What You Need to Know about Using Power Strips
A recent news story reported two fires in New York City on the same day—one of which was fatal—linked to unsafe use of power strips. Just as the quantity of consumer electronics has skyrocketed in most homes, the use of strips is also much more common. Particularly in older residences, the number of wall outlets in each room is often insufficient to accommodate all the electricity-consuming devices. A power strip integrates several of outlets into a single plug-in strip. Despite their convenience, however, there are safety issues associated with widespread usage in homes. Here are some of the considerations to keep in mind before you plug in a power strip:
- First, if you find you are relying very heavily on power strips, your home needs additional circuits and wall outlets installed by a professional electrician—not more power strips. Circuits in your electrical panel are designed to accommodate a fixed number of outlets and amperage. Excessively multiplying those demands by overuse of power strips can cause a hazardous electrical overload.
- Use power strips only to accommodate multiple low-power loads like computers, audio and video equipment or individual room lighting. Power strips are not designed to handle the heavy current draw imposed by refrigerators, space heaters, toaster ovens, fans or many power tools. Use with these devices could overheat the strip and cause a fire hazard.
- Multiple strips should never be “daisy chained” together — one power strip plugged into another to create still more outlets. This can dangerously overload the wall outlet the strip is plugged into.
- Before purchasing any power strip, make sure it carries a certification from a recognized safety testing facility such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or ETL. Many cheap strips flooding the market now do not.
- Unless a strip specifically states that it also incorporates surge suppression circuitry, it probably doesn’t. Don’t rely on power strips to protect electrical devices from power surges.