There is nothing better than knowing that your valuable electronic devices are safe. And surge protectors give you that peace of mind at a very low price, but only if you replace them every few years. While the old surge protectors in your home may appear to be working normally, they likely don’t offer protection for your electronics.
How do surge protectors work?
Most people use the terms “power strip” and “surge protector” interchangeably. But a power strip is just a big plastic thing that gives you extra outlets. Surge protectors are much more useful: they not only give you extra outlets, but also regulate the amount of power your electronic devices receive.
Think of surge protectors as pressure release valves. When the incoming voltage gets too high, they send it to ground instead of letting it hit your electronics. And if the voltage is too low, its surge protector increases the resistance to keep the electronic components working normally.
So while a surge protector can keep electronics online during a “brown sag,” they are most helpful during power surges. As its name implies, a power surge sends excess voltage through your home’s wiring. This voltage spike can destroy or damage electronic devices, and unfortunately, damaged electronic devices are a common source of home fires.
Surge protectors are an essential item in any home, and at a minimum, you should use them to protect valuable electronics from power surges. But you can’t use the same surge protectors for the rest of your life; they need to be replaced every few years.
Surge protection wears out over time
When surge protectors receive an excessive load of electricity, they divert or “shunt” the extra power to ground using a metal oxide varistor (MOV). But in the process of diverting this energy, the MOV is exposed to excess voltage. And over time, it wears out.
Each surge protector has a rating that describes how much excess voltage the MOV can handle. This rating is in joules: most power strips are rated for 800 or 1,000 joules, while more expensive models can handle several times that amount.
But this rating is cumulative; It’s like health points in a video game. If a surge protector that is rated for 1000 Joules gets hit by 100 Joules during a lightning storm, then it can only handle another 900 Joules.
Once a surge protector’s “health points” drop to zero, it no longer offers surge protection. It becomes a simple power strip that will not protect your electronics or your home.
Old surge protectors are a fire hazard
Once a surge protector “times out,” it becomes increasingly sensitive to low voltages. And that’s a problem, because it will still try to absorb excess voltage and send power to ground. If it is hit by a large power surge, it can be damaged, creating a fire hazard. It could also overheat and immediately catch fire.
Also, an old surge protector offers little protection for your electronic devices. These devices can be damaged due to a lack of surge protection, and that damage creates its own fire hazards.
And even if we ignore surge protection altogether, surge protectors tend to be cluttered behind furniture and appliances. They’re in the nastiest parts of your home, collecting dust, crumbs, hair, and dead bugs—flammable stuff that builds up slowly over the years.
These are not theoretical risks. As the Consumer Safety Guide explains, functional surge protectors reduce the risk of fire in the home. But old or broken surge protectors are often the cause of fires. So replace your old surge protectors.
When should you replace a surge protector?
Unfortunately, you can’t really tell when a surge protector needs to be replaced. Experts generally agree that you should replace surge protectors every two to three years, which is a good (if somewhat expensive) rule of thumb.
And while you may think that a fancy surge protector will “outlast” one that’s only rated at 200 joules, that’s not true. necessarily the case. A large power surge can exceed 1000 joules and instantly wear out the most expensive surge protectors in your home. A high joule rating simply provides additional peace of mind, especially for valuable or sensitive electronics.
Now, you may notice that some power strips have a “surge protection” LED. This light will turn off (or on) to let you know that the surge protection is no longer working properly. It’s a useful feature, especially when combined with sensitive electronics, but it’s not 100% reliable.
When you buy a new surge protector, I suggest you write the date on the back. That way, you’ll know to replace it when it’s two or three years old.
Tripp Lite Isobar 6 Outlet Surge Protector (3330 Joules)
Protect valuable devices and reduce signal noise with this premium surge protector from Tripp Lite. Perfect for computers, speakers, and guitar amps, it features 3,330 Joules of surge protection, a built-in circuit breaker, EMI/RFI noise filtering, and isolated filter banks to cut out internal signal interference.
How to recycle old surge protectors
Unless you live in a region with strict e-waste laws, there’s nothing stopping you from throwing old surge protectors in the trash. But that’s pretty wasteful. Surge protectors contain several recyclable components, including copper, which can be reused for new electronics or home wiring.
But each city has its own recycling process. If there are no dedicated e-waste facilities in your area, you may need to call your city’s waste department for recycling instructions. Or, you can use a website like call2recycle, earth911, or Greener Gadgets to find a recycling location near you.
My suggestion is relatively simple: go to Best Buy for electronics recycling. All Best Buy locations offer e-waste recycling and can give you a gift card if you recycle something of value.