Power Strips vs Surge Protectors (Difference Explained!)

You’re probably familiar with a power strip or surge protector, but do you know the difference between them? Knowing how they differ is a good idea to know what they are and what they do so you can protect your electronics.

Let’s go over them and allow me to give you some answers to help you make the right purchase and keep your devices safe.

Differences of Power Strips vs Surge Protectors

A power strip is a basic outlet extender that allows you to use multiple devices using a single outlet. Surge protectors, on the other hand, is another type of power strip that is intended to protect your electronics from power surges.

It is very important that you know the difference between the two, so you don’t make the same mistake that I did!

I had this computer setup with a UPS and when my UPS broke down, I quickly replaced it with a basic power strip and plugged in my computer.

It was meant to be just a temporary solution but I had forgot about it and continued using the power strip for month, until a power surge happened. My computer was powered on that time and totally unprotected.

It didn’t destroyed my CPU but the sudden electrical spike damaged my computer’s memory stick! My work was totally paralyzed for a few days and it costed me 80$ to purchase new memory.

Now that you know the quick answer and silly experience I had, let’s now go more in depth about the difference between the two devices.


While functionality is the most important factor in determining the difference between the two products, the surge protector offers additional features that make it a better choice.

Although the two devices might look similar, you can still tell the difference by checking out the packaging. Surge protectors comes with a unit of measurement called a Joule rating. The joule rating tells you how much energy the device can handle before it shuts down. A higher number means more protection. So basically, this rating tells you how much protections your devices will get against Power Surge.

For example, if the number displayed on the surge suppressor is 2000 joules, then that’s how much energy the surge suppressor can absorb before it fails.

However, a surge protector can turn into just a basic power strip after a strong power surge happens. Some surge protectors comes with a light indicator to show the reservoir levels and others have alarms to let you know it’s time to purchase a new one.

The power strip, on the other hand, is simply an outlet extender for multiple devices and does not offer any protection from power surges.


Because both have different purposes, you might prefer using one more than the other depending on your circumstances. Surge protectors is what I recommend, but of course, everyone of us have different appliances and devices in our homes, so you might use surge protectors and simple power strips differently.

A power strip is a quick and easy solution if you only need to plug multiple electronic devices near each other. Most residential areas do not have enough outlets to accommodate all of your devices. Having an extra power strip is much more convenient than having to plug in multiple devices separately.

Most power strips can come with a lot of outlets, sometimes more done a dozen if you like. Some of them also have circuit breakers and a handy on and off switch to help you conserve electricity without needing to pull out the plugs.

On the other hand, if you have expensive electronics, heavy appliances and you happen to live in a place where thunderstorms and lightning often occurs then surge protectors is the more ideal device for you since they offer more protection than an ordinary power strip.


Power strips are relatively inexpensive. You can buy them for under $20. So, they are a good choice for those who need additional outlets.

Surge protectors also come cheap. These are more excellent choice if you want to protect your electronics. You can also find surge protectors that is costing only $20 and below. Of course, there are more heavy duty ones but those will come at a slightly steeper price at around $100.

If you have larger appliances in your home, I suggest going for heavy duty surge protectors on the get go. 

Even though you may think that you are paying a higher price for a more heavy duty surge protector, they are still cheaper than replacing your electronics if they were damaged by power surges.

How to tell surge protector from power strip

There are many ways to identify whether something is a surge protector or a regular power strip.

The most obvious way is to look at its packaging.

If you see “surge protector”, “lightning arrester”, “spike arrester” , “spike suppressor” or “surge suppressor” written anywhere on the box, then you should be sure that it is indeed a surge protector. However, if you don’t see anything special about the package, then chances are that it is a normal power strip.

Joule Rating in Packaging
Joule Rating in Packaging

Surge protectors will also have joules rating in the packaging or a sticker somewhere on the device itself. The Joules rating is the unit of measurement for protection from a power surge. So this rating is the best indication that it is indeed a surge protector since power strips don’t offer any protection.

Risk of power strips

There are many risks associated with power strips and even surge protectors. The most common risk is overheating, which could damage your equipment. This is because when you connect too many devices at once, the current flowing through the wires increases, causing heat buildup.

Another problem is voltage spikes caused by electrical storms. If you live in a storm prone area, you should be aware of these problems. A spike in voltage can burn your electronics in an instant and, in some situation can cause fire.

What is a power surge?

A power surge is an electrical disturbance that occurs when there is a sudden increase in current flow (amperage) for a short period of time. Power surges occur when there is a sudden change in the amount of electricity being sent through your home. This could be caused by a storm, a lightning strike, or a malfunctioning transformer.

To simply put, a power surge is an electrical supply interruption. Electronics, appliances and devices rely on a constant stream of electricity to keep them in good condition.

