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When Should You Replace a Surge Protector?

If you are like me, you likely have your home theater system and other electronic devices plugged into a power strip or surge protector of some kind. (If you are using a simple power strip, I highly recommend you switch to a surge protector!) Surge protectors are a great way to help protect your electronics from excessive power surges that can damage, if not destroy, your devices. However, as will all electronics, surge protectors have a lifespan that you should pay particular attention to.

So when should you replace a surge protector? Experts recommend you replace your surge protector every 2 years. A surge protector is rated in joules, which indicate how much excessive power they can handle when an electrical surge occurs. However, this figure can be hard to track as surges vary from area to area.

If you have electrical devices you want to protect. Investing in a quality surge protector is a great idea. Below, I talk about what a surge protector does and how to tell if yours is still good.

What Are Surge Protectors?

Panamax 4 Outlet Surge Protector

Investing in a quality surge protector is a great way to help prevent unnecessary damages to your electric devices. Most commonly, a surge protector functions as a power strip with a built-in protective feature. Some of the newer models include USB ports, in addition to your standard outlets. Higher-end models also tend to include coaxial outlets and ethernet jacks to protect even your fax machines, cable boxes and more.

Surge protectors include a built-in metal oxide varistor (MOV). The MOV works to absorb any excess voltage that occurs when a surge in power occurs. Over time, as the MOV absorbs excess energies, it degrades.

Power strips and surge protectors often look very similar. If you are trying to determine whether you have a power strip or a surge protector, take a look at the device itself. A surge protector typically includes a power or grounded light as well as a protected light. These lights indicate whether your device includes a surge feature, as well as if it is operational.

A Note on Power Conditioning

Furman PL PLUS C Power Conditioner

Surge protectors with built-in power conditioners add another layer of protection to your device. In the event of a massive power outage, your surge protector may not be able to fully handle the enormity of the power surge that occurs.

A surge protector with a power conditioner, however, sheds excess voltage by grounding it instead. They also filter “noise” which helps clarify the power supplied to your devices through your surge protector and help them to last longer.

There are a number of products on the market that claim to “condition” your power before delivering it to your devices. For the lower end surge protectors, this is likely just a gimmick. And, in fact, not all electronics need power conditioning.

If you are just providing power to low-end speakers or a DVD player, investing in a more expensive surge protector with power conditioning might not be necessary. These lower-end surge protectors with power conditioners are often destroyed internally, making it hard to determine whether they are still functioning as a surge protector or power conditioner.

For higher-end surge protectors, however, the power conditioning feature can actually be a welcome bonus. Why? Power conditioning can better support currents supplied to some of your more sensitive electronics, such as your projectors, receiver, and router.

Higher-end surge protectors with power conditioners are often built to handle everything but the most extreme surges, lasting much longer than their lower-end counterparts.

The fact is – your home theater components are an expensive investment. Investing in a higher-end surge protector with power conditioning can add just another element of protection to ensure your home theater lasts as long as possible.

Surge Protectors Have a Lifespan!

The lifespan of a surge protector is not measured in years. It is measured in joules. The MOV included in your surge protector is rated in joules, which directly correlates to the lifespan of your particular surge protector.

There are many different models of surge protectors available today. If you are looking for a surge protector that can take a lot of abuse, pay attention to the joules it is rated to handle. This is the measurement of energy your surge protector is rated to protect your devices from.

How Do You Measure the Lifespan of a Surge Protector?

Lifespan of a Surge Protector

With every surge of energy, the future amount of energy it can protect you from decreases. For example, if you buy a surge protector rated for 1,000 joules, you can handle surges up to 1,000 joules. This may mean a single 1,000 joules hit will zap the remaining life from your surge protector. However, you can also handle 10 surges of 100 joules or 100 surges of 1-joule hits.

What does all this mean to you? It means your surge protector’s lifespan varies. The number of joules it is rated to handle will decrease with each hit. Once the joules have been exhausted, the surge protector will act like just a regular power strip instead. It will still relay current and power your devices, but it will no longer protect them from energy surges.

Can You Tell When a Surge Protector is No Longer Good?

Unless you know exactly how many joules were present when a power surge occurred, it is virtually impossible to determine when your surge protector is no longer good.

A quality surge protector will alert you to the fact that it has reached the end of its lifespan. However, not all surge protectors will. But these lights are not foolproof and you should not necessarily rely on them. That being said – if your surge protector has a surge light that is no longer illuminating, you should assume that the MOV has been completely degraded. You should replace the surge protector at this point.

However, experts recommend you replace your surge protector every 2 years. Since surges vary from place to place, it is important to remember that there is no general rule of thumb. Your surge protector may or may not be depleted after 2 years. However, with the expense of a surge protector compared to the expense of replacing all of the electronics you have plugged into the device – it makes sense to simply replace the protector before it’s too late.

The truth is, if your surge protector is more than 5 years old, you should replace it. This is true whether the surge indicator light is illuminated or not. The expenses are relatively small when compared to the cost of replacing the rest of your electrical devices should a power surge occur and the built-in MOV has been depleted.