Basics of setting up power strips and extension cords?

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Old 06-11-14, 07:10 PM
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Question Basics of setting up power strips and extension cords?

So my apartment only has two electrical outlets. I'm currently using a couple of power strips and extension cords with no problems, but I've decided I want to get some more in order to eliminate much of the plug-switching I still often have to do. But I don't really know anything about this stuff. Basically, I just want to make sure that everything I plug in can get as much power as it needs, and also that my setup won't overload or short-circuit or start a fire or anything like that. To that end, how should I make sure that I purchase the right equipment for the job and set it up correctly? Any help is much appreciated.
 
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Old 06-11-14, 08:32 PM
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You are in a tough position. Extension cords are intended for temporary use. Your best solution is to ask the landlord to install new receptacles, maybe offer to go 50/50 with him on the cost. Second best is hire an electrician on your dime with the landlord's permission.

If you go with extension cords and there is a fire even if not caused by your cords the building's insurance could go after you for the cost of damage. Just the cost of defending yourself in court could be very expensive. Or maybe the insurance company would deny the owners claim using your makeshift wiring as an excuse and then the owner might go after you. That though is just the civil liability. If someone is injured there could be criminal charges.

If you are hopefully on month to month your only real recourse is to look for an apartment with sufficient electrical for your needs.
 
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Old 06-12-14, 05:07 AM
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Another point is that the cords and power strips are not meant to be daisy chained.
 
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Old 06-12-14, 07:08 AM
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If all you have are two duplex receptacles on two 15 ampere circuits respectively then the most you have are two allotments of 15 amps no matter how many extension cords you use.

Balance your appliances and electronic equipment between the two receptacles to maximize what you can turn on at the same time without tripping a breaker.

Extension cords have maximum amps ratings too, for example 7 amps. Don't exceed that.

You can get extension cords (power strips) with built in circuit breakers, to help keep you from overloading one particular extension cord.

Not counting damaged cords from being under a rug and crushed by foot traffic, the most common cause of extension cord related fires is non-overloaded overheating where plugs go into wall receptacles or extension cord end receptacles, where repeated plugging and unplugging or tugging caused the fit to loosen or internal wires connected to plug prongs to come loose. Loose connections tend to heat up. One long extension cord has fewer such joints compared with several short cords daisy chained.
 
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Old 06-12-14, 04:15 PM
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Question

Thanks all. So I've gathered that I shouldn't use extension cords long-term, and I shouldn't daisy-chain cords. That's all fine; even just a couple of power strips with lots of outlets on them would be more convenient than what I have now. In fact there is some daisy chaining in my current setup, so all the more reason to change it. I will also make sure to buy equipment with built-in circuit breakers.

My apartment does have sufficient electrical for my needs - it's not as convenient as I might like, but I get along fine. I'm just trying to figure out how much more convenient I can safely make it.

So, when I said I only have two outlets, I meant only one duplex receptacle. Does each one of those sockets have its own current allotment? Or is the current allotment for the whole receptacle, regardless of which socket the current is drawn from? Also, how can I know what that current allotment is? I have a digital multimeter; should I use it? And how can I know how much current each of my appliances/electronics will take? Do I only need to pay attention to current, or should I keep track of voltage and/or wattage as well?
 

Last edited by 151rby; 06-12-14 at 05:43 PM.
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Old 06-12-14, 04:32 PM
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So, when I said I only have two outlets, I meant only one duplex receptacle. Does each one of those outlets have its own current allotment?
Unlikely. It is likely just a single 15 amp supply. You could use a 6 plug adapter such as 6 outlet adapter I have used one for many years with multiple high amp plugs with no problem.

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Old 06-12-14, 07:17 PM
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So, when I said I only have two outlets, I meant only one duplex receptacle.
That must be a VERY small apartment. How long are the extension cords you've been using? Sounds like no more than one small room to me.
 
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Old 06-12-14, 08:48 PM
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A few more things for you:
Make sure the receptacle you have is tight. If it is loose it will overheat quickly and could start a fire.

