power strip vs surge protector

Power Strip Dos and Don’ts: What Is and Isn’t Safe to Plug In

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Many homes (especially older ones) contain few electrical outlets. This can be quite inconvenient with all of your appliances and electronics that require a direct power source. What’s the solution? Most people would say, “Use a power strip!” While a power strip is a smart solution for providing power to several types of household electronics, it cannot be used safely for everything.

Below, we’ll provide you with some “dos and don’ts” about power strips so that you can be sure you’re using them safely and correctly in your home.

What is a Power Strip?

With a power strip, you can power multiple electrical devices using a single electrical outlet thanks to a block of electrical sockets that attach to a flexible cable (usually with a mains plug). There are many applications where power strips can be useful, such as audio, video, computer systems, appliances, power tools, and lighting. The electric current through power strips may be interrupted by a circuit breaker in the event that the power strip is overloaded or shorted. There are power strip surge protectors that protection against electrical power surges.

DON’T use a power strip as a surge protector.

While most surge protectors look like power strips, not all power strips are surge protectors. If you want to protect your office equipment, home theater system, or gaming console from power surges, make sure you are buying a power strip that is designated as a surge protector. (Here are some ways to tell the difference). You can also hire a licensed electrician to install a whole home surge protection system to safeguard your home’s electronics, appliances, and vital circuits.

DON’T plug high-capacity appliances into a power strip.

High-capacity appliances need to draw a lot of power through an electrical circuit to work. Keep in mind that an appliance does not need to be large in size to draw large amounts of power.

Here are some examples of high-capacity appliances that you should not plug into a power strip:

  • Refrigerators
  • Washing machines and dryers
  • Sump pumps
  • Space heaters
  • Portable air conditioners
  • Microwave ovens
  • Toasters
  • Coffee makers
  • Blenders
  • Slow cookers (Crockpots)
  • Rice cookers
  • Hair dryers and other electronic hairstyling tools

So why is it a problem to plug these high-powered devices into a power strip? If an appliance exceeds the power strip’s load (ampacity) rating, this will overload the power strip. When something overloads a power strip, the circuit breaker will trip, and there’s a possibility that an electrical fire will start. Bottom line: if you don’t know how to mathematically determine what will or won’t overload your power strip’s load rating, it’s wiser not to risk a house fire.

DO use a power strip for “gadgets” and “light-load” electronics.

You can safely use a power strip for plugging in things like:

  • Computers
  • Phones and tablets
  • Lamps
  • Digital clocks
  • Stereos

You can plug these items into a power strip without the risk of overloading it.

DO check to see if your power strip can be used indoors only.

Many power strips are designated for indoor use only. The same goes for extension cords, string lights, and many other electronic devices. Always check the packaging to verify where it’s safe to use your electronics. If you use an indoor-only power strip outdoors, this can damage the power strip and potentially damage whatever you plug into it afterward.

DON’T “daisy chain” power strips and extension cords—just don’t.

There are engineers and electrical experts online that will tell you that you can safely plug power strips together (“daisy chain”) or use power strips with extension cords. While this is technically possible, we want to stress that to do this safely, you would need to understand how to do the math. The reality is that most people do not, and even the smartest folks make mistakes. It’s also important to note that you may be violating electrical or fire codes that apply to you by daisy chaining, which could make you responsible for any accidents that occur as a result of it.

For these reasons and for your safety, we recommend taking the following precautions when using a power strip.

  • Only plug in an extension cord into a power strip if the power strip has been hard-wired into the electrical system. Otherwise, avoid plugging an extension cord into a power strip.
  • Only plug power strips directly into a wall outlet. Do not plug a power strip into an extension cord or another power strip.

The reality is that the misuse of power strips and extension cords result in over 3,000 home fires, 50 deaths, and 250 injuries in the U.S. annually. Electricity is not a wise area of your life to take risks without extensive knowledge, training, and experience.

Does your home need more outlets?

If your home’s electrical system is sorely outdated, you can rely on the Columbus electricians at My Electric Works to set up additional circuits and outlets in a way that’s safe and up to code. Reach out to us today online, or give us a call at (614) 515-4520 to learn more a power strip surge protector.