Most of us are consciously aware that electronics and their accessories need to be replaced and upgraded every so often. Not only do they not last forever, but the introduction of new technology or features can make an upgrade desirable for other reasons. Even so, many people tend to assume surge protectors last forever.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Failing to check your surge protectors regularly and replace them as needed can leave your expensive electronics and gear vulnerable to damage. Here we’ll take a closer look at how to go about assessing the health of your surge protector and better understand when you’re due for an upgrade.
Understanding How Surge Protectors Operate
A surge protector isn’t a magic talisman. It has a specific way it goes about protecting your equipment from dangerous bursts of electricity. When the protector receives a surge via the outlet where it’s plugged in, that excess energy has to go somewhere. In most cases, that “somewhere” is to the metal oxide varistor (MOV) – the component in your surge protector that effectively takes the bullet for your computer or other protected device.
While MOVs are awesome things, it’s important to understand that they can only handle so much before they don’t work as well as they once did (if they still work at all). MOVs degrade over time, especially if they’re ever exposed to either high numbers of minor surges or low numbers of major surges within a short period of time.
Once the MOV goes kaput, your surge protector is now no longer a surge protector. It’s a mere power strip that can no longer stop excess electricity from getting through to your devices.
The Lifespan of a Surge Protector
A given surge protector’s ability to protect you is measured in joules. The number of joules refers to the amount of surge-related energy the protector can absorb before it’s no longer any good. For instance, if you have a surge protector that’s 1000 joules strong, it will need to be replaced once it absorbs 1000 joules worth of surges.
While 1000 joules may sound like a lot, it’s important to understand that this is a cumulative amount. Sure, if it only experienced surges one or two joules strong, the surge protector would last a while. However, it will only take ten 100-joule hits before it goes kaput. Yes, an older surge protector is more likely to be due for replacement, but a newer one could easily also be on its last leg even if you feel like you “just bought it.”
So How Can You Tell the Difference?
The fact of the matter is it’s actually pretty difficult to tell for sure that it’s time for your surge protector to be replaced because it’s no longer functioning as intended. As touched on above, all of the ports could be working fine even if the MOV is completely shot and no longer functional. The following can give you a pretty good idea that you’re better off upgrading.
Many surge protectors do come with a built-in warning system designed to alert you to the fact that it might not be working the way it’s supposed to anymore. That warning usually comes in the form of a light that comes on to let you know there’s a problem, just like the dashboard lights in your car.
However, while such systems are definitely helpful, it’s important to understand that they’re not foolproof. Obviously if the light does come on, replace the surge protector. Just understand that there’s always a chance the MOV could be compromised without being indicated by a light.
Aging Surge Protectors
If you either know your surge protector is getting old, or you honestly can’t remember the last time you replaced it, it’s probably best to play it safe and get a new one. As touched on above, warning systems aren’t 100% reliable, so don’t assume a surge protector you’ve had for the last 15 years is still good because the little red light hasn’t come on yet. The longer it’s been, the more likely you are to be at risk.
Actual Known Surge
If you know for a fact that your surge protector has sustained exposure to a really serious surge, you need to replace it to be on the safe side. There’s no way of knowing for sure just how severe it was, so assume it was serious enough to put your MOV close to the end of its lifetime.
At the end of the day, surge protectors are inexpensive, so it pays to keep a bunch on hand so that you can replace them regularly and as needed. Stock up today!