The dark days and long nights of winter provide a great opportunity to reassess the safety of your home’s electrical power grid, lest your plans for seasonal lighting become worthy of a parody by National Lampoon, if not worse. To guard against such a dangerous event, we’ve gathered up the handy tips and product recommendations below to help you upgrade your infrastructure with safety and effectiveness in mind.
Did you know that although power cords and surge protectors don’t have established expiration dates, they do have a limited lifespan? In general, it’s recommended to replace active units within 3 to 5 years, since the longer they remain in use, the less effective they become.
In addition to lifespan, all power cords are subject to a voltage drop that is directly related to distance. A longer cord will cause a larger drop than a shorter one, so for maximum safety and efficiency, always select the shortest length cord possible to fit your needs.
Then there’s the choice between a 3-prong (grounded) electrical plug and a 2-prong option, which does not provide grounding to prevent electrical shock. While it is possible to fit a grounded plug with a 3-to-2-prong adapter for use in a 2-prong outlet, when using this option keep in mind that the adapter’s small metal tab must be grounded under the outlet’s faceplate screw or else it provides no protection. Under no circumstances should the rounded grounding prong be removed to enable a plug to fit a 2-prong electrical outlet.
To protect against tripping hazards and avoid overheating, it’s best not to run any kind of power cord across a floor or underneath a carpet, floor, or wall covering. Never try to secure a cord using nails, tacks, or staples or any other item that could penetrate the outer insulation.
Another important safety measure concerns plugging multiple electrical cords together—often known as “daisy-chaining”—or plugging an extension cord into a power strip or surge protector rather than directly into a wall socket. While this term might suggest a pleasant rite of springtime, it's the quickest way to overload your electrical system, and a dangerous practice that violates your cord’s UL listingand OSHA guideline compliance, so it’s best to avoid it.
Types of Power Supply: Extension Cords, Indoors and Out
As a long flexible cable of variable length with an electrical plug at one end and one or more sockets on the other, the classic extension cord can stretch anywhere from less than 1 foot to as long as 100 feet, allowing you to conveniently extend the reach of a wall outlet. While often considered to be a household or workshop staple, extension cords are really meant to serve only as a temporary measure and are not rated for continuous usage.
When shopping for an extension cord, you’ll first want to consider whether you want to use the cord outside or if it will only get standard indoor use. Outdoor cords often have a special type of insulation to protect them from sunlight, moisture, temperature changes and sub-freezing conditions, or other factors that could lead the cord to degrade and cause a potential fire hazard. Such heavy-duty cords can be used inside and out, but indoor cords should be strictly limited to those environments. Amperage can differ between indoor and outdoor extension cords, too. An indoor cord is often rated to handle less amperage because it is not expected to power heavy machinery.
Speaking of amps, you should always check the maximum amperage rating—printed on the cord itself or its UL or ETL tag—to determine if it's powerful enough to handle all the items you plan to plug in. Total the amps of all items you wish to use simultaneously to ensure the cord can support your entire load.
Another important consideration is to choose a cord with a heavy enough gauge for the item(s) you plan to plug in. There should be numbers on the packaging and the cord’s outer insulation listing the gauge of the wire and the number of conductors (wires) in the cord. A number like “12 3” means the cord has a 12-gauge diameter and 3 wires.The smaller the first number, the bigger the gauge. A cord with a larger gauge can handle a greater amount of amperage and wattage, and it will also carry power a greater distance with a lesser voltage drop. B&H offers cords in diameters of 12, 14, 16, and 18 AWG. It’s much better to use a heavier cord than one that’s too light and can get hot during use—heat means danger. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that appliances that provide heat (or cooling) draw much more power than other types of items. Therefore, avoid using extension cords with appliances such as hairdryers, microwaves, toasters, coffee makers, irons, air conditioners, refrigerators, and stoves.
