It’s likely you’ve given some thought about replacements and upgrades to most of the hardware in your studio. Whether it be workstation upgrades, additional storage, new displays, or faster wireless access points, it’s a given that technology becomes outdated and needs to be swapped out.
It’s easy to overlook one critical element to your systems infrastructure: surge protectors. These simple devices sit innocuously under desks and along walls, feeding power to other systems seemingly forever. But by not regularly checking and replacing your power hardware, you could be opening your workstations and servers to catastrophic failure and data loss due to a power surge event.
How Does Surge Protection Work?
It’s important to understand how surge protectors function and why they’re critical to your office. It’s also important to differentiate surge protectors from the similar but simpler power strip.
A power strip simply passes power from the wall outlet and distributes it to connected devices - they do nothing to regulate power and protect your devices from surges, leaving critical systems vulnerable to damage. Though the term ‘power surge’ generally brings to mind catastrophic events like lightning strikes that fry sensitive electronics, minor intra-facility events such as electrical switching can cause power to fluctuate. These mini-surges can strain and damage unprotected electrical components, reducing their lifetime.
A surge protector, on the other hand, contains a component called a metal oxide varistor (MOV) that absorbs excess power in the event of a surge, regulating the amount of power delivered to your devices. These MOVs are not endless: their lifespans are rated in joules, determined by how much power the MOV can absorb before they degrade.
This absorption is cumulative. If, for example, the MOV has a lifetime of 1000 joules, it will become degraded after one 1000-joule surge, ten 100-joule surges, or even 1000 one-joule surges. Even minor power fluctuations cause accumulated degradation to the surge protector.
Once an MOV is degraded, the surge protector effectively becomes a standard power strip, offering no further protection to connected devices. Higher-end surge protectors often ship with more robust MOVs, though they too will need replacement over time.
How to Know When to Replace a Surge Protector
There is no surefire way to determine whether a surge protector is still offering protection. Since the MOVs are rated by joules absorbed rather than by length of time, the degradation rate will depend entirely on the power at your facility and how many surges the device has had to absorb.
Most inexpensive surge protectors feature an onboard LED to indicate whether the MOV is still functioning, though these are not always reliable. More sophisticated surge protectors will cut power once the MOV is exhausted, to let you know it needs replacement. While this is a useful indicator, it could also create headaches as connected systems will be useless until the protector can be swapped out.
Overall, it’s a good rule of thumb to replace surge protectors every 2-3 years or so, sooner if your facility suffers a major power event. If you have surge protectors old enough you can’t remember when you bought them, it’s likely they’re overdue for replacement.
For more information on surge protection and when to replace them, check out these helpful articles by Lifehacker and How To Geek. If you have concerns about whether your surge protectors are operating properly, and or have questions about the power configuration in your facility, reach out to Nodal!