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How to Avoid Overloaded Outlets

If you have ever had to switch the circuit breakers to restore power after your electricity shuts off you due to overloaded outlets you may be asking yourself, “how many watts can a standard outlet handle?”

Living in a space with a limited number of outlets can force you to make some difficult choices. You might need to have the hairdryer plugged in, but you also need the electric razor, iron and space heater going, too. Your outlets can only handle a certain number of watts as well as the circuit breaker its associated with.

 You’re Not Overloading An Outlet, You’re Overloading A Circuit.

First, it’s important to understand that each circuit usually supplies power to several outlets and lights.  For example, Circuit A might supply power to the four outlets in the master bedroom plus a ceiling light, Circuit B might supply all power to the kitchen, etc.  Each circuit is controlled by a breaker or a fuse.  So if you lose electricity you don’t overload an individual outlet, you overload an entire circuit.

A breaker will automatically shut off power when there’s an overload. It’s designed to work as a safety device. Not having a breaker on your circuit can result in electrical hazards. 20-amp breakers must only handle up to 80% of their amperage rating. An amp rating means the most amount of current the circuit can safely handle.

 How Much Can a Single Outlet Handle?

The typical American wall outlet can handle a maximum of 15 Amps, or 15 amps * 120 Volts = 1800 watts. However, the National Electric Code (NEC) says that no more than 80% of that should be used if continuous power is used, i.e, and toaster, hair dryer, lamp, etc.

That means any single device or a combination of devices plugged into any and all of the outlets (or hardwired devices) wired to the same circuit breaker, should never require over 1440 watts (or 12 amps) for a 15 amp outlet. Using an extension cord does not preclude this rule.

 Safety First

Aside from the inconvenience it causes, overloading an outlet can pose several safety risks. Consider these points before overloading an outlet:

  1. Overloaded outlets can cause fires — an estimated 5,300 annually in American households [source: CPSC].
  2. Overloaded circuits or outlets can cause burned out wires, damaged appliances and even electric shocks.
  3. Only use products backed by The Consumer Product Safety Commission The CPSC tests products and finds that many counterfeit products can’t stand up to even the most basic safety testing.
  4. Electrical devices that are built to put out heat, like space heaters and hair dryers, tend to use more power than other devices.
  5. Faulty circuit breakers can cause unnecessary overloads leading to fires and other damage in the house.

If you suspect you have a faulty circuit breaker or need additional outlets installed contact a qualified electrician.  High West Electric is based in Denver, CO and serves the entire metro area. Our customer service-based approach ensures that each client enjoys the process from installation to the end product – no matter the size of the job. Our goal is to be YOUR electrician and offer an experience that goes Beyond the Wires. We offer free estimates. Visit our website to learn more.

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