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Do Surge Protectors Go Bad?

James Elder
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by James Elder

Are you still using the same surge protector you bought five years ago? If yes, you’re probably surprised to hear that chances are it’s no longer shielding your equipment from power spikes!

Yes, the lifespan of a surge protector is limited. After it expires, it’ll stop protecting against power surges and function like a power strip. So even though you believe your appliances are shielded from harmful electrical spikes, they may not be.

Surge Protector Gone Bad
Surge Protector Gone Bad

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to determine when a surge protector has lost its power and needs replacing.

Don’t worry, though! First, we’ll clarify how surge protectors operate and suggest a replacement timeframe. Then, we’ll offer advice on adequately protecting your electronics from electrical surge damage.

Surge Protectors Do Go Bad

Surge breakers don’t last forever. They need to be replaced roughly every two years, depending on the joules’ rating and the intensity of the power surges it protected against.

How Surge Protectors Work

Surge protectors are multi-plug tools designed to shield our electronics and appliances from harmful power surges.

A power surge is a sudden increase in voltage or current in an electric circuit. These waves of electricity usually occur during the following events:

  • lightning hits
  • electrical overloads from plugging more appliances than the outlet can handle 
  • faulty or outdated wiring in your home, and more

Whatever the reason, surge breakers protect our appliances from electrical damage.

When an incoming increase in electricity hits the electrical system, the surge protector will reroute that excess wattage toward the ground and away from your sensitive electronics using a ground cable. The ground cable is that little bottom pin on the plug-in.

The Lifespan of a Surge Protector Is Measured in Joules

Surge protectors are only capable of withstanding a certain amount of electricity before they die. This capacity is measured in joules.

The joules of surge protectors are used as a shield in the event of a power spike. Depending on the intensity of the electrical spike, more or fewer joules are used.

Typically, surge protectors have a joule rating from 400 to over 2,000, and a higher joule rating indicates a stronger resilience to electricity spikes.

After a highly intense increase in power or several low-intensity power surges, surge protectors will exhaust their joules capacity and become ineffective against subsequent power spikes but still provide electricity to plugged-in devices.

For example, a surge protector rated at 1,000 joules will no longer shield devices after five power surges of 100 joules each.

How to Tell When a Surge Protector Has Run Out of Joules?

One of the unfortunate things about surge protectors is that it’s challenging to tell when it runs out of joules. As a result, many manufacturers create surge protectors with LED lights that inform you when the device has no jules left.

If the LED light is turned ON, the protection is active. On the other hand, if the LED light is turned OFF, the surge protector no longer protects against power surges.

Some manufacturers make surge protectors with green and red LED lights, with green indicating the device’s active protection, whereas red light means no security.

LED lights are a great way to tell when a surge protector goes bad, but they aren’t always accurate. Plus, they don’t show the number of remaining joules.

Factors Affecting the Lifetime of Surge Protectors

Although there isn’t a clear-cut response when a surge protector runs out of joules, a few things contribute to its lifespan, such as:

  • Lightning-prone living area: Your residence is a significant factor in deciding how long a surge safety device will last. For instance, if you live in Florida or another lightning-prone region, you need to update your surge protection devices more frequently.
  • Dirty power grid: If the area you live in is prone to a “dirty” power grid, meaning the grid suffers some abnormality causing frequent power surges and spikes, you’ll also need to replace your surge protector more frequently.
  • Dirty electrical system: As stated above, “dirty” refers to the abnormalities in the electrical system, such as electrical overloads, frequent circuit trips, damaged wires, or outdated writing. These usually trigger sudden power spikes and negatively affect the surge protector’s lifespan.

A Rule of Thumb: Replace Your Surge Protectors Every Two Years

Surge protectors should be replaced every two years, even if nothing goes wrong with them and they still power the devices as the day you first bought them. But you may need to replace them more often depending on the region you reside in, the brand you use, the joules rating, the regularity of power spikes, etc.

Replace your surge protector right away if:

  • Your neighborhood has recently suffered many power outages
  • There have been lighting impacts close by
  • Your circuit frequently trips
  • You notice bad “burning” smell
  • The receptacles are browned

The Greatest Defense: Multiple Layers of Surge Safety

Whole-house surge protector
Whole-house surge protector

Do you want a robust defense against destructive electrical surges?

Install a whole-house surge protector  as the first layer of protection. These devices are placed at the primary electrical circuit panel safeguarding every outlet and socket in your home, something a regular plug-in surge protector cannot accomplish.

Then, plug point-of-use surge protectors as a second layer of protection. Plug them in outlets where you need to power multiple devices close by. But be careful not to plug in high-wattage appliances, such as a microwave or a dryer, because you’ll overload the circuit.

Always choose products bearing OSHA’s Nationally Recognized Testing Center labels, and don’t hesitate to spend a little more for high-quality products with a higher joule value.


Yes, surge protectors do wear out over time, which is why you should replace these gadgets approximately every two years.

So let’s sum up today’s discussion. First, a surge protector goes bad when it can’t defend your devices against a power surge. Their level of defense is rated in joules, and the higher the rating, the longer it protects.

Every time there’s a surge, the number of joules will decrease until they run out. Unfortunately, once the joules are spent, the surge protector will only serve as an electrical supply, meaning it’s time to get a new one.

Surge protectors have LED lights indicating their lifespan. However, they aren’t always accurate. As a result, it’s tricky to tell whether your surge protector is still safeguarding you against power surges since it will still provide electricity to plugged-in devices.

The only method to prevent long-term problems with your surge protectors is to replace them regularly, every one to two years at most, and consider installing a whole-house surge protector.

James Elder
James Elder
James Elder has been fiddling with gadgets and using tools from a young age. His father was an excellent craftsman and James enjoyed spending time with his dad and learning all he could about working with wood, drywall, electronics, and various household projects. James has worked professionally for many years and his passion is to share knowledge that is especially useful to aspiring handy men & women to get more done around their homes.
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