07:00 AM

Charging Wisely

With the multitude of electronic gadgets available in the 21st century, charging them smartly is more important than ever.

Overloading electric outlets can damage electronics, their cords and your receptacles. Using power strips and surge protectors the right way can eliminate these concerns. Here are a few things to consider when charging cellphones, iPads and electronics in general.

Power strips and surge protectors

Most homes have at least one or two power strips, usually located in the rooms that house the most entertainment electronics, such as television, game systems and computers. While almost all power outlets contain plugins for two devices, power strips contain multiple outlets; when plugged into a wall receptacle, the power strip enables you to plug in several electronic devices at one wall outlet. The purpose of the power strip is simply to enable you to plug in more electronics or appliances.

Surge protectors, also known as surge suppressors, look almost the same as power strips. Actually, they are power strips – but power strips with an additional and important purpose.

At a minimum, surge protectors, like regular power strips, allow you to plug in multiple electronics. But surge protectors also keep electronics from being damaged by sudden changes in current or spikes in power.

Voltage spikes are extremely high increases in power most often caused by lightning, tripped breakers or power outages. Even though power spikes may last less than a second, the damage they can cause could lead to hours, even days, of frustration if a TV or other often-used electronic item is damaged. Plugging electronics into surge protectors adds a certain level of protection from damage caused by power spikes as the surge protector works to block or short to ground any electrical voltage that’s beyond safe levels.

Surge protectors are manufactured to protect sensitive electronics, like computers, laptops, televisions and game systems. Kitchen appliances and other household items don’t need to be plugged into surge protectors.

Even surge protectors can’t protect against the most severe lightning strikes, but using them will cut down significantly on the risk of damage due to power spikes.

Know the difference

The last time I went shopping for a surge protector, I came home with a simple power strip. I blame it on being a distracted shopper. Don’t make the same mistake.

Power strips and surge protectors look the same, so it’s important not to grab and go. Take a minute to read the package description. On its packaging or imprinted on the item itself, surge protectors will have an electric rating and information about how much voltage it can absorb from a spike in power.

Surge protectors cost more, but not much more, than regular power strips. You can find a power strip with six outlets for 10 bucks or less; you’ll probably pay up to twice that for a six-outlet surge protector. Still, the price is right for protecting your valuable electronic devices.

Stop the vampires

No discussion of electric outlets is complete without addressing the energy-sucking wastefulness caused by energy vampires. What?

Vampire energy is electricity consumed when electronics are not in use. Think: phone chargers plugged into an outlet with no phone on the other end or TV plugged in while you’re on a two-week vacation. Even though they’re not in use, energy is being drawn to power them, so you still pay for that electricity.


Sure, you don’t want to unplug your TV every time you turn it off. But if you have two or three more in the house that are rarely used, unplug them. And of course it doesn’t make sense to pull out the washer and dryer to unplug when they’re not in use, but you certainly can unplug the Keurig, unplug the blender and unplug the toaster.

And that reminds me of another great thing about power strips and surge protectors: to squelch the energy vampires drawing power from electronics not in use, you only have to flip one switch.


Jackie Kennedy has worked with Georgia’s electric cooperatives for 23 years, producing newsletters, press releases and articles about the industry or energy-related matters. She is the author of People, Power, Progress: The Story of Jackson EMC, published in 2013. In her blog, she grapples with a variety of energy efficiency topics.