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Can Surge Protectors Be Dangerous?


Surge protectors offer a nice level of convenience and are essential in Florida for larger appliances. They can be a lifesaver during one of our infamous thunderstorms! But these small gadgets can be extremely dangerous when used improperly or when they malfunction.

Here's how to determine if your surge protectors are safe and when it's time to replace them.

What is a Surge Protector?

Though they're often confused with power strips, the two devices are vastly different. Power strips simply split one outlet into multiple ports so more devices can be plugged in at the same location. Surge protectors are designed to protect electronics and appliances against power surges and spikes caused by things like tripped circuit breakers, power outages, and short circuits.

Why Do You Need a Surge Protector?

From a scientific point of view, surge protectors absorb excess voltage and divert it to the ground wire, much like GFI outlets do. Practically, they're an inexpensive way to protect your gear against random power spike damage. They're also a form of insurance, as some models now offer a warranty that lets you recoup a good portion of a damaged device's value.

How Can You Tell if You Have a Dangerous Surge Protector?

Sometimes they wear out. Other times they're defective and recalled. UL, a leading global safety science company, recently reissued its warning about potentially hazardous surge protectors. there's no easy way to know if your surge protector has run its course, but time is a good indicator. That's because each power surge the protector absorbs decreases the amount of "joules" (a unit of energy measurement) it can withstand from future shocks.

Along with checking to see if your product's been recalled, there are situations you should avoid when using surge protectors throughout your home:

  • Don't "daisy-chain" or "piggy-back" two or more surge protectors together. Each surge protector should be plugged directly into a wall outlet.
  • There should only be one surge protector plugged into a single electrical outlet.
  • Never place a unit where it will be exposed to a moist or wet environment.

Finally, if you notice any frayed wires, the unit isn't working properly and/or is hot to the touch, or you have a model that doesn't have an internal circuit breaker, replace it immediately.

How to Replace Your Surge Protector

Make sure to choose the right surge protector for your needs. What gear will be plugged into it? How many ports are needed? Some protectors now have up to 12. In addition:

  • Check to make sure the device is UL or ETL approved. Never remove the tag from the protector as it contains important testing information you'll need in case of a malfunction.
  • Check the energy absorption rating which tells you how much energy the device can absorb before it fails. Six to seven hundred joules are good; the higher the number, the better.
  • Check to see what's covered under the warranty.

The more informed you are before you buy, the greater the chance you'll do a good job of protecting your expensive equipment.

When to Call a Professional

If you're worried about severe electrical damage, you may want to consider installing a whole-home surge protector, a smart investment that safeguards all your outlets at one time. To learn more, contact David Gray Electrical Services online or call us at (904) 605-8190.