Most people know that surge suppression protects sensitive electronics, but they would struggle to explain why it's necessary. The current in a power grid naturally fluctuates a little, but huge spikes can be caused by lightning strikes. The circuitry in computers and other electronic devices aren't built to handle extremely high voltages, and many of these products can be damaged by less than a second of extremely high voltage.
The Whole House Needs Protection
You'll need a lot more than a power strip to solve this problem. When you purchase an old home, it's important to have an experienced electrician inspect the wiring. Older homes are more likely to have inadequate surge suppression, and dangerous voltage can come through virtually any wire, even telephone lines. After a lightning strike or another spike in the electrical grid, a protective system can divert excess voltage directly to the ground line. This kind of system is hard-wired into the house's service panel. Separate boxes can be installed for the phone and cable lines. In the era before cordless phones, holding the receiver during an electrical storm could be dangerous. Now, the bigger concern is expensive devices like televisions and entertainment systems that might plug directly into a cable line.
Not All Power Strips Are Equal
Many of the cheapest power strips offer little or no protection against voltage spikes. They function essentially as extension cords that provide multiple outlets. Attentive consumers can find strips that do offer surge suppression, and some products even include jacks for phone and cable lines. As much as 15 percent of the unwanted voltage can get past the systems designed for entire homes, so it is important to still use protection on critical outlets near computers and entertainment centers.
Outages Also Cause Damage
Early users of personal computers were frequently warned of the damage caused by improperly shutting down their desktops. Modern devices are designed to be more resilient when it comes to hard shutdowns, but a loss of power can still mean that work and other information is lost. An uninterruptible power supply (or UPS) is commonly recommended for computers, especially if you use a desktop PC for work. The battery incorporated into the device allows you to continue working during a short outage. More importantly, it gives you an opportunity to save progress. Most UPS products will use audible warnings or flashing lights to warn when the battery supply of power is low, allowing the user to properly and safely shut down the system. It is a good idea to unplug important devices during an outage because there may be a spike when the power returns.
These are just three of the key principles for managing the circuitry in a home. An experienced and licensed electrician can provide far more information about specific recommendations for your home. Some local grids are more reliable than others, but even a single outage or spike can cause significant damage. Shorted electronics can also lead to electrical fires that endanger the entire property. As a homeowner, it's always best to take reasonable precautions.