Surge Protector vs Power Strip: What’s the Difference?

The difference between surge protectors and power strips is that surge protectors prevent damage to your devices and appliances due to power surges.
Written by Aimee Lynn Everett
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
While both a surge protector and a power strip let you plug in your phone charger without the hassle of moving your couch to find a wall outlet, a surge protector is designed to keep the right amount of electricity flowing into your devices and appliances.
Knowing the difference between a surge protector and a power strip is an easy way to protect things like your television, computer, and phone from getting damaged in a power surge. If you’re prepared with the right tools, you can save yourself loads of money when energy spikes.
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has outlined everything you need to know about surge protectors, power strips, and the difference between them.

What is a power strip?

A power strip works like an extension cord with extra outlets, letting you plug multiple things in where you need them. They normally come in lengths ranging from 3 to 15 feet and many newer models have built-in USB adaptors alongside the normal outlets.
Most power strips also include an on/off switch that lets you turn everything off at once without unplugging or turning off each item individually.

Power strip uses

Power strips add to the functionality of your home or office. They can be used to:
  • Add more outlets in areas where you have many items to plug in
  • Give you access to outlets that are under or behind furniture
  • Turn multiple devices on or off with one switch

What is a power strip overload?

If you plug in multiple large appliances that use a lot of power—or plug one power strip into another—you can run too much electricity through your power strip at once and cause an overload. A power strip overload can damage your power strip or cause it to overheat and become a fire hazard.
The maximum amount of power that can be run through your power strip is usually 1800 watts, which is the same as a wall outlet. You can find your power strip’s maximum printed on the packaging or bottom of the strip itself to be sure of its rating.
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What is a surge protector?

A surge protector protects your appliances and electronics from damage if there is a power surge or spike in your electrical system. Using a special circuit, it makes sure that the right amount of electricity is going into your devices by redirecting any increases in power back to the main electrical panel and safely out of your home.
Every surge protector has a joule rating that specifies how much electrical energy, measured in joules, it can protect against before it will stop working correctly. Regardless of whether a single power surge or many small spikes over time causes it to reach its specified joule rating, you will need to replace your surge protector when it can no longer redirect extra power away from your devices.

Surge protector uses 

Surge protectors do everything power strips do while also redirecting power surges. A surge protector is the best thing to plug your electronic devices and appliances into because it makes sure the right amount of power is going to each of them.
Anything that has electronic circuit boards can be fried if too much power goes through them, even briefly. Items that are susceptible to damage from power surges and spikes include:
  • Computers
  • Televisions
  • Phones
  • Printers
  • Gaming consoles
  • Speaker systems
  • Washing machines
  • Dishwashers
Key Takeaway A surge protector does everything that a power strip can while also protecting sensitive devices and appliances if there is a power surge.

What is a power surge?

A power surge is when more electricity than normal flows through the wires and outlets of your house. Dramatic surges can be caused by lightning if it hits a power line, transformer box, or another part of the electrical grid. Large power surges can instantly damage anything that is plugged into an unprotected outlet at the time, but small ones can damage your electronics over a prolonged period.
Small increases to the amount of electricity coming out of an outlet, or power spikes, are much more common and can happen multiple times a day. When your air conditioner, refrigerator, or another appliance that uses a lot of electricity turns on or off, it can cause a power spike throughout your home. Power spikes won’t instantly fry your expensive devices, but over time they will cause damage and shorten their lifespan.

Which is better—a power strip or a surge protector?

If you are just looking for access to more outlets in a better location around your home, a power strip is a great choice. Most power strips can be bought for around $20 and come in colors and sizes that fit many styles.
Whenever you are plugging in expensive electronics, it is always best to plug them into a surge protector. Surge protectors are slightly more expensive than a power strip, but for $5 to $10 more, you can protect your devices and avoid having to buy costly replacements if they are damaged in a power surge or spike.
Key Takeaway It is best to always plug expensive electronics into a surge protector to prevent them from being damaged by a power surge.

How to find affordable homeowners insurance

Knowing where to use a surge protector in your home can help you be prepared for a power surge. To be prepared for other unexpected events that could damage your home and belongings, trust
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One of the easiest ways to tell if you are using a surge protector is to look for an indicator light that says “protected” on or near it. This light shows that your surge protector is still working properly and doesn’t need to be replaced.
A surge protector will also have a joule rating marked somewhere on it. If you can’t find a joule rating, you probably are using a power strip. Consider upgrading to a surge protector if you are using it with electronics or sensitive appliances.
Aside from the number of outlets and cord length, different surge protectors have different joule ratings. A surge protector with a higher joule rating will last longer and protect against higher power spikes, but it will typically cost more. 
1000-2000 joules is a good rating to protect most electronics and appliances. You might want to choose a higher rating to use with devices that store important data that can’t be retrieved if the electronics fail.
It is recommended that you replace your surge protector every three to five years to ensure it is providing the best protection. If there is a large power surge in your home or your surge protector’s indicator light is no longer lit, you should replace it as soon as possible.
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