Do you need a UPS or just a surge protector?

You need to have something. Whether you’re talking about home theater equipment or your home computer, it’s just too valuable to leave it to chance and hope that a power surge doesn’t come through your home’s electrical system. Most homes don’t have terribly clean power. It’s not required by law, homeowners don’t know to ask for it and if the home was built before 1990 … there was no thought of computers at that time. It’s a smart idea to get some protection for your home electronics.

What needs a surge protector?
Pretty much everything you want. Computers, DVRs, TVs, home theater, everything. Power surges can ruin electronics in thousandths of a second and a surge protector — even an inexpensive one — is pretty much mandatory. If your device has an external power supply, it’s a little safer since those tend to have some surge protection built-in and will take the brunt of a power surge, but don’t think that because it has a wall wart you’re out of the woods.

What needs a UPS?
An uninterruptible power supply combines a surge protector with a battery that switches on so quickly that your devices don’t even know the power’s been off. It’s critical for any computer without its own battery, and that includes DVRs which are basically computers in disguise. A 5-second power outage can cause your DVR to reboot meaning 5-10 minutes lost in your favorite program. If your device does have its own battery, like a tablet or laptop, a UPS isn’t necessary but there’s no downside to using one.

How much UPS do you need?
That’s really up to you. There isn’t going to be any reasonably priced UPS that will give you more than about 30 minutes of protection. Most homes just need smaller UPS systems that will make it through a short power outage and last just long enough for you to save your work and shut down your electronics as gracefully as possible. UPS’s are measured in VA’s, or volt-amperes, which is a measure of how much current you can draw from it and how long. You don’t need to know the fancy math only to say that a bigger more powerful thing will draw more VA’s than a smaller less powerful thing. Something under 500VA may not even have enough power to run your TV for more than a minute or two, depending on the size of your TV and its power consumption.

We recommend that all our customers are protected with a mix of surge protectors for non-critical electronics and UPS’s for more critical ones. It’s not that expensive to do it and it’s really worth your time to get it done.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.