February 21, 2020
There is never an outlet when you need one.
Thankfully, since the early 1970s, power strips have been solving the problem of multiple cords but limited outlets. They are not, however, the end all, cure all for fewer outlets and Americans who use them should be aware of the dos and don'ts so as not to overload them and create an electrical fire, which you might want home insurance coverage for.
Your friends at the Valeri Agency hear a lot of stories about accidental electrical fires. The sad reality is most of these situations could be avoided by sticking to a few basic safety precautions relating to the safe use of extension cords, power strips and power surge bars.
Every year in America, the misuse of extension cords and power strips causes approximately 3,000 fires. These fires have historically killed an average of 50 Americans and injured another 250.
A basic power strip allows more units to be plugged in while power strips with surge protectors provide an extra level of protection for homeowners. It is important to know the difference.
Generally speaking, power strips should only be used for low-voltage electrical needs and you shouldn't plug more than one into any given outlet. Plugging more than one power strip into an outlet (also called "daisy chaining") can result in short circuits and overheating of the outlet and even the cord itself. Large units like refrigerators, stoves and other appliances that use large amounts of electricity should have an outlet of their own.
Like anything else, cheaper is not always better when it comes to power strips and surge protectors. There are a lot of cheap “knock-off” versions sold at discount retailers and online. We urge all of our Valeri customers to rely on electrical experts at your local hardware store or certified electrical contractors to get advice about which strips are proven safe.
Power surge protectors, which often feature a lighted switch to let you know when they are active, provide an extra level of protection. These are most often used to facilitate the various electrical components of a desk area. They are safe to use with computers, printers, monitors and all of the components of low-voltage technology that has become commonplace in today's economy.
Although not necessary, many people use surge protectors in all situations where they require a power strip. Although not required, that does provide an extra level of security and people can rest easier that if there is a short or some other problem, the surge protector will be tripped and the cords and outlet will not overheat.
When in the market for a surge protector, you might hear the term “joules”. This is basically a unit of measurement that can advise you on the capacity of the protector you are looking at. The higher the joules rating, the more protection you have. But don’t take our word for it – always ask the experts to be safe and to understand what you really need.
In southeastern Wisconsin, there are many qualified electrical contractors like Lee Mechanical who can answer your questions about outlets, electricity and safety as you outfit your home with all of the modern conveniences. There are resources through your municipal permit office as well as through WE Energies to help you gather information on safe use of power strips and surge protectors.
Power strips and surge protectors are really “after the fact” solutions for people in existing homes. If you are in the building process, it is always better to have more outlets installed and not have to deal with this type of question later if you can avoid it. Again, certified electricians can direct you safely and economically.