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How Safe Are Power Strips?

Jan 23, 2018


woman typing on a laptop while sitting on a gray coach in her living room.

Power is at a premium in many Northern Virginia homes. We have so  many devices and electronics that even newly-built houses seem like they run out of wall sockets too quickly. You think this is an exaggeration until you want to charge your phone and you realize the only available outlet is behind the couch...in the attic.
Power strips and adapters seem like a simple solution — stick them in the wall, and voila, you have all the juice you need. 
Is this, however, a good idea? Is it safe? You may feel a little wary about loading your outlets with these multi-prong devices — until, that is, you want all of your devices firing at once.
Let’s take a look at the safety behind some of our shortcuts to power.


A power strip is a block of electrical sockets attached to a cord that plugs into a wall receptacle. These are typically used when there aren’t enough outlets to meet your electrical needs. You probably have one or more of these in your house at this very moment. 
Another common electrical gadget you might have in your house is a multi-outlet adapter, sometimes called an outlet tap. These work the same way power strips do, although they differ in appearance. 
A power strip is a block of outlets attached to a cord; a multi-outlet adapter is a block of outlets you plug directly into the wall receptacle. 
Note: Power strips are NOT surge protectors. Although they look the same, a power strip is simply an extension cord with multiple sockets. A power strip is not equipped with an internal circuit breaker, which is designed to protect your appliances from damage in the event of a power surge. Check for the proper UL label to find out if you have a power strip or a surge protector. 


When used sparingly, power strips can be a great tool to provide additional electrical access to light-load appliances like computers and lamps. Keep in mind that power strips are supposed to be a quick, short-term solution; they’re not designed to operate as permanent electrical fixtures. 


Overloading a wall receptacle
You’re lucky if the only result of an electrical overload is a blown fuse. While not as common blown fuses, another possible outcome of overloading is an electrical fire
There are several mistakes you can make that will result in overloading your outlets:
  • Using a power strip to fuel an excessive number of appliances at once. Even if there are six sockets in your power strip, you should only use one or two at a given time.
  • Plugging multiple power strips into one wall receptacle. You should never have more than one outlet per wall receptacle serving a power strip. 
  • Using a power strip to power high-voltage devices like refrigerators or space heaters. That’s a lot of juice running through one power strip.
  • Daisy chaining. More on this in in a minute.
Flickering lights, frequently blown fuses, crackling sounds coming from outlets, and discolored outlet plates are all warning signs of overloading. If any of these signs are present, you should have your home inspected by a five-star technician immediately.  
Daisy-chaining power strips
Daisy chaining is a term that refers to the practice of plugging a power strip into another power strip. This is dangerous because an excessive amount of power is being drawn from one single wall outlet, which means the power strip or wall receptacle could easily overload.
 If you don’t have enough outlets in your home, or perhaps have dead outlets that are causing you to use power strips as a permanent electrical solution, have a Warrenton electrician properly install more outlets.
Using a power strip that has not been tested for safety
Look for the proper UL label on your power strip to ensure the unit has been properly tested. Unlisted items could be defective and lead to serious damage or injury. 
Securing a power strip to another surface, such as a wall or table, or routing a power strip through walls, ceilings, and floors
Power strips generate heat because they are drawing high amounts of electricity from the wall receptacle. By attaching a power strip to another surface or routing  it through an enclosed space, that heat isn’t able to escape, which can cause a fire. 
Tangled or covered cords
As we mentioned, routing power strips through walls is a major safety hazard because you’re essentially trapping in the heat generated by the power strip, which could cause a fire. This same reasoning applies to covering your power strips or cords, typically with a carpet or rug. 
Another hazard of covering power strips is that the cords underneath can get stepped on, leading to frayed wires over time. Split or frayed wires are also common results of tangled cords. Exposed wires not only pose the threat of electrocution, but can also cause a house fire. 
If your power strip cords are frayed or discolored in any way, throw them out immediately. 
Using a power strip in a damp environment
This one seems pretty self-explanatory! A wet environment an electrical current = electrocution. Never use power strips in bathrooms, near sinks, or in humid basements. 
Removing the grounding wire to fit the power strip into an ungrounded outlet
Unless you are a licensed electrician, you should never tamper with electrical wiring. If your outlets are out of date and can no longer accommodate your plugs, contact a five-star technician. Quick fixes like ground plug adapters (which we’ll talk about next) are not an adequate solution to this outlet problem. 


A ground plug adapter is a tool that allows a three-prong plug to fit into a two-slot outlet. The front of the device has three slots— a narrow "hot" slot, a wider "neutral" slot, and a round "ground" slot positioned at the base of the plug— and the back of the device is a two-prong plug that will then be able to accommodate the two-slot wall outlet. Two-slotted outlets are only equipped with the “hot” and “neutral” slots; these are common in older homes.


Two-slotted outlets tend to indicate that a house is wired with an old electrical system— one that doesn’t have a ground pathway. Ground pathways are a safety feature included in new systems because they provide a route for electricity to travel from your device back to your breaker box, should there be an electrical malfunction while your device is plugged in. 
Without this pathway, the electrical current won’t return to the outlet, but rather will continue to flow through the device and — worst-case-scenario — into you. 
Ground plug adapters can make you think you have a ground connection when you don't, which puts you at risk of electrocution. 


Getting the most out of your home means having outlets that actually work. Don't settle for home hacks that can result in damaged appliances, fried wires, house fires or worse. If you have outlets that aren’t working, your best bet is to call one of our Warrenton electricians— they can fix your dead outlets safely, and can install more outlets where needed. Give us a call to schedule an appointment at 1-877-740-6657 or contact us online today. 


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