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Surge Protector Fires

Surge protectors can help to prevent fires if they are in good working shape and used properly. When a faulty or defective unit fails to work correctly, surge protectors can become a fire hazard itself.

According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), over 3,300 housefires are caused each year by defective power strips, surge protectors and other electrical cords. Though they are generally purchased to increase safety, if they are defective or used incorrectly, they can increase the risk of a fire occurring.

Issues that need to be considered when using a surge protector:

  • Power limits
  • Certification
  • Recalls
  • Age
  • Condition
  • Use

Power Strip vs. Surge Protector

What is the difference between a power strip and a surge protector? A power strip adds extra outlet space or locations to plug appliances into. A surge protector blocks or diffuses voltage spikes or surges that can damage electronics or other electrical equipment. In many cases, a power strip will act as a surge protector and many surge protectors provide additional outlet space – but not always so it is important to check for the difference.

In addition to package labelling, only surge protectors will have a rating for “joules”. Joules are a measurement of energy which, in the case of surge protection, can help define how long or how well your appliances would be protected. The Joule rating is like a reservoir and once the rating is used, the unit should be replaced.

At a minimum, a household surge protector should have a rating of 600 joules or more which will indicate that the unit will provide for 600 joules of energy “surge” which may come all at once or a little bit at a time. A higher rating means more or longer protection. Some surge protectors will have a light that comes on when protection is failing but in other cases, they should simply be replaced periodically.

What is a Power Surge?

A power surge is a spike in electrical current that occurs suddenly and usually stops right away. Even if the spike is brief, lasting only a second, it can damage electronics and appliances. In severe cases, it can even cause a fire to occur.

Lightning strikes are what most people think of when they imagine power surges. Power surges can be caused by faulty wiring which is unable to withstand or absorb fluctuations in power use. It can also be caused by high power use devices which turn on or off, such as the air conditioner or refrigerator.

Safety Tips for Power Surge Protectors

  • Charge electronic devices while you are awake, unplug when not in use
  • Don’t modify grounded plugs by clipping of third prong
  • Avoid daisy-chain use of electric cords which are plugged into one another
  • Don’t overload circuits by plugging too many devices in at once
  • Replace worn parts or cords which have become damaged or frayed
  • If a cord or plug is warm to the touch – throw it out
  • Look for recalled devices on internet
  • If you suffer from a surge or electrical storm, replace the device

Surge Protector Recalls

Each year in the U.S., hundreds of consumer electric devices are recalled. Past recalls have included power strips or surge protectors which turned out to be defective or faulty and may have increased the risk for a surge protector fire. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is responsible for issuing and listing recalls of consumer items like surge protectors. Consumers should periodically check recall websites to ensure that their products are not listed as dangerous.

By following a few safety tips and staying alert, the danger of surge protector fires or other electrical hazards can be avoided.


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