When using those 6-outlet adapters like Ray mentioned, be sure to buy high quality ones. The cheaper ones lose retention quickly and melt. What I would personally use rather than the ones Ray mentioned is a splitter like contractors use. They're designed to take abuse better and plugging/unplugging. Something like this: Stanley 3-OutletGrounded Tap Adapter (6-Pack)-156819 at The Home Depot

As for power strips, you also want to avoid the bottom of the line ones, and even the mid-grade ones. What I use mainly is either ones I built myself, or ones designed for heavy audio or computer equipment made by companies such as Tripp-Lite or APC. Another thing you need to keep in mind with them is they're not allowed to be daisy-chained so be sure to get one with a long enough cord if you need a longer one. Something like this: Tripp Lite 10-Outlet 120V 15 ft. Multiple Outlet Strip-UL800CB-15 at The Home Depot

As for extension cords, avoid anything smaller than 14/3 and you'll be good as long as you be careful what you're plugging in and make sure the connections are tight.



I still have a hard time believing you only have 1 duplex for the whole apartment. What about the kitchen? I'd hope there's at least a separate circuit there...
 
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Old 06-13-14, 03:58 AM
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Although the receptacle is rated for 15 amps, you should never pull its full capacity for any length of time. For long-term continuous use there should always be 20 percent "headroom" on the circuit so it doesn't heat up. It is the heating/cooling cycle that can, over time, loosen connections and cause fires -- even though you never technically overloaded the circuit.

Shoot for 12 amps continuous as your goal.

The best way to determine the potential load on the outlet is to add up all of the power ratings for the devices that will be plugged in. Electronic devices have labels that state the wattage. Light bulbs are also labeled. Appliances like vacuums may have wattage numbers or an amp rating. Devices that don't have a label may have a fuse. Use the fuse rating.

Add up all of the wattage ratings and divide by 120 (volts) to get the load, in amps. For example, a TV may use 120 watts. A stereo 200 watts. A computer 250. A light bulb 60. 630 total watts divided by 120 = 5.25 amps.

Of course, we're all assuming the circuit is 15 amps. It could be fused at 10 amps, in which case you'll be limited to 8 amps continuous.
 
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Old 06-13-14, 06:45 PM
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Thanks everyone. Yep, my apartment is a tiny studio. It doesn't have a kitchen, just a main room and a bathroom, though I do have a fridge and several kitchen-type appliances. The couple of extra cords I'm using are not very long, though I haven't measured them.

Out of curiosity, when finding the current associated with a wattage, where does the 120 V come from? Is that the standard voltage of an electrical socket or something? Could I use an ammeter to determine the current rating of the circuit?
 
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Old 06-13-14, 07:03 PM
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Add up all of the wattage ratings and divide by 120 (volts) to get the load, in amps. For example, a TV may use 120 watts. A stereo 200 watts. A computer 250. A light bulb 60. 630 total watts divided by 120 = 5.25 amps.
Actually, you don't use watts for anything other than a resistive load. You want to use volt-amps (VA) for motor loads, electronic loads, fluorescent and led bulbs, and other magnetic loads.

Out of curiosity, when finding the current associated with a wattage, where does the 120 V come from? Is that the standard voltage of an electrical socket or something? Could I use an ammeter to determine the current rating of the circuit?
120V is the standard voltage coming out of your wall receptacle. It may vary by as much as 10%. To know the amperage rating of the circuit, you need to find the breaker or fuse.
 
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Old 06-13-14, 07:32 PM
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What I would personally use rather than the ones Ray mentioned is a splitter like contractors use. They're designed to take abuse better and plugging/unplugging.
The splitters can easily be jarred loose and that can lead to overheating. The one I recommended is held in place by a screw. It replaces the usual cover plate.
 
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Old 06-13-14, 09:14 PM
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Look on the breaker handle or fuse for the available ampacity of the circuit.
 
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