Smart plugs are plugged into your wall sockets, and then you plug devices into them. The smart plug’s power can then be controlled with your smartphone app (or Amazon Echo/Google Home), meaning that you can turn the plugged-in device on/off with ease.
But these smart plugs typically control just a single device, and often don’t have surge protection. It’d be better to plug a power strip into your smart plug (so you can control all devices on that power strip), and also introduce a surge protector (so all your devices are protected from electrical surges). But is this safe?
It’s perfectly safe to combine surge protectors and/or power strips (into a smart plug), as long as you don’t exceed the total wattage rating. But this isn’t always required: there are great solutions which combine all three.
Smart plugs, surge protectors and power strips: why/how?
Before I go too far into this topic, I thought that I’d back-up and explain the key terms here – especially since some products are called different things in different countries (power strips are also called ‘extension leads’, for example):
- Smart plugs: these look like single port power adopters, and are plugged into your wall outlet (power socket). They then communicate with your smart devices, usually over WiFi but sometimes using Bluetooth. You plug another device into this smart plug, which allows you to control the power of the device using your smart device – such as your Amazon Echo or smartphone app.
- Surge protectors: these devices protect against sudden and unexpected power surges, which can potentially damage or destroy your electrical devices. They can be purchased as standalone units, or are sometimes integrated into other electrical units such as into power strips.
- Power strips: these long power outlets allow you to plug multiple electrical devices into them, and then the power strip plugs into your wall socket. This allows you to power multiple devices from a single wall outlet. Unless you live in a really new house with plenty of wall outlets, you probably have loads of power strips around your home!
The reason smart plugs get a lot of questions about surge protection and power strips is because the majority of smart plugs manufactured and sold so far look like this:
In other words, they only allow a single device to connect to them. And that reassuring “surge protected” logo/text is nowhere to be seen – leading people to ask whether this means that your device is totally unprotected if there’s a power surge.
As a result of this, people sometimes ‘daisy chain’ their smart plugs with power strips and surge protectors to get the benefits of all three. Whilst this can be safe, daisy chaining your power devices in this way can potentially be dangerous. I’ll cover what you need to be careful of later on in this article.
Why are surge protectors important?
Whilst not related to smart plugs directly, I wanted to quickly explain why surge protectors are really useful to have.
Okay, so electric is not perfect. Whilst it should always be consistently delivered to your house, it often isn’t. The delivered voltage/amperage varies up and down a bit – meaning that your house’s electrical devices frequently have to deal with slight variations in the electric supply.
This is normal, but in rare cases there can be a power surge. This might be because of a screw-up in the local distribution network. Or it might be because during a thunder storm, lightning hit some local power units, causing a massive amount of electricity to be absorbed – and then distributed to the nearby houses.
Such surges can overload your electrical devices, and short out the internal circuitry. This can lead to permanent damage to your devices.
Surge protectors guard against this by diverting the power surge away from your valued electronics, towards the ground (as in, the actual ground outside your house – which is a key part of electrical installs… your house’s floor won’t be affected!).
Do smart plugs have surge protection?
The short answer is no, the vast majority of single port smart plugs do not have surge protection. They are more like budget single port power adaptors (which also offer no surge protection) – which is ironic considering how much more expensive smart plugs are to buy.
This is because the necessary components to make a plug ‘smart’ (i.e. a WiFi or Bluetooth transmitter and receiver) already make the plug bulky, and so adding a surge protector would make it even more bulky.
If you want a surge protector within your smart plug setup, you have three options:
- Plug a surge protector into a smart plug – see the chapter below.
- Buy “the ultimate solution” (see the chapter towards the end) – a power strip with smart functionality and a surge protector!
- Try and pick up a device like POWRUI’s smart plug with surge protection when it comes back on sale – although it has been “unavailable” on Amazon for a little while.
Can I plug a surge protector into a smart plug?
Since smart plugs don’t usually contain surge protection devices, can you plug a surge protector into your smart plug – and then plug your actual device into this?
The short answer is: yes, doubling up in this way will work fine as long as you don’t exceed the maximum wattage rating. It will, however, be a bit bulky!
The max wattage rating needs to be considered for both the smart plug and the surge protector, for example:
- The TP-Link ‘Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Lite ‘ has a max amperage (load) rating of 10A, which in America (running 120V) leads to 1200 watts.
- Most other TP-Link Kasa smart plugs have a 15A max rating, meaning 1800 watts.
- Then a surge protector strip from ECHOGEAR has a max rating of 13A, which is around 1500 watts.
