Swap in a USB port to prevent outlet overloads

Swap in a USB port to prevent outlet overloads

If you have a cell phone, tablet, or other USB-powered electrical gadget — or two or three or five of them — odds are you juggle a number of parts to keep it powered. In addition to the mobile device itself, you have the power cord and an adapter that plugs into the wall and allows your USB cord to draw power.

If you want to use only the USB cord, usually your only option is a port on your computer. But highly rated electricians say recent developments in the electronics market allow you to plug your devices straight into the wall by adding one or two USB ports right alongside the standard plugs in your electrical outlet.

“It’s a receptacle that has both standard 120-volt and USB ports built into it,” says Bob Smith, service manager for highly rated electrical service company Staley Inc in Springdale, Arkansas. “It’s ideal for next to beds or kitchen countertops and islands. You can charge your cell phone while you still have your other items plugged in.”

RELATED: Electricians tackle the top 5 questions about USB ports in electrical outlets

Smith says USB outlets have been available for about a year and he expects them to become more popular as time goes on, since the rise in mobile devices has made USB a nearly universal standard.

Although the ports go into 120-volt outlets, he says they shouldn’t output more than the amount of power your computer delivers to a standard USB port, so they are safe for all USB-powered devices.

Bill Andrews, president of highly rated All Phase Electrical Services in St. Louis, Missouri, says you should hire a licensed electrician for this kind of work. “You’re replacing an existing outlet, so you don’t want just a handyman doing this job,” he says.

One limitation electricians note: Current USB outlets won’t work with a GFCI outlet, commonly installed wherever water is an issue, such as bathrooms. (To be fair, you probably don’t want your gadgets near that anyway.)

The cost of the work depends on what else you’re doing at the time. It takes about the same amount of time as replacing a traditional outlet, about 15 minutes, so it’s not a complicated task. But most electricians charge a minimum hourly rate, so if you call one out just to install one USB outlet, you can expect to pay about $100.

But if you’re installing more than one outlet or adding it to a larger job that already has the electrician working in your house, the per-outlet cost drops. In most cases, an electrician can install about four outlets in one hour, so you’ll be paying their hourly labor rate plus the electrician’s cost of parts, which ranges between $15 and $30 for each outlet, Andrews and Smith estimate.

Andrews notes that the outlets tend to be deeper than standard electrical outlets, so older homes or those with unusual wall thickness might take longer.

“They work really well in kid’s rooms,” he says. “I put them in both of my granddaughters’ rooms so they can plug their stuff in at night.”


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