The intensity of surges varies. A lightning strike is considered a major one. During these major surges, electronics can be fried and get broken. This is where surge protectors comes in to prevent irreversible damage to your electronics.

There are also small surges that occurs and these kind of surges may do damage to your electronics in the long run. It will quicken the degradation of the electronic parts on your devices.

That’s why I can say surge protectors are important for your homes particularly to your home office if you want a disruption free work environment.

Here are the common causes of Power Surges:

Faulty Wiring

Faulty wiring is usually the main reason behind power surges. When something goes wrong with the circuit breaker panel, it sends out high amperages into the system.

Lightning Strike

Lightning strikes cause dangerous voltage spikes and surges that threaten to fry your gadgets’ sensitive electronics.

High-Powered Devices Turning on and off

When the motor of an appliance turns on or off, there can be fluctuations in power. These fluctuations can cause problems when they occur at certain frequencies.

How often do power surge happens?

Your home may experience many small power surges daily, so it happens quite often. Major surges are rare, like those that happen during thunderstorms. The thunderstorm may cause lightning strikes to hit power lines, making your electrical devices in danger of getting fried.

An estimate from National Weather Service is that around 25 million lightning strikes happen in the U.S every year, which results to 213,000 insurance claims related to lightning damage. Around 1.8 thousand thunderstorm is happening in the world at any given time.

Internal power surges are the most common kind of power outage. About half of them are so small they can’t be detected, and not strong enough to cause any interruption of electrical service.

Electrical devices that are at most risks from power surges

Devices that are at most risks from damage to power surges are household appliances and electronic equipment such as TV, Desktop Computers, Laptops, Monitors, Telephone Systems, Microwave Ovens, Refrigerators, Audio Visual Equipment (AV), and Stereos.

The main reason is that most of them have sensitive internal components which can be damaged by power surges.

The devices that are at most risk of damage from power surges are your home entertainment system, computer and printer, stereo, microwave oven, and DVD player. The main reason is that most of them have sensitive internal components which can be damaged by power surges.

Power surges can damage or destroy these electronic devices in a matter of seconds.  

Even though your surge protector will help protect your devices, it is still best to avoid surges by unplugging your electronics when there is lightning.  

If you don’t have a surge protector, then you should at least unplug your electronics. 

Which one to choose? Power strip or surge protector?

So by now, you should know a lot about these two devices. I really can’t be certain which one is the best fit for you.

But let’s take my own reasons, for example.

If I use sensitive or expensive electronics in my home and it would be hard for me to replace them easily, then I would easily go with surge protectors. No brainer!

However, if I just need a cheap solution for my outlet woes and only want to add more outlets for my other devices without all the complexities, then a power strip will work just fine for me.  

All things considered, a surge protector will also work the same, given if you are willing to spend more.

What to look for a surge protector

The most important part to look for on surge protectors is its “Joules” rating. This is the unit of measurement that tells you how much your device is protected from power surges. Basically, the higher the joule rating, the better protection.

You can easily that rating in the packaging of any surge protectors you are buying, so make sure you don’t forget checking that one.

This also means, if you have a surge protector that has a low joule rating and you used it on a big appliance, then it your appliance may still be at risk from power surge damage.

In essence, Surge protectors that are under powered will not save your devices from surges that exceed their capacity. A larger one will be able to handle those higher-level surges without damage. However, if you have sensitive equipment like computers, TVs, stereos, etc., then you should get something with a higher joule rating.

It may cost more money up front, but in the long run, it will pay off for you by saving you from expensive repairs down the road.

Other Alternatives – UPS ( Uninterruptible Power Supply )

UPS units are similar to surge protectors except they provide backup power instead of protecting against surges. They’re usually more expensive than surge protectors because they have this extra functionality. But they are great for providing back-up power to critical systems such as your computers and your old laptop with a dying battery that you are too lazy to fix.

Well, basically its for anything else that needs constant uninterrupted power.

It’s important to note though that the back up power of a UPS is only intended for a few minutes, usually around 5 minute of back up power. But there are also some expensive models that can last longer.

So better be quick on saving your work!

They come in different sizes and capacities depending on your requirements. You can buy an inexpensive model for $50-$100 or even less, or you could splurge and get a high end model costing hundreds of dollars.

A UPS is very useful when you live somewhere where there isn’t reliable electricity supply and it gives you the peace of mind knowing that if there is a power outage, your devices will be protected from a sudden burnout or total loss of power.


In conclusion, I would say that both types of products serve their purpose well enough. The main differences lie in the protection it offers for your electronic devices. If you want to use a surge protector, then choose one with a high joule rating. If you need a quick and easy solution for adding more outlets for your many different devices then power strips might well do enough.

I hope these tips helped you out. Please let us know which type of brand you chose and why. We’d love to hear about your experience.