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Electrical Tip of the Day – Outlet Strips & Plug Adapters – What you should know!

September 1st, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

As an electrical service contractor we see a lot of burnt up stuff.  Far and away the most common thing to find crispy and smoking are those trusty plug adapters and outlet strips.  You know the story… you only meant for it to be a temporary solution when you put the microwave on top of the fridge.  Or maybe its the one you installed behind your home theater with the ground pin broke off and a few too many things plugged in.  Or perhaps maybe (I know, not you right) its the 3 or 4 you have strung together in your man cave or garage.  Put in so you could run the beer fridge, the radio, charger for your cordless tools, run the space heater in the winter, and still crank up the tunes loud enough to hear when your washing your motorcycle, charging your boat battery, and working on the ATV.

Then… then THAT smell lingers in.  Dang it, well at least you were home to catch it, right?

So all joking aside all outlets strips, plug adapters, and surge protectors are not created equal. They all have two negative things in common the minute you put them in use:

FIRST – they increase the chance you can overload a circuit or outlet

SECOND – they are adding additional connection  points (many that are of poor quality and design) that can fail or cause heating at the point of use

Let me explain a little electric 101 and how this sets up to be the perfect storm.  So most 120 volt circuits in a newer home are protected on 20 amp breakers.  Strike one is that your standard 3 prong outlet is only rated at 15 amps to begin with (unless the larger blade terminal on the face is a “T”).  Strike two is that many of the outlet strips, adapters, plug makers, and such are rated at 10 or 15 amps, SOME ARE RATED MUCH LOWER THEN THAT.  Strike three comes next… add to that a couple of  light duty cords (like the smaller green and orange ones that only have 16 or 18 gauge conductors rated at 10 amps or less) and you have set the stage.  Each one of those additional “plug in” connections causes more resistance and more heat. What can happen is that all of those things, when stung together and loaded up, can melt and ignite before the 20 amp breaker protecting the circuit will shut down.  Depending on how poor the connections are, the age of the circuit, outlet, and breaker; combined with the type and ratings of the adapted being used it may only take a few amps of load to cause this to occur.

So what is the solution you ask.  It is three fold and simple:

1) BUY 20 AMP RATED CORDS AND ADAPTERS

2) BUY AND USE ONLY TOP QUALITY 20 AMP RATED OUTLET STRIPS and SURGE PROTECTORS

3) CORRECTLY WIRE IN MORE 20 AMP RATED OUTLES WHERE THEY ARE NEEDED (and consider adding some additional circuits).

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