Power Strips vs. Surge Protectors vs. Surge Suppressors
Power strips and surge protectors generally offer a more permanent solution to expanding your electrical outlets, yet there are important distinctions to keep in mind between these types of multi-unit power supplies.
Beyond splitting your outlet into multiple ports—basically functioning as an enhanced extension cord—certain power strips are equipped with a circuit breaker, which protects from overloading the device and damaging appliances by shutting down its power. Once the load is reduced, resetting the breaker should allow it to continue functioning.
Whereas a power strip’s circuit breaker protects from an internal overload of amperage, surge protectors guard your electronics from a spike in voltage coming in from the outside. And, although the terms "protector" and "suppressor" are often used interchangeably, a surge suppressor, such as the APC P8GT SurgeArrest, further regulates voltage, making power constant if a surge occurs. Surge protectors and suppressors generally cost a bit more; however, the extra protection is well worth it.
When shopping, look for the following details to narrow the field and confirm you’re buying a quality device. First, check for a UL logo, or the mark of a similar safety certification. In addition to the words "surge protection" or "transient voltage surge suppressor," a clamping voltage measurement indicates the amount of voltage it will take for surge protection to kick in. The lower the number, the better the protection. A rating in Joules shows how much energy the device can absorb from a power spike. In this case, a higher rating equals better protection. Response time measures how quickly the unit will react to a surge, measured in nanoseconds, with a faster time meaning better protection. All this information should be included with the product packaging or listed on the device itself. If there’s no Joule rating, the device is probably just a power strip. Finally, certain manufacturers offer an extended warranty on products if a power surge does get through. Read the fine print to see what’s covered—and what isn’t—as well as how to file a claim in case of failure.
Indicator Lights, Data Line Protection, Power Conditioners, Power Distribution Units, and UPS (no, not the delivery service)
As mentioned earlier, all these units have a limited lifespan, yet they can still operate after protection is diminished or even entirely lost, putting connected items at risk. This makes keeping tabs on their use an essential task. One added safeguard is to purchase a unit with indicator lights to help identify proper functioning.
The circuit breaker mechanism of power strips like the CyberPower GS60304 lights up in red when in use, while surge protectors such as the Belkin BV112050-06 featuretwo lights—green to designate properly operating surge protection, and a red grounding light to indicate that your wiring is properly grounded. If the lights on your device have gone out or are flickering, it’s time to replace it and/or contact an electrician to further troubleshoot issues with your electrical grid.
A number of robust surge protectors also offer data line, coaxial, and phone line protection to guard against back door surges traveling through these types of conduits, since this can be as damaging to your equipment as surges traveling over power lines.
If you’ve invested in costly home theater equipment, a music studio, or audio setup, you may want to consider getting a power conditioner, which acts as a buffer between the outlet and your system, smoothing out voltage fluctuations as well as radio and electromagnetic interference while distributing power to your gear. In addition to helping prevent power-related failures, this may also minimize those annoying little glitches and lockups that don’t have an obvious cause.
And, if you need to control and distribute electrical power to computer racks and networking equipment in a data center, you’ll want the reliability of a power distribution unit (PDU). While PDUs do not generally provide surge protection, they help to distribute available amperage more efficiently, allowing your equipment to receive the best available power to maintain operation.
Finally, there’s the uninterruptible power supply (UPS), which can combine surge protection with a backup battery to provide several minutes of power in the event of a blackout. For recommendations on the best UPS based on different applications, check out the Explora article Which UPS Should You Choose to Protect Your Setup? by Carroll Moore.
Leading Brands and Useful Features
Circling back to power supplies for basic home use, it’s worth singling out the three major brands of surge protectors and power strips available at B&H: APC, Belkin, and CyberPower.
Another handy way to shop for the best device for your needs is through its application. Do you need a home/office unit, a device for a network/server environment, something to conform to a bench/cabinet, an item that can hold up to industrial use, or a pocket-sizeunit to accommodate travel?
