A Primer on UPSs and Advanced Power Strips

An Uninterruptable Power Source (UPS) plugs into a standard electrical outlet. Like power strips, they have a series of outlets into which you plug devices, and they serve as surge protectors. Unlike power strips, UPSs contain a battery unit that kicks in a few microseconds after a failure in regular utility electrical power. This keeps your devices running for a while and enables an orderly shutdown after an opportunity to save changes. And a UPS typically has better surge protection than a power strip.

Better UPS units also have a line conditioner function that is very helpful in protecting expensive/sensitive electronics. The voltage from the outlets in your home is not constant. (Notice how your lights dim when the refrigerator comes on, or sometimes without any obvious reason?) This periodic rise and fall is what wears out sensitive electronics such as computers, modems, routers, audio/video receivers, and phone chargers. A line conditioner continually fills in these valleys and clips off the peaks, so your sensitive devices last longer.

Since they have a battery inside, UPSs are heavy. So be careful about shipping charges if you buy online, and consider buying one in a brick-and-mortar store. EATON and APC are reliable and widely available brands.

Advanced Power Strips (also called Smart Power Strips or Energy-Saving Surge Protectors) serve as surge protectors, and are also helpful energy savers. Today's homes often contain multiple computer systems and home entertainment centers. Recent research has shown that in some homes, home entertainment systems account for a whopping 60% of household energy use other than that used by major appliances. Advanced power strips allow you to have the power to some devices automatically controlled based on whether a primary device is on or off/asleep. This reduces "vampire loads," the energy that goes to maintaining a constant "standby" state in electronic devices. For about $30-40, you can buy a five- to seven-outlet master control model. Analysis shows that over its lifetime, it will save you about twice its price in energy costs when compared to the plain $15 models.

For a home entertainment system, plug items such as a DVR/cable box into the "always-on" sockets, a television into the "master socket", and the sound system, DVD, and game console into the controlled sockets. With this setup, your DVR will work as programmed, but when the television is off, power will be automatically cut to the controlled sockets and restored when the television is turned back on. For a computer system, most folks plug the CPU into the master socket and the display and other peripherals into the programmed sockets. If something needs to stay on all the time, use the "always on" socket, but know that you are feeding the vampire.

Advanced power strips can be found at many retail outlets and online. The Tricklestar brand offers a higher level of quality than many other options; shop for it online.