What Exactly Do Power Strips Do? (Explained)

If you’ve come to this article looking to find out what a power strip is and how it is used, then you’re in the right place. The power strip is a commonly used piece of technology in many homes and offices, so it’s important to understand what they are.

Here’s What Power Strips Do:

Power strips are an invaluable device that allows us to do the following. Connect multiple devices to a power outlet. Enables us to have multiple devices in close proximity to one another. Allows us to use a power outlet that is not in the immediate vicinity of our device.

Electrical plugs with cords disconnected from electrical power strip, electricity bill with heap of coins, concept of energy saving

What Exactly Do Power Strips Do?

As the world becomes increasingly dependent on electronic devices, from smartphones to computer systems, our need to plug all of these devices along with their potential accessories into available power outlets is also increasing exponentially.

This is where power strips are invaluable; they are becoming increasingly present as an integral tool in both the workplace environment and in our family homes.

First released for sale in the 1970s, power strips are pieces of equipment that have multiple electrical sockets in a row, all connected to a single length of compliant cord, which then connects to a wall socket.

The electrical current therefore is extended from the wall socket, through the cable and into the additional sockets provided by the power strip.

If an individual is faced with either not enough power sockets in relation to the amount of electrical devices they need to power, or a lack of proximity to the nearest wall socket, power strips provide the ability to easily power these devices.

They can have roughly anywhere from 2 to 24 additional electrical sockets in comparison to a standard wall outlet, and also have varied cable lengths, thus dramatically improving our ability in this modern world to enjoy our electronic devices hassle free.

However, power strips do unfortunately come with certain limitations.

The potential risks and hazards associated with improper use of power strips will be covered in more depth later on in this article.

Are Power Strips More Energy-Efficient?

The energy efficiency of different types of power strips differs drastically.

Older, traditional models of power strips wouldn’t necessarily tend to improve energy efficiency, but newer, smarter versions have the ability to both decrease energy wasted, and use energy more efficiently.

This is a win-win situation when it comes to both the environment and your bank balance.

Installing smart power strips into the home or workplace has become a proven way to dramatically save money whilst improving energy efficiency.

Why? To put it simply, it’s because of something called ‘vampire loads’.

‘Vampire loads’, also commonly known as ‘phantom loads’, refer to the energy consumed by electrical devices even when they are switched off.

As comical as it may seem to refer to something as a mythological creature, it is in fact a serious issue that secretly faces most households.

Here are examples of common household devices that produce a vampire load:

  1. Television Sets
    • When you turn off your TV set, it simply puts it into a state called standby.
    •  This standby mode drains electricity even though the television appears off.
  2. Computers & Laptops 
    • When plugged in but switched off, energy is still being consumed.
  3. Phone Chargers
    • If you leave your phone charging overnight, even when it reaches 100%, the charger will still be consuming electricity.

Standby mode or ‘sleep mode’ is a state in which the device reduces its energy consumption to a very minimal amount, whilst still powered on.

This reduces the amount of time it takes to power up a device, but also wastes a lot of energy.

The Environmental Protection Agency states that anywhere up to 10% of your household electricity bills can be down to these vampire loads.

Smart power strips have the ability to detect when a device is in standby mode, and can then cut off the power, making them very energy efficient.

However, as great as this all sounds, power strips should only be used as temporary solutions.

They are not designed for permanent use, which is after 90 days, according to the US Office of Compliance; the reasons as to why are covered below.

Check out this blog about do power strips expire and go bad?

Are Power Strips Safe To Use?

Power strips should be perfectly safe when used in the proper way; however, it is worth noting they are not designed as permanent solutions.

Here are some important tips on the proper and safe usage of power strips:

  1. Never ‘Daisy Chain’ Power Strips
    • ‘Daisy chaining’ is a term used when multiple power strips or extension cords are linked together.
    • Always use a power strip with a cord that has the appropriate length for the job, as combining many power strips violates the regulations of both the National Electrical Code and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
    • ‘Daisy-chaining’ can result in overheating due to overloading and has the potential to cause fires.
  2. Always Inspect The Physical State Of A Power Strip Before You Go To Use It
    • Keep an eye out for visible damage such as obvious melted areas or burn marks, or cuts and tears to the cable.
    • If you encounter any of these signs dispose of the power strip and purchase a new one to avoid any safety risks.
  3. Never Overload Your Power Strip
    • Overloading occurs when too many devices are connected to one power strip, or when a high-voltage device requires more wattage than the power strip is able to handle.
    • Overloading can result in overheating, and therefore, increases the risks of fire.
  4. Keep An Eye On the Cord
    • Always make sure the cord of the power strip is not knotted in any way as this can be a potential trip hazard.
    • Similarly, do not run power strip cords through doorways or down stairways. This also poses a great risk of someone tripping over the cable which can result in serious injury.
  5. Plug It In Properly
    • Always ensure the plug of the power strip is fully inserted into the wall socket.
    • If it is hanging half out of the socket then there is a potential risk of electrocution.
  6. Check The Temperature Of The Power Strip.
    • If you notice it is too hot to touch then you should unplug it straight away.
    • Overheating can be caused by overloading as previously mentioned, and can result in fires.
  7. Never Cover Your Power Strip
    • This can cause overheating and also provide combustible material for a fire if it breaks out.
    • Avoid placing a power strip underneath any fabric such as carpets or rugs.
  8. Don’t Be Tempted To Make Any DIY Changes
    • Do not cut and tape the cable in order to alter the length of the power strip yourself. This poses many problems with health and safety due to increased risks of electrocution and overheating.
  9. Check If The Power Strip Has Surge Protection
    • Not all power strips come equipped with the ability to cope with surges, so before use, it is imperative you are aware of its surge protection capabilities.
  10. Do Not Use A Power Strip As A Permanent Solution
    • As previously mentioned, the US Office of Compliance defines permanent as longer than 90 days.
    • After this time, permanent wiring solutions should be sought.

If you use your power strip in the correct manner you will have no cause for concern and will be able to fully reap the benefits of its function.

What Electronics Should You Plug Into Power Strips?

Power strips are incredibly convenient, especially as many homes can have a lack of wall sockets in relation to how many electronic devices we use day to day.

However, they cannot be safely used as a solution 100% of the time.

Certain electronics should never be plugged into power strips; those of which will be covered below.

Whether or not you should plug a particular electronic device into a power strip is also dependent on the rating the strip has.

Most power strips have an amp rating of 15A or more, meaning you can connect multiple devices as long as the power needed doesn’t exceed said amount.

Power strips are mostly designed for gadgets and other less heavy-duty appliances.

Here are some examples of devices that should be perfectly safe to connect to your power strip:

  • Computers and laptops
  • Mobile phone chargers
  • Lighting, such as bedside or standing lamps
  • Headphone chargers
  • iPads and tablets
  • Speakers and portable radio devices
  • Digital clocks

What Electronics Should You NOT Plug into Power Strips?

As previously mentioned, certain heavy-duty appliances should never be plugged into power strips, regardless of their amp rating. Such appliances include:

  • Washing machines and dryers
  • Microwaves and ovens
  • Refrigerators
  • Hair dryers
  • Air conditioning units
  • Toasters
  • Blenders
  • Kettles and coffee makers

If these devices are plugged into power strips it increases the risk of overloading dramatically. Overloading will result in overheating thus increasing the potential risks of fire.

Read our blog here about why do power strips have reset buttons?


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