Preventing outlet overload in your home

January 21, 2010 3:14:16 PM PST
Flat screens, computers, microwaves - it seems every room in the house is holding more and more appliances. One look behind the entertainment system, however, will reveal a tangle of cords. So how can you stay safe and prevent from overloading your homes electrical system? In most homes, it's all about the electronics. But for firefighters - it's all about how the electronics are plugged in.

Do it wrong, and overloaded plugs and circuits can cause fires. And it can happen just like that, whether you're home or not.

Eyewitness News enlisted the expertise of FDNY fire safety educator Lieutenant Anthony Mancuso.

He says a power strip and a surge protector are what you want to protect your TV from damage, but as far as fire is concerned, if it's a power strip, it's going to protect you. If it's overloaded, it will shut down.

And what about all those computer cords? Those at Bill Ritter's house are a mess. But is it safe?

"OK, you got two power strips, but we check out your circuit breakers and we found out that outlet is separate," Lt. Mancuso said after surveying the scene. "So basically, you've got a 15-amp breaker on one side and a 15-amp breaker on the other side. So you are not really pulling a lot of power. Now, if this was all on one breaker, you'd be pulling a lot of power. You have a lot of light items here, but they are not pulling a lot of electricity. If you said to me you had an electric dryer for clothes, anything that heats or cools uses a lot of electricity."

Mancuso says don't bundle your cords together. He says put them next to one another, because even though they may look nice, it could be dangerous.

"What's going to happen is you may overheat it," Mancuso said. "Because electric may cause a resistance. Sometimes it's not just from the electricity, it's from overheating."

So what are the bad things that people should not buy?

Mancuso says don't buy block power strips that turn one outlet into four or six without a surge protector.

He also says that cords are often the cause of fire, instead of the appliance itself. He says extension cords have a shelf life and should not be brittle and dried out. Extension cords should be bendable without showing signs of wear and tear.