How Much Can You Plug Into One Outlet?
Clark Griswold taught us all an important lesson about overloading circuits when he connected too many Christmas lights together — it's a bad idea.
So, how many things can you safely plug into one outlet? If you find yourself with more devices than electrical outlets, here are some tips. Spoiler alert: Power strips are (part of) the answer.
You can often plug at least two or three items into an electrical outlet. However, the exact number of items that can be safely plugged in depends on several factors:
- Age of your home
- Quality of wiring
- The wattage of each device
- Whether other outlets on the same electrical circuit are in use
Safely plugging in numerous items requires a basic understanding of your home's electrical system.
Amp, short for ampere, is a basic unit for measuring electrical current. Most modern homes in the United States can handle 15 or 20 amps on a single electrical circuit, but older homes tend to be designed for only 12 amps.
A circuit is a portion of the home that shares wiring. For example, the laundry room may be on one circuit while a couple of bedrooms are on another. Thicker, high-quality wiring tends to mean a circuit can handle more amps.
Most household items list their wattage directly on a tag or in a user manual. Wattage can vary significantly based on the electricity the item needs to work properly. For example, a string of LED Christmas lights might use 10 watts, while your microwave oven might use 600 to 1,700 watts.
To determine how many amps are needed for your electronics, you can divide the total watts by volts (in the U.S., this is usually 120 volts). In other words, you can use this equation:
Watts/Volts = Amps
Using this equation, you can determine that a 1,200-watt microwave draws 10 amps because 1,200/120 is 10. Therefore, plugging even two microwaves into a standard household outlet is probably too much. However, five strands of 10-watt LED holiday lights might only draw 0.41 amps (50/120). These lights could probably share a single outlet safely, assuming you have a suitable power strip or outlet extender.
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You can plug two power strips into a standard outlet with two sockets. However, you must pay attention to the wattage of each item plugged into the power strips. Even with power strips, you don't want to exceed the number of amps your electrical system can safely handle.
Don't plug a power strip into a power strip. This practice, sometimes called daisy-chaining, is a fire hazard. Most power strips can handle 15 to 20 amps, but this can vary. You may quickly exceed the allowable amps of the base power strip if you plug one or more other power strips into it.
A high-quality extension cord won't do much to change the amps drawn by the device connected to it. Generally, you can apply the same rules as when you plug electronics directly into an outlet. However, pay attention if you're using extension cords that connect to more than one device.
Plugging extension cords into a power strip isn't a good idea, as this can lead to dangerous overheating. Likewise, you shouldn't plug a power strip into an extension cord.
Overloading an outlet will often trip your circuit breaker and cause you to lose power. While frustrating, this is the best-case scenario. Plugging too many things into one outlet can wear electrical wires or cause overheating. This can lead to a damaged electrical system or a dangerous electrical fire.
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