Lightening detection systems in the United States reveal approximately 100,000 thunderstorms happen annually with an average of 25 million strokes of lightning that hit the earth. Of those strikes, an average of one out of every 200 homes is struck by lightning, the National Lightning Safety Institute reports.

Surge protectors are a relatively inexpensive way to provide a layer of protection to computers and appliances for when an electrical surge affects a home, however there are several things consumers should know before purchasing and using a surge protector.

The most important thing to know is that a power strip is often disguised as a surge protector in the eyes of many consumers, but they are completely different. A power strip is merely an expansion of a wall outlet.

These commonly have a circuit breaker (on/off switch) of some sort and while some might have the barest level of protection most don't offer any real "protection" from electrical issues. Surge protectors offer some level of protection against power spikes. How much and how well varies considerably.

Surge protectors offer protection in amounts called joules. Generally, the more joules the better, as this means the device can handle one large surge, or multiple smaller surges, before electronics and other property is in danger. A unit with up to 1000 joules of surge protection is adequate for small electronics. A surge protector with 1000 to 2000 joules will provide sufficient protection for power tools and office equipment such as printers.

Power spikes effect phone and cable lines too, so shop for a surge protector that has connectors for these as well. Also, consider getting a surge protector with wider spacing between sockets, or sockets that be rotated or moved, to accommodate chunky plugs.

Over time, the parts inside the protector wear down, reducing its effectiveness. There's no way to know how much protection a device has left and shockingly there is no way to know if the initial rating is even accurate. The lifespan of a surge protector on average is anywhere from three to five years. If a home is subject to frequent brownouts or blackouts it is best to replace the surge protector as often as every two years.

Never use power strips or surge protectors for high-power capacity items such as, space heaters, dehumidifiers, or other high capacity appliances. Plug them directly into a wall outlet. Another important detail to know is that just because the surge protector has eight outlets doesn’t mean eight items should be plugged in and used simultaneously.

Some surge protectors actually offer a warranty if a homeowner’s electronic equipment is damaged. Keep in mind that just because the warranty exists doesn't mean the homeowner will ever see a dime from it.

Check out online consumer reports and reviews before making a purchase that is suppose to protect expensive household items.

— Marla Ballard’s Master of Disguise appears in the Times-Journal Wednesday editions.

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