Power Protection - Surge Suppressors Guide (2)
Updated: December 10, 2012

Guide to Surge Suppressors
A word of caution

Designed properly, surge suppressors can work
over and over again but...

Unfortunately, many do not have a true understanding of surge protection devices. Uninformed system owners often fall into the trap of enjoying a false sense of security, thinking that once they plugged one of the many inexpensive multiple-socket AC power strips with built-in surge protection, their equipment is totally safe and secure. This is not the case!

Yet apart from the fact that the use of inappropriate surge protection may leave expensive electronics with hardly any protection against dangerous voltage spikes across the AC line, not having an understanding of the precautions one should be aware of when working with surge protection devices may be equally dangerous.

In this article, we discuss the most important issues one should be aware of when working with surge protection devices, necessary to ensure the continued safety of your gear.

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Surge Suppressor: Do not take it for granted!

If there is one thing one should be aware of when working with surge protectors, it is the quality of the surge protection circuitry employed in the device.

Some cheap surge suppression components used in power strips are typically a one-time use only. This means that your system may end up completely unprotected after a voltage surge on the line.

Yet apart from quality, there are other important issues one should be aware of; these include surge suppressor warranty, surge suppressor performance, lightning protection, and personal safety.


While it is practically impossible to judge the quality of a surge suppression device simply by looking at it, keep in mind that cheaply-made power protection devices may very well spell disaster when least expecting it.

The quality of a surge suppressor is mainly reflected in the price of the protection device, but not only.

Check the joule rating of the surge protector to get an indication of how much damaging energy the suppressor can handle; the bigger the joule rating is, the better. As a minimum, try to go for at least a 1,000-joule rated surge suppression device – preferably more.

Keep in mind however that unlike the UL-1449 Listing, there is no standardized testing methodology to determine the energy rating of a surge protection device. Hence, do not rely on the joule rating alone; look also at the built quality and in particular, at the product warranty on offer. The latter gives you an indication of the manufacturer standing behind the surge protection device.

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Product Warranty

In addition to the standard product warranty, some manufactures also offer a ‘Connected Equipment Product Warrant’. This is normally in the region of several tens of thousands of dollars.

Connected equipment warranty means that the manufacturer will replace up to the value of the warranty—worth of your equipment—if it is damaged by an over-voltage condition. This applies as long as the protection device is used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and within the terms of the warranty period.

A longer product warranty period and a higher connected equipment warranty value reflect a higher level of confidence on part of the manufacturer that the surge suppressor can protect your expensive home theater gear in accordance with the product specifications.

Try to go for surge protection devices that come with at least a 5-year product warranty period in addition to a minimum of $20,000 connected equipment warranty. Note however that most major companies like Tripp-Lite and Monster are now offering a $500,000 lifetime insurance covering connected components against surge damage for life.

Surge Protection Device Performance

Remember that the performance of surge protectors degrades with each surge absorbed. The problem here is that the rate of degradation is totally unforeseen due to the unpredictable nature of the surge. Surge rise time, peak voltage, energy level, and duration, all have a varying effect on surge protection circuitry.

In some cases, a surge may have a higher energy level than the suppressor can handle, leading to the destruction of the suppressor and zero protection against possible future surges.

To minimize this risk, top-quality power protection gear would normally make use of over-rated components in their protection circuitry, thus allowing multiple surges to take place without any damage to the equipment. 

In addition, some surge suppression devices, especially din rail mountable surge suppressors designed for use at the point of entry often include some form of physical indication when the suppressor needs replacement; this is either in the form of an LED or a color bar that changes color from green to red when the device is damaged.

Lightning Protection

Surge protectors are not lightning protection devices. Surge suppressors can provide adequate protection from 'normal' surges on AC power lines. When it comes to protection against direct lightning strikes, it is a completely different story. Fortunately, these are rare. However, no surge protection device can offer you the required level of protection in this respect.

The unpredictable nature of a lightning strike—together with the extremely high energy level released in the process—is such that no commercially available system will offer 100% protection from a direct lightning strike on your home.

Preferably, the best approach is that whenever possible, you disconnect all your gear from the AC supply during a thunderstorm; disconnect also any telephone line and cable/satellite/outdoor TV antenna inputs, thus isolating your equipment from the outside world.

However, there is even more that one can do. In areas where lightning strikes are common, homeowners may want to invest in an old-fashioned grounded lightning rod on their roof. This offers the best protection you can get.

Personal safety

Ensure that your surge protection gear is clearly specified as UL listed Transient Voltage Suppressor (3rd edition). As already indicated in our discussion on surge protection device ratings, the use of a UL listed TVSS will reduce the risk of personal harm from fire or electrocution especially during a surge.

At the same time, keep in mind that while a UL-listed device guarantees superior personal safety, it does not guarantee that it will protect your equipment from a voltage surge on the line.

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 Article Content

Issues discussed in this article:

Blue bullet  Surge Protection Devices: Do not take them for granted!

Blue bullet  Quality: A most important factor in surge suppression devices

Blue bullet  Product Warranty: The manufacturer standing behind the product

Blue bullet  Performance: Once a surge hits, surge suppressor performance deteriorates; how can you minimize the risk?

Blue bullet  Lightning Protection: Understanding the limitations

Blue bullet  Personal Safety: Check out for the correct surge suppressor specs

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