Whether you live in a house, apartment, condo, mobile home or dorm room, having enough electrical outlets to handle all of the accessories, appliances and tools you need can be a challenge. And that's when knowing how to safely use a power strip sure comes in handy.
While one of these devices can offer a reasonable solution for too few outlets, it's a mistake to rely on power strips too much. Or to use them incorrectly. For safety's sake, never plug these items into a power strip.
You need 'em hot and ready to go, which makes a power strip on the bathroom counter pretty much a godsend when you have only one outlet. Here's the problem with that: Hairdryers, curling wands and flat irons are required to produce heat, which means they pull large amounts of amperage to get them good and hot. Plugging them into a power strip is just asking for trouble. These types of hairdressing appliances must be plugged directly into a wall outlet — preferably one with a ground-fault circuit interrupter breaker to avoid danger should those tools accidentally be exposed to water.
REFRIGERATOR AND FREEZER
These appliances pull too much current for a power strip because they are continuously cycling on and off. That will quickly overload a power strip. These items need to be plugged directly into a wall outlet dedicated solely to that appliance. If you plug other appliances into that same outlet, provided it's a duplex, you run the risk of tripping a breaker.
It seems pretty lightweight to heat up water, right? Not so fast. Most coffee makers need a good deal of amperage to turn gloriously roasted coffee beans into a hot beverage — more than a power strip can guarantee to deliver. Make sure you plug the machine directly into a wall outlet.
Here's the clue: It has exposed wires inside those slots that heat up to become red-hot. It takes a lot of current to fire up those wires, which can easily overload a power strip. So, no, do not plug your toaster into an extension cord or power strip. Ditto for your toaster oven.
I agree this is counterintuitive; wouldn't you think a slow cooker uses microscopic bits of power? In this case, it's not the amount of amperage but the length of time requiring continuous power. A power strip cannot guarantee to deliver that kind of energy. Plug the slow cooker safely into a wall outlet before you set it and forget it.
ANOTHER POWER STRIP
Power strips do not play well together. While it might seem smart to plug one power strip into another as a way of multiplying the number of outlets available, it's really dumb — super dangerous and violates every fire safety code out there.
QUICK CHECKLIST OF DO'S AND DON'TS
Power strips are fine in moderation as long as you observe proper power strip safety. The folks at Kolb Electric offer us this handy do's and don'ts checklist so we can know when and how to use a power strip safely:
"Do. Only use light-load appliances on power strips. This can include computers, lamps, clocks, etc.
"Do. Ensure that you purchase power strips with an internal circuit breaker. This is a very important safety measure that is designed to prevent property loss and risks of fire!
"Do. 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'). Doing this is a great way to short out appliances, or drastically increase the risk of an electrical mishap.
"Don't. Use power strips in moist or potentially moist areas. No kitchens, no utility rooms, and definitely no basements.
"Don't. Continue to use a power strip if it feels hot. That isn't supposed to happen!
"Never. Cover, staple, tack or nail a power strip to anything. Covering can smother the strip, and provide ample flammable material in the event of failure, and stapling can harm the cords, making room for dangerous situations."
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary a Question." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of Debt-Proof Living, a personal finance member website and the author of the book Debt-Proof Living, Revell 2014. To find out more about Mary visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.