In terms of construction, surge protectors that feature a metal case—such as this Belkin 10-Socket SurgeMaster or the PDS8u 8-Outlet Surge Protector from ART—can better withstand potential heat and damage than models made of plastic. As a perk, two of the Art model’s outlets are block-sizeto accommodate extra-large plugs. The Powerstation 360 from ChargeHub can also fit larger-sizeplugs, due to its space-saving design.
Further options for surge protectors have expanded in tandem with evolving needs. Some devices now feature Wi-Fi or a programmable LCD timer to help you economize on electricity by scheduling days and times to switch off indicated outlets. Another popular feature combines an array of standard plugs with receptacles for charging devices via USB Type A, USB Type B, or USB Type C connections. Still more units feature rotating outlets that make plugs easier to reach, while devices with sliding covers help protect outlets that are not in use from tampering by curious tots, while also preventing dust and debris from entering cracks. Wall tap units incorporate multi-outlet surge protection directly over a power outlet, and a few of these options even add a night light.
Given all these choices, and the aforementioned safety concerns, isn’t it time you considered upgrading the surge protectors, power strips, and extension cords that power all the valuable electronics in your home and/or office?
We’re always here to help, so if you have any questions feel free to add a comment below or contact us via phone or chat.
But, though power strips are essential in our everyday activities, they are very dangerous when improperly used or when they're not functioning as intended. The ESFI reports that more than 3,300 residential fires start in power strips and extension cords every year in the U.S, killing or injuring hundreds of people.What should you never plug into a surge protector? ›
Power strips/Surge Protectors/RPT's can only be used for low power load equipment such as computers and AV equipment. They are NOT allowed to be used for high-power loads such as microwaves, coffee pots, refrigerators, toasters/toaster ovens, or space heaters. Doing so creates a serious fire hazard.Is it safe to use a surge protector in a surge protector? ›
Don't "daisy-chain" or "piggy-back" two or more surge protectors together. Each surge protector should be plugged directly into a wall outlet. There should only be one surge protector plugged into a single electrical outlet.What should not be connected to power strip? ›
- Washing machines and dryers.
- Sump pumps.
- Space heaters.
- Portable air conditioners.
- Microwave ovens.
- Coffee makers.
Surge protector power strips typically have such switches and help protect your appliances and electronics If you plug all of your products into a power strip and flip off the power strip when these items are not in use, they are truly off. Unplug Your Products.What does OSHA say about power strips? ›
This was our answer: OSHA's electrical safety rule at 29 CFR 1910.303(b)(2) allows the use of power strips as long as they are installed and used in accordance with instructions from the manufacturer and included in the listing or labeling on the device from a certified source such as UL (Underwriters Laboratory).Which is safer power strip or surge protector? ›
The Level of Protection
A power strip does nothing besides give you extra sockets to plug into and an easy on/off switch. If you want any protection at all, you need a surge protector.
Surge protectors are a better idea, and they are worth the additional cost. Just remember that they don't last forever, and it's important to be sure they still are working to protect your electrical equipment.What surge protectors are the safest? ›
- DC SPD TYPE2 600V BUD-40/2 IEC. ...
- Belkin 3-outlet Mini Surge Protector with USB Ports. ...
- Anker PowerPort Strip 12. ...
- Monoprice 12 Outlet Power Surge Protector. ...
- APC SurgeArrest P11VNT3. ...
- Cyberpower CP1500PFCLCD UPS. ...
- Belkin PivotPlug BP112230-08. ...
- Refrigmatic WS-36300.
If you “expand” the outlets by plugging another surge protector or power strip into your first protector, you risk overloading the device. An overloaded protector can catch fire or fail to stop a boost of electricity that ruins your electronics.
