Like any piece of hardware out there, cables can suffer from wear-and-tear as time marches on. Even if cables keep running perfectly as the years go by, they will get to the point of being outdated. Some cables are also more prone to needing replacement than others. Knowing when to replace a cable can make electronics run better, save on your electric bill, and even prevent potential safety issues. But what exactly you need to look for when thinking about replacing something is going to depend on which type of cable we are talking about.

Ethernet – Now or the near-future

Ethernet cables have been through a lot of changes over the years. At the moment, the standard version is Cat5e cable. If the writing on the outside of the cable says Cat5 (or a lower number), it is time to be replaced. Internet service providers today work on the assumption that you are using at least Cat5e cable, as do most websites and other online services.

If you need to upgrade, it is worth taking Cat6 cable into consideration. This is the next step up for Ethernet and will be the new standard once Cat5e is inevitably phased out. Cat6 can support data speeds up to ten times faster than Cat5e. While this is overkill for at-home use right now, upgrading to Cat6 will ensure you do not have to upgrade again for a very long time.

HDMI – If it is older than 5 years, now

HDMI is the modern standard for audio/video connections. Anything that uses a video today, from TVs to computers to video game consoles and more, is built with an HDMI port. But while all HDMI cables look the same on the outside, they have changed on the inside since they were first introduced 17 years ago.

Most top-quality televisions can support up to 4k resolution. While a lot of manufacturers out there use “4k” as a buzzword, the truth is that any modern HDMI cable can support that type of video quality. The first HDMI cable capable of supporting 4k was version 2.0, introduced to the market in September 2013. If you have an HDMI cable that is older than that, it is time for a replacement.

Power Cords – When wear-and-tear causes damage

Power cords are a more serious matter than most other cables when it comes to replacement. If a power cord is having problems, keep in mind that these cables can cause injury if mishandled. You do not necessarily need to be a licensed electrician to work with a power cord but remember to use caution and exercise your common sense.

That being said, power cords really only need to be replaced when they have been damaged. The key takeaway here will be identifying what can be considered damage. A few of the most common issues are listed below, but we also have a full safety guide here.

  1. If a cord is too hot. Power cords give off heat and need to be left in the open to release that heat. If a cord is in an area with poor ventilation or laying on something that does not allow the heat to escape, like a rug, the cord can overheat and damage itself. In a worst-case scenario, this can even start an electrical fire.
  2. If a cord is loose. Cords that get pulled around or yanked out of the wall while they are plugged in will start to deform. When the metal prongs cannot fit into wall outlets correctly, the exposed prongs could potentially electrocute someone.
  3. If an indoor cord is being used outside. Power cords will be rated for either indoor or outdoor use. Indoor cords are not designed to built to stand up to rainwater, UV radiation (sunlight), and other outdoor elements. Any or all of these issues can damage the cord.
  4. If a cord is cracked. If the outside jacket of the cord is cracked, cut, or otherwise open, that area can electrocute you. The electricity is not being contained properly, which also means the cable will not work as well as it should either.

Surge Protectors – Every two years

Most of the safety issues regarding power cords ring true for surge protectors as well. On top of that, surge protectors also have a few unique issues as well. First of all, remember that “surge protectors” and “power strips” are not the same thing. A power strip can be a surge protector, but that is not always the case. Some power strips do not have any surge protection built in so check the specs before purchasing one.

Secondly, remember that everything you are going to plug into a surge protector is being powered by a single wall outlet. Low-voltage items like lamps and vacuum cleaners will be fine, but plugging in multiple appliances with heavy power consumption like refrigerators or electric stoves can cause issues. If too much strain is put on that outlet, it could blow a circuit. Never use more than one power strip per wall outlet and never plug a power strip into another power strip. These are both surefire ways to blow those circuits.

Lastly, surge protectors use a measurement called joules to stop power surges. The joule rating number is the surge protection for the entire life of the unit. Say you have a surge protector rated for 1000 joules. That means it could take a single 1000 joule hit, two 500 joule hits, ten 100 joule hits, and so forth over the entire life of the unit. Most homes have little power spikes here and there that you will never notice; over time, these small spikes wear surge protectors down. The general rule of thumb is to replace surge protectors every two years or so. Otherwise, you run the risk of a big electrical surge frying your TV, computer, and other electronics when your surge protector has unknowingly stopped blocking surges.