If you’re running low on the number of receptacles in your kitchen, the most logical thing to do would be to share an outlet for multiple electrical devices via a power strip or extension cord, right? However, this might not always be the wisest course of action.
A fridge should not be sharing an outlet. The addition of other electrical devices to that outlet could overload the circuit, resulting in your circuit breaker being tripped and power supply being cut.
The rest of this article will explain topics related to this question in more detail, including how your home electrical system functions, why certain devices like the fridge should only be plugged in individually, and how to find out if an outlet can handle a device’s voltage.
How does a home’s electrical system work?
Electricity is brought to your house via wires that run through the power lines, reach a transformer, and finally, flow through the two hot wires and one neutral wire connected to all the power outlets in your house. Hence, whenever you plug in a device, electricity runs through it, the circuit is completed, and the plugged-in device will become operational. To prevent electrical shocks, from the 1960s, all homes in America were required by law to have a ground wire.
Today, virtually all American homes run on the 120V / 240V system. To understand why the US National Fire Protection (NFPA) encourages residents to only plugin only one heat-producing appliance in an outlet and counsels you not to use extension cords and plug strips with major appliances, you need to learn more about voltage and currents.
Understanding Voltage and Current
Voltage, also known as electric potential difference, is the force that pushes free electrons in a specific direction so that a circuit can be completed. It can loosely be termed the ‘pressure’ of an electrical circuit. Voltage is measured through the unit of Volts.
Here’s a video to understand the concept of voltage better:
Here’s another video to understand the concept of electrical current better:
Why Shouldn’t a Fridge Be Sharing Outlets?
Every outlet is connected to a circuit that can take a certain amount of volts and amperes. If a circuit can take 120V and you plug in a device that has the input of 40-60V, your device will blow up. It is very important to ensure that the volts and amperes of a device are compatible with that of a circuit.
Although refrigerators these days are getting increasingly power-efficient, requiring a lower voltage and current when running, the current can sharply surge at specific times. This is due to a phenomenon known as startup currents.
A startup or surge current refers to a temporary increase in current when a machine is operating at its most strenuous condition. For refrigerators, this is usually when the refrigerator jumpstarts the compressor to push cool air around the fridge.
According to GE Appliances, the current can surge up to three times the normal running current when it is starting up. This is why the National Electrical Code (NEC) recommends using a dedicated circuit for refrigerators – or a circuit that is to be used only by that one appliance.
A dedicated circuit has the following requirements:
- 20 amp
- 120/125 volts
- AFCI protection
- GFCI protection when a plug is in the garage, basement, or within 6 feet of a sink
If you connect additional electrical items to an outlet, the overloaded circuit will be broken when the current surges.
Consequences of Sharing an Outlet With a Fridge
- Melted fuse. Some plugs and circuits contain fuses within, and when the current gets too high, the strip melts, breaking the circuit. You will need to replace the fuse to get your device working again.
- Tripped circuit breaker. When the circuit is overloaded, the circuit breaker is tripped until the breaker lever is reset.
It is time-consuming and frustrating to deal with the ramifications of sharing an outlet, but overloaded circuits also stress your electrical system. Instead, be sure to use a dedicated circuit for your refrigerator.
Here is a list of other devices that the NEC recommends the use of a dedicated circuit with:
- Water heater
Are there any other items that could overload an electrical circuit?
If you’ve bought your electrical devices from a local area, you should be safe. However, if you’ve decided to go overseas and managed to pick up a brand new toaster, here are a few steps you should be taking before plugging it in.
- Check the voltage and current of your power outlets. You can use this AstroAl Digital Multimeter to measure the voltage and current of your outlet. As it only measures DC Current, be sure to change it to the correct setting.
- Check the manufacturer’s label of the product you bought. A manufacturer’s label contains many valuable details, including the volts and amps that it should be used with. Check the input to see if your outlet supplies the appropriate range, and check the output to see if your outlet can handle the appropriate range.
- If the product range is not suited to your home, look into getting a resistor or inverter, depending on your needs.
How do I get more power outlets?
If there are insufficient power outlets in your house, you should look into getting power strips. These power strips have multiple sockets so you can plug in whichever device you want to. However, you should always ensure that you’re using these strips safely. Here are a few cardinal rules to follow if you want everything to go smoothly:
- Don’t plug devices that need dedicated circuits into a power strip. They pull too much power and will result in a circuit overload.
- Keep power strips away from damp places. This is a great way to prevent it from tripping your circuit breaker or, worse, catching fire.
- Don’t plug one power strip into another. This might sound like a great idea for more outlets in theory, but in reality, you’re just distributing voltage so your appliances might not work as well. It could also lead to electrical mishaps!
- Avoid using a power strip if it has heated up. Power strips are not meant to maintain loads for a long period and can overheat and catch fire.
- Always purchase power strips with an internal circuit breaker. This prevents electrical fires, as well as any damage to your plugged-in devices.
If you have a mini-fridge as opposed to a normal fridge, that’s a completely different story, and you can share outlets as a mini-fridge has a lower current and voltage. However, if you’re dealing with a regular fridge, use a dedicated circuit to prevent difficulties.
You can also contact a local electrician to install more power outlets for you, or even an outlet tap if a power strip is too clunky and you’re lacking power outlets.