Are you relying on a single power point or two to run all your various laptops, printers, routers and other home office gadgets? Here's what you can do.
I recently spoke to BIT contributor Anthony Caruana who told me he had 10 double power points installed when fitting out his home office, and wishes he had specified another three or four.
That's perhaps an extreme case - but you probably do need more power points than you initially think. So what do you do?
Power boards are one way of getting around a shortage of power points, but they're not risk-free.
The NSW Fire Brigade and Victoria's Metropolitan Fire Brigade both offer information sheets about the safe use of power boards.
The most important piece of advice seems to be to avoid overloading the power board - add up the maximum current drawn by each item you connect, and make sure the total does not exceed the power board's rating.
But most pieces of home office equipment draw relatively little current - looking around my office, the rated figures include 1A (all-in-one computer), 0.45A (router), 0.1A (cable modem), 0.15A (phone charger), 0.35A (VoIP phone), 0.12A (printer/scanner) and 0.2A for the NAS - not enough to overload one power board.
So while my office contains 16 mains-powered devices that are more or less permanently connected (plus a few more that are plugged in as needed, such as battery and phone chargers) and only two double power points, most consume so little power that I'd have to make a deliberate effort to overload a power strip.
There are a few potential downsides to using a power board though:
- having as many as eight cables leading to the same point usually ends up in a tangle
- the devices need to be reasonably close to the board to avoid the need for extension cables. Apart from anything else, the additional plugs and sockets add to the bulk and clutter.
- the board itself is relatively large and cumbersome. It's liable to be kicked if left on the floor, which also makes it awkward to reach. If placed on a desk there's a risk of more widespread damage if it is knocked or dragged to the floor. It's also unattractive if fixed to a wall.
So, what are some ways around these problems?
- If your equipment is spread out, an extension lead with sockets fitted at intervals (such as this extension lead with sockets from Arlec as stocked by Bunnings), which addresses the first and third of those points. Again, be sure to stay within the maximum load for the lead.
- Another approach is to use a power strip specifically designed to be attached to a desk, such as this power strip that attaches to a desk (we're merely using 4cabling as a representative supplier; there are many others), but such items are generally intended for professional installation.
- The second concern may be addressed by replacing a device's power cable (most manufacturers seem to have settled on 2m or less) with a 3m or 5m cable, but that doesn't help with devices that use a 'wall wart' power supply.
- If you're renovating, take the opportunity to have plenty of power points fitted from the outset, as the marginal cost is relatively small at that stage compared with that of getting an electrician in to add one or two later. And consider having at least some of them installed just above desk height for ease of access, especially for items that need to be frequently unplugged or switched off. A row of well-spaced power points also reduces the need for extension cables as well as the trip hazards in your office.
Other ways to cut down on power points
If you're not keen on the idea of installing more power points, there are some purchasing decisions you can make to reduce the number required. For example:
- An all-in-one printer instead of a separate printer, scanner and (if you really need one) fax machine;
- An all-in-one desktop computer or a notebook instead of a separate PC and monitor;
- Acombined modem/router instead of two separate devices
- A bus-powered external drive (but such 'portable' models are generally more expensive per gigabyte than a mains-powered 'desktop' equivalent, and you'll normally have to plug them straight into your computer or into a powered hub - an unpowered hub won't deliver enough current);
Power over Ethernet (PoE) provides power to certain types of device - notably security cameras and VoIP phones - via the network cable, eliminating the need for a power cable. The range of PoE devices is relatively small as PoE provides a limited current, due in part to the lightweight wire inside an Ethernet cable. The problem is that PoE switches are more expensive than their regular counterparts, so this approach may not be cheaper than installing another power point or two.
If the problem is that a PoE-capable device isn't conveniently close to a power point, but there is a spare one somewhere between it and your network switch, a PoE power injector costing as little as $25 may be the answer. Run one network cable from the switch to the injector and another from the injector to the device, plug the injector's power supply into a power point, and you're in business. Apart from anything else, this also reduces the number of cables running to your desk.
Readers' tips for reducing the mains wiring clutter in a home office are welcome. If you have a suggestion, you can your comments below.
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