Answer. When you turn off a surge protector -- or suppressor, as some people call them -- it's virtually the same as unplugging it; it will save a small amount of energy and is a little safer in a storm than having the surge protector on. However, it's the best solution.Is it safe to plug a TV into a surge protector? ›
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.Are power strips a fire hazard? ›
Every year, thousands of fires result from surge protectors, power strips and electrical cords. Listed below are some suggestions to help prevent a possible fire from beginning. units will trip the breaker if the power strip is over loaded or shorted to prevent overheating.How long can you use a power strip? ›
Every three to five years, replace surge protectors that lack an auto-shutoff feature. Otherwise, they'll keep passing power to your devices long after their protective MOVs have worn out. If you have a power strip without any surge protection (or one that's so old you can't remember if it ever did), get rid of it.Can power strips be used permanently? ›
While extension cords are approved only for temporary use with portable appliances, power strips and surge suppressors may be used permanently if listed and in good condition.Can a power strip prevent a fire? ›
Surge protectors can help prevent fires if they are used properly and are in good working shape. However, if there is a faulty or defective unit, or if it is being used improperly, surge protectors can actually cause electrical fires.What is the most common OSHA electrical violation? ›
The most frequently violated standard is the failure to prevent the release of hazardous energy while employees perform servicing and maintenance activities.What is the OSHA standard for electrical safety? ›
OSHA's general industry electrical safety standards are published in Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 1910.302 through 1910.308 — Design Safety Standards for Electrical Systems, and 1910.331 through 1910.335 — Electrical Safety-Related Work Practices Standards.Does OSHA allow electrical tape? ›
In contrast, the OSHA standard, which is based in large part on the National Electric Code, requires that the cords be "approved," and prohibits the repair of cords smaller than No. 12. Consequently, the use of tape to repair a worn or frayed cord is permitted under the MSHA standard but not under the OSHA standard.Are surge protectors safer than extension cords? ›
Extension cords are crucial when you need to stretch an appliance from one location to a distant electrical outlet, while surge protectors help keep your equipment safe.
While a surge protector functions like a power strip, uninterruptible power sources (UPS) work like temporary back up power. UPS devices work independently, providing power when the main power supply fails. A UPS protects users as well as devices during disrupted power.Should I plug my appliances into a surge protector? ›
Small, cheap appliances like lamps, can be plugged directly into the wall. But bigger or more important items, as well as appliances that require constant power, such as computers, printers, televisions, and refrigerators, should all use surge protectors.Should all electronics be plugged into a surge protector? ›
In short, any expensive electronics will benefit from a surge protector. Without a surge protector, a power surge may shorten the lifespan, wipe out all the data, or destroy the entire system. Think of it this way: which lost devices would cause the most inconvenience? Plug those devices into a surge protector.What should I look for when buying a surge protector? ›
Choose a surge protector with a joule rating at the very least in the 200 to 400 range. Sensitive or costly equipment, such as computers, displays and audio/video equipment, warrants a joule rating of at least 1000. A joule rating over 2000 indicates maximum protection.Is it worth buying surge protector? ›
Do I need to use surge protectors? This comes down to personal choice but is generally better to be safe than sorry. In particular if you have any equipment that is very valuable or that you would struggle without then it is probably best to use a surge protector.Can a surge protector explode? ›
A surge protector like a circuit breaker can explode if its rating is exceeded.Should a fridge be on a surge protector? ›
We do not recommend connecting a refrigerator or freezer to a surge protector. The reason we do not recommend this is explained below: The compressor is sensitive to temperature and current overloads and will shut itself down with a power surge.Do surge protectors still use electricity when turned off? ›
Most power strips don't use electricity when they're turned off, but there are a few exceptions. Some models do draw power even when they're not in use. Some older models have standby modes that continue to draw a small amount of power. And smart strips draw power on standby too.How much surge protection does a TV need? ›
A common question we hear is, how many Joules do I need to protect my TV? For HDTVs it is best to consider the highest Joule ratings – at least 2000. Austere recommends the V Series Power (3000 Joules) for 4K HDTVs less than $1,500 and VII Series Power (4000 Joules) for 4K HDTVs more than $1,500 and 8K HDTVs.Do smart tvs need surge protectors? ›
Desktop computers, laptops, televisions, gaming systems, and charging phones should all be plugged into a surge protector, so they aren't damaged in a storm. A power spike or power surge can shorten the life of these devices or even wipe out all of your data.
