The holidays are here and if you're like me, you might spend some time
after the holidays wondering what to do with all the electronic gadgets
you'll have surrounding you. I started asking myself that question
about two weeks ago, when I moved into a new place, and discovered
that instead of the three outlets I used to have, I now only have two
outlets to plug all of my stuff into. Look at the outlets, and thinking
that since I'm renting rewiring is out of the question, I figured I'd
try to find some answers to the questions I had about surge protectors,
and how many I could use safely to keep all my stuff protected. I hope
this information isn't too late for some of you since Ive seen quite
a few rows of Christmas lights burn out in my time.
Here's what I have to plug into my wall: computer, monitor, printer, fax,
shortwave radio, AM/FM radio,
Twin Coil Ferrite AM Antenna, cassette recorder, speakers, answering machine,
two lamps, image scanner, transceiver, cable modem, handheld computer
charger, digital camera charger, and sometimes a battery charger and
any miscellaneous device I might be testing or using for a while. That's
about 18 items I have to keep plugged in around me as they're part
of my work and my hobbies.
Right when I realized my predicament, I made a few phone calls. I called
friends that moonlighted as electricians, and called a few people that
I know have more gadgets and gizmos than I ever could (like Bob). I
even called my local electric company to see what advice they would
offer. The results of all these inquiries . . . lots of different answers.
I don't want to name names or attribute any particularly wacky advice
to anyone one person or place, so I'll just list some of the answers
I got first, and then go into what I ended up doing.
One person, not necessarily an electrician, suggested that it's safe to
plug one surge protector into another, and just kind of let them function
like extra safe extension cords once they burn out. It's the once they
burn out thing that worried me, since it seemed to be an inevitable
outcome of this surge up on surge method.
Another suggestion I got was to plug just one surge protector into each outlet a
suggestion that seemed very conservative and safe, but which would
only give me about 14 receptacles for my 18+ devices.
Anxious to find an answer that would make me happy, and let me feel safe, I
kept asking around for advice. I decided to visit the Underwriters
Laboratories, Inc Web site and see what they had to say
about surge protectors. Well, after searching through their site a
bit, and realizing that what we call surge protectors they call TRANSIENT
VOLTAGE SURGE SUPPRESSORS, I found that any surge protector you get
should fall under UL 1449.
Now before you go and look at all your surge protectors and panic if there's
no UL 1449 sticker on them, just know that your surge protectors will
probably say something like, "Transient Voltage Surge Suppressor" and
have the code 50E8 under that. So when you go out and get a surge protector,
be sure that somewhere on the surge packaging or the surge protector
itself, it says that it's UL 1449 approved. If it's not, you could
just be getting a UL approved extension cord with lots of outlets,
and that's not so good.
Finally, when I sent out an email asking people what they do at home, I also
got some recommendations for choosing a surge protector. One friend,
a computer network specialist who spends most of his times plugging
lots of computers into walls, said that you should only buy surge protectors
with indicator lights, and never spend less than $15. He also mentioned
that he'd seen many computers hooked up to surge protectors that would
be okay for a fax machine, but not a computer's hard disk. For the
best protection he, and others, recommended going for a surge protector
with the shortest response time (less than a nanosecond), high energy
absorption (over 400 joules), a low clamping voltage (lower than 330
volts is very good, 200 volts is excellent), and that insures your
equipment should it get burned.
So there you have a rough guide to surge protector safety. By the way,
I should mention that while it's probably safer not to have two surge
protectors plugged into one, if you remember to turn one off when using
the other, it's not so bad. A few other things to keep in mind are
that you should never plug a surge protector into an extension cord
and should have your telephone or fax machine protected by a surge
protector as well especially if you use a dial-up connection for
What I ended up doing....
So here's what I did to get my stuff up and running. After making sure
my surge protectors were UL listed and my outlets were the grounded
type with three prong outlets that the protectors require, I assigned
a different set of equipment to three different surge protectors. First,
I used a power center with five outlets for my computer system. This
handles my computer, monitor, printer, image scanner and cable modem.
I then plug the power center into one of my six outlet surge protectors
that is plugged into the wall outlet. The fax machine, answering machine,
hand held computer charger, speakers and one lamp are also plugged
into this protector. I use another six-outlet surge protector plugged
into the wall outlet for shortwave radio, AM/FM radio (
Twin Coil Ferrite AM Antenna, Cassette recorder
transceiver and one lamp. I use an outlet in the kitchen for another
six-outlet surge protector for my battery charger and for anything
else that might need to be plugged in for a while - and that needs
protecting. For safety's sake, and because I have a four-year-old son
and two insane cats, I keep the open outlets covered until I need them.
My equipment is surge protected and my dilemma is over.
Power surges and spikes happen all the time. Most go undetected, and if your
radios, computer and other electronic devices aren't protected the
damage can add up over time, leaving you with expensive, burned out
equipment. Don't let it happen to you . . . as I was writing this article
I was looking out the window at a neighbor's house. It's completely
covered in Christmas lights the doors, the trees, the shrubs, the
roofline, even the little nutcrackers sitting along the porch. I wonder
how, and if, theyve got all those lights protected. . .
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see what we can do. Good-bye for now, Carlos. About