Computing Tips: Surge Protectors for your computer and other electronic devices

The same electric lines that power a home’s creature comforts can also deliver destructive surges, spikes and lightning strikes, as well as “sags” and “brownouts” to unprotected electronics. But there are ways to protect against that risk. Here are some of the basics:

Spikes and surges: Electrical overloads are frequent in our “highly microprocessor-based world,” said Duncan Colley of Northeast Lightning Protection Systems in Bloomfield, Conn. Brief, tiny spikes—or longer surges—typically go unnoticed through the day.

Bigger spikes or surges are rare but can be destructive. There are many causes—glitches in a utility’s power grid, distant or nearby lightning strikes, or electrical anomalies within a residence.

People who live in multi-family buildings are not immune. When an elevator motor or air conditioning compressor cycles on, it can send a damaging surge rippling through the building’s wiring, said John Drengenberg of Underwriters Laboratories, the international product safety testing group. A frustrated resident may blame the manufacturer of a prematurely failed TV when the real culprit was an electrical surge.

Consumers can choose between two point-of-use models. One resembles a heavy-duty power strip, which is plugged into an outlet. The other looks like a wall receptacle.

Brian Markwalter of the Consumer Electronics Association prefers the plug-in ones, which do not require professional installation, are portable, and allow the attached electronics to be turned off easily for the ultimate protection during storms.

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