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Power strip safety tips for your family

Posted by Scott Stueber, CPCU, CISR, AAI on Mar 12, 2019 9:00:00 AM

power strip overloadPower strips and surge protectors are a necessity in many homes today. With smartphones, tablets, streaming media devices, and gaming consoles, we have a lot of toys to plug in. Don’t forget about TVs, lamps, and other household items. All these items plugged into a power strip can put stress on it.

Most people probably don’t consider how many devices are plugged in at any given time. Did you know that approximately 4,600 home fires start due to extension cord and power strip overuse each year? These fires account for 70 deaths and 230 injuries.

Before I share some safety tips, I’d like to explain the difference between each. While this may seem like common sense, it’s important to understand that they’re slightly different.

Have you ever gone to the store to buy a surge protector, and when you got home, you realized you bought a simple power strip? This happened to me with the mass confusion while setting up my daughter’s dorm room.

A power strip and surge protector power strip look pretty much the same. They’re both skinny, rectangular plastic boxes with multiple outlets to plug in multiple devices. However, surge protectors:

  • Maybe a bit more expensive.
  • May have additional lights near the power button which light up when plugged in and;
  • Contains internal components that can prevent spikes and surges in power from destroying your devices.

If ordering online or buying at your local hardware store, always read the product description to make sure you’re buying the right one. I’d recommend purchasing a surge protector for all your household needs. This way, you’re not left guessing if your devices, TVs, computers, etc. are protected.

One common misconception I had is that surge protectors protect against lightning strikes. I’ve learned that lightning strikes are too powerful. Surge protectors safeguard from current fluctuations that travel down your power line.

Here are some tips for safely using your power strip.

  • Never use power strips or surge protectors for high-power capacity items such as space heaters, dehumidifiers, or other high-capacity appliances. Plug them directly into a wall outlet.
  • Don’t connect multiple power strips to increase the available outlets. However, you can temporarily plug an extension cord into a power strip.
  • If you’re using power strips or extension cords in numerous places in your home, consider hiring an electrician to install more outlets. This is a safer and permanent solution because the wires in your wall are of higher quality. Multiple extension cords were always my dad’s pet peeve back in the day when he was an electrician.
  • Never use power strips or extension cords in a bathroom or on the kitchen countertop.
  • Do the math. Try to determine what the power strip can handle by looking at its specifications on the package. The most important number is watts. The higher the number, the better. Add up the number of watts used by the devices you plug in. This number should not exceed the total watts specified on the package. If buying a surge protector, look at the suppressed voltage rating as well. A lower number will provide better protection against surges. If you’re like me and don’t like math, talk to someone at the store that understands them.
  • Don’t just look at the price. Make sure you’re buying the correct one for your household needs and that it’s certified.
  • Never try to prevent trip and fall hazards by covering cords with a rug. Repeatedly stepping on them can cause the cords to break down, which could lead to a fire.

Here are some ways to prevent or tell if your power strip is overloaded.

  • Surge protectors are great because they provide several outlets. However, depending on what you’re plugging in, not everyone should be used. Most things we plug in, such as a phone, computer, or gaming console, don’t use much power. Items in your kitchen, such as a toaster, crockpot, or skillet, would draw more power and potentially cause issues.
  • If the power strip or surge protectors feel hot, this is a good sign that you have too many things plugged in.
  • Watch for burn marks or melted plastic.

Before plugging in your next electronic device, look at what’s happening with your power strip or surge protector.

Do you have any suggestions or information you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you. Please share them in the box below.





Topics: Home Safety, Fire Safety

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