Green Technology
Surge Suppressor Peeve
Sure, surge suppressors can save energy, but let’s make them more convenient.
Surge Suppressor Peeve
July 02, 2008 by Steven Castle

You may have heard that you can save energy by plugging your electronics into a surge suppressor and switching the surge strip off when you’re not using your gear. This stops vampire or standby power from being consumed by your electronics when they’re not “on.”

There are now smart surge suppressors that shut the power completely off to your electronics, and even those with remote controls, as detailed in our article on how surge suppressors can save the world.

Those are pretty cool and convenient, especially considering that many surge suppressors get tucked under computer consoles or behind entertainment cabinets, where they’re out of sight and out of reach. But what if a person can position a surge strip conveniently and just wants to switch it off manually?

Sure, most surge strips have switches, but very few have switches that can be conveniently reached. In the vast majority of surge suppression strips, the switches are positioned on one end, where the strip’s big, thick power cord comes out. If you were planning to position one of these next to a computer console, or under a bottom shelf of an entertainment rack where you could switch it off easily with your hands or feet, you have a big ugly cord snaking out as well. You’re almost certain to place it so the cord end and switch is closer to the wall. Not convenient.

So why don’t the surge suppressor manufacturers switch the positions of their switches? I asked this while researching the article on surge suppressors saving the world, and I was told by manufacturers that it would entail running more wire inside the surge strip, which means higher costs in a competitive market.

Okay, but wouldn’t switching the switches make surge suppressors a lot more convenient, especially for people who don’t feel they need a smart surge or one with a remote control? I’d pay a couple extra bucks for a surge suppressor with a more convenient switch—and I’m sure other energy-conscious people would as well. The manufacturers I interviewed about this acted like this was the first time they had heard such a proposal. Move the switch? What a radical idea! (In other words, it’ll never fly with their marketing departments.)

Yet, surge suppressors with the switch on one end and the power cord on the other have been done. I had a surge suppressor from the 1980s that was designed like that—and it was a good one, though it has long since outlived its usefulness as a suppressor and is now more of a power strip. It wouldn’t be wise to plug valuable electronics into it.

I have another suppressor from Belkin, called the Conceal, which has a hinged lid to hide your plugs and power adapters. It’s great for baseboard applications, with a switch at one end and power cord in the center that you can route out of either end. I use it for a fax machine and printer and turn it on only during my home office hours. The only problem is I can’t plug something like a cell phone charger or laptop into it only for a while, because I have it positioned so the only visible outlet is on the side facing a wall. For those items, I need another surge suppressor, with the switch on the wrong side. I’m able to keep the switch conveniently located, but there’s also a big ugly cord that I have to route under the feet of an adjacent piece of furniture. Not ideal.

At least I can easily reach down with my hand and switch it off for the night. When I explained this to one manufacturer, the representative said, “Yes, some people will do that, but we think most people don’t want to reach down to shut it off.”

“Are you kidding,” I said. “All I have to do is shift my weight in the seat, reach a little, and the thing is off. Or I can get up and flip it off with my toe or a shoe. Piece of cake!”

Silence. I was hoping he was taking notes, but probably not. I guess there’s just not a big market for more convenient surge suppressors with conveniently located switches. Though there should be!

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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