Remember that when ensuring you don’t overload the plugs/protectors, you need to choose the lowest rating of both. In other words, a 1500w surge protector can only have 1200w of power run through it if you go with the Kasa Plug Lite. Whilst if you go with other smart plugs with 15A/1800w max loadings, you will be limited to 13A/1500w if you go with the ECHOGEAR surge protector.
In addition to having to account for the lowest rating in the chain, this solution will also be a bit bulky – smart plugs are bulky, and so are surge protectors. You might find that combining both will block other nearby power outlets.
See the final chapter of this article for a way of surge protecting all your house’s electrical devices without bulky (and sometimes expensive) individual surge protectors.
Do smart plugs work with power strips?
Since traditional smart plugs only offer a single power outlet to plug into, can you instead plug a power strip in – and hence control all devices which are plugged into the power strip?
This is a great option, and thankfully the answer is yes: it is fine to plug a power strip into a smart plug, as long as the total power use of the plugged in devices are under the rated power strip (and smart plug) maximum.
So at the risk of repeating what I said earlier, the max load for a smart plug might be 1200-1800W:
- The TP-Link ‘Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Lite ‘ has a max amperage rating of 10A, which in America leads to 1200 watts.
- Most other TP-Link Kasa smart plugs have a 15A max rating, meaning 1800 watts.
You then have to look at the max rating of a power strip, with two quick examples from Amazon showing:
- An Amazon Basics 6-outlet power strip has a 1875W max rating.
- A GE 6-outlet power strip has a 1800W max rating.
And again, you have to choose the lowest of the two max ratings. After all, if you plug 1875W into an AmazonBasics power strip but your Kasa Lite smart plug only supports 1200W, you will clearly have a problem!
Exceeding the max power rating is never advisable. Whilst some people will argue it’ll work fine and power manufacturers always understate the max load (just to be on the safe side), there are unfortunately plenty of cases where outlets have started burning when under sustained load at – or above – their max rating. Be careful and don’t take a chance: keep below the max rating.
The ultimate solution: smart power strip with built-in surge protection
As you can probably tell, I am not a massive fan of combining a smart plug with a surge protector (because it’s bulky), or a smart plug and power strip (because you really should spend time calculating the lowest possible max rating, which most people don’t bother to do).
If only someone combined all three: a power strip with built in surge protection, whilst also offering smart functionality…
Wait, that exists?
Of course it does! A quick search on Amazon shows loads of these great ‘three in one’ devices, most with next day delivery. For example a search for ‘smart power strip surge protector’ gives hundreds of results – with the top 5 being:
- TECKIN’s 5ft four port (plus 4 USB) smart plug at $27.99, with 4.4/5 ratings over 1,300 reviews.
- Gosund’s 3 port outlet (with 3 USBs) for $22.99, also with 4.4/5 ratings over 241 ratings.
- AHRise’s 8 outlet power strip which has 4 smart outlets (and 4 always-on ones) with 4 USB ports, coming in at $25.97 and having 4.5/5 ratings with 170 reviews.
- Teckin’s 4 outlet, 4 USB, power strip for $29.99 with 4.7/5 stars and 155 reviews.
- heyvalue’s 4 port, 4 USB, strip for $25.99 and 4.3/5 stars over 1,311 ratings.
These are all controllable via a smartphone app (usually their own propriety one) but also from Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home. There’s nothing substantial to set them apart, but it’s worth double checking some key features like:
- That they can definitely be used with Alexa or Google Home. Check the reviews to confirm this.
- Whether ‘always on’ sockets are offered, and what happens to the smart outlets if the WiFi fails.
- Whether there are a high number of 1/5 reviews – this could signal a poorly manufactured product which has a higher-than-average failure rate.
- How close the power outlets are bunched together. If they are too close, some bulky plugs might block access to the other outlets.
Another solution: install a whole house surge protector
Whilst the all in one devices above are awesome, if you are not a fan of power strips (and many people aren’t – especially those who have accidentally overloaded them!) then being able to just use traditional smart plugs is a nice benefit.
But then you have to worry about buying loads of surge protectors, right? Well actually, you can purchase a whole house surge protector which protects every single electrical device in your home. It’s a lot more convenient than worrying about surge protecting everything individually.
These require electrical knowledge to install and should be installed be a qualified electrician, but an example product is the Eaton whole house surge protector for $111.54 at HomeDepot.
This is externally mounted and so can work with any load centre and breaker box. It can absorb up to 2820 joules which makes it fine for the vast majority of power surges, but it wouldn’t protect against a direct lightning strike (even those these are a rare cause of household power surges).