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A flat plug surge protector is designed to protect a person’s electrical equipment from potentially damaging electricity surges while also saving space. This type of surge protector is built with a flat plug, which means it doesn’t stick out from the wall and require a lot of space between the outlet and furniture, appliances, and decorative objects. Instead, the plug portion of a flat plug surge protector lies flat and takes up very little space.
One of the problems a person may have with a basic surge protector is that the plug sticks out from the wall. This makes for inconvenient placement in some cases. For example, a surge protector with a regular plug cannot be placed behind a bookcase, bed, dresser, appliance, sofa, or chair, unless the user doesn’t mind leaving a gap between the wall and the furniture or appliance. To avoid this issue, many people choose flat plug surge protectors that do not require a person to deal with gaps or puzzle over a better placement.
When a person is in the market for a flat plug surge protector, he may do well to take some time with choosing one. This is because power strips are easy to mistake for surge protectors. Unfortunately, however, power strips don’t do the same job. Basically, a power strip provides multiple outlets that can be used to power a range of devices. A surge protector, on the other hand, not only allows a person to plug in multiple devices, but also keep those devices protected from power surges.
A flat plug surge protector works the same way other surge protectors do; the only real difference is its design. A flat plug surge protector helps to prevent damage to electrical devices when there is an increase in voltage. Without a surge protector, an increase may damage an electrical device and render it inoperable. Even if the device is still usable, repeated surges may slowly damage it. When a surge protector is in use, excess electricity is diverted to a grounding wire, and electrical devices are kept safe.
Some flat plug surge protectors are also designed with plug heads that curve to the side rather than extending downward. This extra feature may make the surge protector even more convenient. Since the plug curves to the side, it will not block other sockets, even if it is used in an outlet’s top socket.
How Does a Surge Protector Work?
When you plug in a surge protector, it takes the incoming electrical current from the outlet and routes it to other devices that are plugged into its strip. The surge protector allows that current to flow to the plugged-in equipment.
Each surge protector contains a grounding wire, a neutral wire and a hot wire. These three wires run parallel to each other, with the neutral and hot wires normally transmitting current. If the incoming voltage exceeds acceptable levels, the surge protector channels the extra voltage into its grounding wire.
Surge Protectors Vs. Power Strips
It's sometimes easy to confuse a surge protector with a power strip. However, there are some important differences between the two. As mentioned earlier, surge protectors have hot, neutral and ground wires. Power stripes, on the other hand, simply expand a wall outlet's capacity to power more devices. Some may have internal circuit breakers for safety's sake, but they don't offer the same safeguards that a surge protector does.
Each power strip has a maximum load capacity. Overloading a strip can have dire consequences: It can melt and burst into flames, starting a fire inside your home. Meanwhile, surge protectors' capacities are measured in joules. As a quick review, a joule is a unit of work or energy. When measuring electricity, a joule is equal to one watt-second: the energy put out by a one-amp current with one ohm of resistance. The higher the joule rating, the greater a surge protector's capacity to handle unexpected surges.
How Long Do Surge Protectors Last?
Depending on usage conditions, the average power strip lasts between three and five years. That lifespan can be shorter if you experience a lot of power surges, blackouts or brownouts. Each time electrical lines are hit with surges, spikes, blackouts or brownouts, the resulting current can impact any devices plugged into your outlets.
Surge protectors divert excess current away from devices plugged into them. A surge protector's joule rating indicates how much power through spikes and surges that it can divert before it's no longer able to protect your equipment.
Power Surges Vs. Power Spikes
To understand how current fluctuations can affect a surge protector's useful lifespan, you should know the difference between a power surge and a power spike. Both can damage electrical equipment. But power surges are short-term increases in voltage carried by power lines. Surges carry less power than spikes, but they tend to last longer. Conversely, power spikes are short bursts of high-voltage current on a power line. They typically don't last more than a few milliseconds, but they can inflict a lot of damage. Even when equipment doesn't immediately daily, power spikes can seriously reduce its useful lifespan.
Power surges and spikes can carry quite a bit of energy. To understand just how much energy they may generate, a quick review of how alternating current works may be helpful. The United States uses alternating current, in which voltage rises and falls in a natural rhythm. At any moment, its voltage ranges between 0 and 169 volts. Anything above 169 volts results in a surge or a spike.
Power surges can be minor, perhaps only a couple of hundred volts. Major surges can send thousands of volts through your power lines. Either way, a surge can last a few seconds. Spikes, however, hit your lines with thousands of volts in less than the blink of an eye.
How To Tell If a Surge Protector Is Bad
Since you can't directly measure the energy output of spikes and surges, there's no sure-fire way to tell when a surge protector has outlived its usefulness. Some newer models, however, have visual displays that tell you when they can no longer guard your equipment. Others automatically shut off when their protection capabilities run out. At this point, these units stop passing power to plugged-in devices.
While the average surge protector won't tell you when it can't guard against surges and spikes, you can still take steps to keep your equipment safe. If you haven't seen many power fluctuations and there have been no major surges or spikes, you can probably replace your surge protectors every two to three years. But if you live in an area with inconsistent power flow with spikes and surges on a regular basis, you may want to swap them out every year or so.
Some communities run on dirty power — in other words, they experience a lot of electrical abnormalities. You can end up frequently buying surge protectors if this is the case. You may want to consider a high-quality uninterruptible power supply.