A circuit breaker is a small line of defense but are you going to plug your 55-inch smart TV into a power strip by the off chance the on-off circuit breaker will save it? No. You need a surge protector with a good amount a joules to protect that high end appliance. Myth #2 - Any Surge Protector Will Do.How do you know if a power strip is overloaded? ›
If your power strip or surge protector feels hot to the touch, this is a sign that too many devices are plugged in and something should be removed from the strip. Watch for any burn marks or melted plastic on any of the components, and never put the cord for the strips under a rug or carpeting.Can you cover a power strip with a blanket? ›
Finally, don't cover up a power strip with a rug, blanket, or clothing while it's plugged in and in use. Being covered can trap the heat they generate while in use, potentially leading to a fire.Can power strips overheat? ›
Use power strips sparingly. They aren't designed to maintain a load for extended periods of time and can overheat quickly if used too frequently.Are power strips with long cords safe? ›
You may have heard that power strips should not be plugged into extension cords. This is not true. In fact, it is perfectly safe to plug your power strip into an extension cord as long as both pieces of equipment meet safety standards and the power strip is capable of handling the wattage load.Do power strips give off EMF? ›
Ordinary power strips emit harmful electric fields from the cord, the body of the power strip, and everything plugged into the power strip. This can be measured with an electric field meter and also with a body voltage meter kit.Can a power strip trip a breaker? ›
Therefore, it is often the case that if the power strip is overloaded, the breaker on the power strip will trip before the branch circuit breaker, especially if it's on a 20 A circuit.Do power strips give off radiation? ›
They do emit a fair bit of EMF radiation, but only when you are in very close proximity. Since most power strips are usually on the floor, behind a desk, or a tv stand, or somewhere else, we usually aren't close enough to be exposed to any radiation hardly at all.Is it OK to sleep next to a surge protector? ›
It is very doubtful that you are in danger as a result of electromagnetic radiation. The primary hazard from a surge suppressor would be that it may conduct large currents in a lightning strike, possibly even blowing up, and that it may become very hot in the case of certain types of internal failures.Should power strips ever be used? ›
Use power strips sparingly. They aren't designed to maintain a load for extended periods of time and can overheat quickly if used too frequently. Don't. Ever plug a power strip into another power strip (colloquially referred to as “daisy chaining”).
Common causes of surges and spikes include restoration of power after an outage, downed power lines, electrical grid malfunctions or accidents, on/off cycling of large appliances, wiring faults, tripped circuit breakers and lightning strikes.What is the difference between a power strip and a surge protector? ›
Power strips offer convenience, but not much protection. They might feature a circuit breaker, which usually also acts as a master ON/OFF switch. A surge protector can look much like a power strip, but it adds a true element of protection. It's what stands in the way of a power surge or spike and your laptop.What devices emit the most EMF? ›
The most common sources of radiofrequency radiation are wireless telecommunication devices and equipment, including cell phones, smart meters, and portable wireless devices, such as tablets and laptop computers (1).How does EMF affect your body? ›
Effects on general health
Reported symptoms include headaches, anxiety, suicide and depression, nausea, fatigue and loss of libido. To date, scientific evidence does not support a link between these symptoms and exposure to electromagnetic fields.
As a rule of thumb, it's safest to stick to a maximum load of 1,500 watts per outlet or circuit.How much is too much power for a power strip? ›
Overloading a Power Strip
In a typical 120V home, a standard power strip can handle up to 1800 watts (the same as the wall outlet).