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Is There A Difference Between Power Strips and Surge Protectors?

power strips surge protector

3 Critical Differences Between These Often Confused Items

There is nothing worse than needing a place to plug something in and not having room in the available receptacles. While you could hire an electrician to install new outlets throughout your house, most people just run to the store. At a quick glance, power strips and surge protectors look practically indistinguishable, but they are, in fact, very different and have very different uses.

Read on to learn more about the difference between surge protectors and power strips and how they can best be used in your home, office, or business.

The Main Difference Between a Surge Protector and a Power Strip

When you first look at a surge protector or a power strip, you will essentially see an extension cord with additional outlets and an on/off switch, in most cases. Shoppers who are moving quickly through the store could easily grab either one of these without noticing which one they are purchasing.

Power strips add extra outlet space. They come in many shapes and sizes; some plug directly into your wall outlet, while others come with massive extension chords. Surge protectors, on the other hand, are devices that add extra outlet space AND protect your outlets against possible voltage spikes and power surges that could damage your home’s electrical system, appliances, or electronics.


At a closer look, you might see several different characteristics between these two devices. For example, the packaging might contain a joules rating. Joules are a unit of energy measurement that measures the device's protection level. A small power surge might not produce many joules, while a massive spike could throw up some serious numbers.

The joules in your power strip act like a bank account. When you first purchase the surge protector, it might be configured for 2,500 joules. Various energy spikes, large and small, make withdrawals from your joule bank account. When the account is depleted, the surge protector can no longer do its job. In fact, at this point, the surge protector turns into a power strip, as it no longer offers protection. The reverse is false: a power strip cannot be turned into a surge protector.

Another element you may notice is that a surge protector may have additional connections. Some surge protectors also offer phone, cable, and internet lines protection, along with additional receptacle space. While power surges in these lines are less common, offering this extra layer of protection can sometimes be advisable. Talk to your local electrician to learn more.


Since power strips and surge protectors have different functions, there are times when it is more appropriate to use one over the other. Power strips are excellent options when you have various electronics in the same area. Since most residential and commercial areas only offer two outlet sockets in a space, additional outlets are necessary.

Many people like to travel with basic power strips. They are inexpensive and can add outlets to areas where finding an available plus is a challenge, like airports, coffee shops, and restaurants.

Surge protectors are also ideal when you have multiple things to plug in with relatively few available plugs. These are popular items for areas with expensive electronic equipment like an entertainment center, computer setup, or charging station.

Electricians can even install whole-house surge protectors for residential homes. A whole-house surge protector protects every outlet in the house. You can also layer protection with a whole-house surge protector connected to your electrical service and point-of-use surge protectors where your equipment is located.


Power strips are relatively affordable, with options starting at under $10. The size and quality of the power strip impact the final cost. Since these devices are so cost-effective, they are often the more popular choice for people simply looking for a few extra outlets.

As you can imagine, the extra protection offered by surge protectors means a higher purchasing price. Everyday use surge protectors aren’t expensive, but they do cost more when compared to power strips. Commercial-grade surge protectors or those with higher ratings will cost a little more.

Of course, the extra cost is worth considering how much it would cost to replace damaged equipment. One significant surge could take out household appliances, computer equipment, and even your eclectic vehicle if plugged into an unprotected charging station. Paying a little extra seems like a worthwhile investment when you consider how much grief it can save down the road.

What Is A Power Surge?

Since the biggest difference between a power strip and surge protector involves protection against power surges, it is important to know what a power surge actually is and what it does. An electrical power surge is a spike in your home or building’s electrical current. While these surges are brief, they can damage your appliances and electronics or even cause a fire.

Power surges come from three main areas:

Appliance Cycling

When the motor of a high-powered appliance like your air conditioning unit or refrigerator turns on or off, there can be electrical spikes. While a single spike may not cause harm to your electrical system, continued surges can add up to significant problems.

Faulty Wiring

Faulty or damaged wiring is more susceptible to power surges; this is especially true in older houses.

Lightning Strikes

A lightning strike can cause significant power surges when it hits a powerline, substation, or any other part of the electrical grid.

Power Outage

After power is restored after an outage, there can be a sudden surge as appliances regain power.

Minor Upgrades Can Make Grand Improvements

Using the appropriate electrical equipment can significantly impact a home or office, and adding a few power strips can make any space more functional for various electrical equipment. Since these strips are portable and affordable, they are excellent solutions in many situations.

Surge protectors are better options in areas with more delicate or expensive equipment. Not only do they provide additional outlets, but they create a defense against power spikes that could damage critical equipment. Surge protectors vary from tiny devices meant to protect small electronics to large whole-house units built to protect an entire home.

Whether you are in the market for a few extra outlets in your home or want to protect your appliances and electrical equipment, you can now accurately choose between a power strip and surge protector. If you’re ever unsure which item is best or what level of surge protection will work best for you, contact an electrician to discuss your options.