4 Tips For Using Power Strips Safely In Your Home

As the number of electrical devices used in the average home continues to increase, power strips are almost a necessity at this point. They're a convenient way to supply power to several devices using a single wall outlet. Unfortunately, they're also a common source of house fires — overloading the power strip or your electrical outlet can heat your electrical wiring to the point where it begins to burn. To help you avoid a potentially catastrophic house fire, read on to learn four tips to use power strips in a safe way.

1. Limit Yourself to Your Power Strip's Maximum Wattage

Power strips have a label that describes the maximum amount of electrical current that can flow through them. Most power strips are rated for 15 amps and 125 volts, which means that they can support a maximum power draw of 1875 watts — you simply multiply the voltage and the amperage together in order to find the maximum wattage. If you exceed this amount, then your power strip can begin to overheat and burn.

However, you should note that these numbers represent the safe peak load for the power strip. If you have devices plugged into the power strip that will be on for more than three hours, you'll need to limit yourself to 80% of the maximum wattage. For a 15-amp power strip, this is 1500 watts. Operating too close to the power strip's maximum capacity for long periods of time can cause the wires inside to overheat.

2. Make Sure Your Power Strip Has Been Tested by a Third-Party Agency

Of course, you need to be able to rely on the numbers listed on the power strip's label. Only use power strips that have been tested by UL or another reliable third-party tester. These companies ensure that power strips meet or exceed their manufacturer's claims. If a power strip hasn't been tested by a third-party, you have no way of knowing if the numbers listed on the label are actually correct.

3. Never Connect High-Power Devices to a Strip

Don't connect any devices with a high power draw to your power strip, even temporarily. A good rule of thumb is that electronic devices with a heating element or a motor will draw large amounts of power. This includes portable air conditioners, curling irons, and hair dryers. These devices should be plugged directly into a wall outlet instead, as they draw too much power to be safely used with a power strip.

4. Don't Rely on Your Circuit Breaker to Protect You From Overloading

Finally, the biggest risk of using a power strip occurs when your electrical outlets have a lower maximum amperage than the circuit breaker they're connected to. This is fairly common, especially in older homes — circuits are shared by multiple outlets, so there was little reason for each outlet to be able to carry as much electrical current as the whole circuit. For example, your circuit may be rated for 20 amps whereas your electrical outlets may only be rated for 10.

When you start using power strips, you can easily overload your electrical outlets without realizing it — the load is still fine for the circuit breaker, so it never trips. However, the electrical wires leading to the outlet you're overloading can become dangerously hot. You risk starting a house fire. In order to find out how many amps your electrical outlets can safely carry, you can have them inspected by an electrician.

When they're used safely, power strips are a convenient way to power several electrical devices at once. Make sure that you use one that has been tested by a third-party and you don't overload either the power strip of your electrical outlet. When you don't use them properly, you risk starting an electrical fire in your home.

If your power needs are greater than your home's current wiring can provide, it's safer to call an electrician rather than to use power strips. Electricians can add more circuits and outlets to your home in order to reduce your reliance on power strips, and they can also upgrade your existing wiring to make sure that it's not at risk of being overloaded by your power needs.