors (GDT).

MOV-based surge protectors are the most common type and are found in most consumer-grade surge protectors. They work by using a metal oxide varistor to shunt excess voltage to the ground when it exceeds a certain threshold. GDT-based surge protectors, on the other hand, use a gas discharge tube to achieve the same effect.

Benefits and Limitations of Surge Protectors

The benefits of surge protectors are clear: they protect your electronic devices from power surges and voltage spikes, which can cause irreparable damage to your devices. However, it’s important to note that surge protectors have their limitations.

First, surge protectors cannot protect against all types of power surges. For example, they may not be able to protect against lightning strikes or other extreme power surges. Additionally, surge protectors have a limited lifespan and will eventually wear out over time.

Despite these limitations, surge protectors are an essential component of any electronic setup. They can help protect your devices from the majority of power surges and voltage spikes that occur in everyday use, and can save you from costly repairs or replacements.

Which Surge Protector Do We Recommend For Home Theaters?

While the Anker option we linked earlier is great, it’s more geared as a flexible solution offering USB ports for other devices. Depending on your system, this may be perfect – after all, many streaming sticks benefit from having a USB port handy for power.

As a good default, we recommend the Tripp Lite ISOBAR6ULTRA Surge Protector (on Amazon). This model, and the Tripp Lite ISO line in general, have been a favorite among users for their reliability and performance for some time.

One of the benefits of this surge protector is that it has a high joule rating of 3330, which means it can handle a significant power surge. It also has noise filtering technology that helps to eliminate electromagnetic and radio frequency interference, which can cause distortion in your audio and video signals.

In addition, the Tripp Lite ISOBAR6ULTRA Surge Protector has six outlets, four of which are spaced to accommodate large transformer plugs. It also has a right-angle plug that allows you to place it flush against the wall, saving space and reducing clutter.

How To Tell If A Power Strip Is Also A Surge Protector

Anker Surge Protector Label Example

One way to determine if a power strip has surge protection is by checking for a switch somewhere on the device. Most power strips with surge protection have an on/off switch that controls the surge protection feature.

Another way to identify a surge protector is by looking for a label indicating the amount of surge protection it provides. This label may be located on the device itself or on the packaging. The label should indicate the joule rating, which is a measure of how much energy the surge protector can absorb before it fails. In the example above, the label on the back of the Anker surge protector clear indicates an amount of protection, which is a tell beyond the power switch and “power surge” led labelling on the front.

It’s important to note that not all power strips with switches are surge protectors. Some power strips simply have an on/off switch for the entire strip, which does not provide surge protection. Therefore, it’s important to look for other indicators of surge protection.

If you’re unsure whether your power strip has surge protection, you can also check the bottom of the device for information about its joule rating or other details about its surge protection capabilities. You can also check the product description or packaging for information about whether it is a surge protector.

How To Use Power Strips That Aren’t Protected In Your Home Theater

If you do have power strips laying around and need more outlets, don’t rush to throw them out. You can use a single surge protector to protect everything that’s plugged into it.

Pro Tip: You can still use power strips in your home theater and gain power surge protection by using them downstream of, or connected to, the surge protector. Just be sure to not overwhelm the power supply rating of the surge protector.

Choosing Between Surge Protector and Power Strip

If you only need extra outlets for your devices and appliances, a power strip might be sufficient. However, if you have sensitive electronics that could be damaged by power surges, a surge protector is the better choice. Surge protectors are designed to protect your devices from sudden spikes in voltage that can occur during thunderstorms or power outages.

Another thing to consider is the number of outlets you need. Power strips can provide anywhere from 2 to 12 outlets, while surge protectors typically have fewer outlets. If you have a lot of devices to plug in, you may need multiple power strips or surge protectors.

Using a UPS For Your Home Theater

For serious home theater enthusiasts, we highly recommend investing in an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) with built-in surge protection. A UPS can prevent power surges and outages from damaging your valuable equipment, ensuring that you can enjoy your favorite movies and shows without any interruptions.

One of our top picks for a UPS is the APC Battery Protector BackUPS BX1500M (on Amazon). This model is highly rated and provides ample protection for your home theater equipment. It also has the added benefit of allowing you to keep critical devices like your router or modem up and running during a power outage if they are located near your home theater setup.

In addition to protecting your equipment, a UPS can also allow you to continue watching downloaded content or streaming from a mobile hotspot during a power outage. This can be a lifesaver during storms or other emergencies when the power may be out for an extended period.

Investing in a quality UPS is a smart choice for any home theater enthusiast who wants to ensure that their equipment is protected and that they can continue to enjoy their favorite movies and shows even in the event of a power outage.