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What is an Outlet Switch?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 28 October 2016
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An outlet switch is a device that regulates the power to an electrical outlet. It works the same way a light switch does, allowing power to flow, or cutting it off as needed. The outlet switch may be located directly on an outlet, or may remotely send a wireless signal to the device that is plugged into the wall.

While most devices, such as coffee makers, stereos, satellite boxes, and computers, can be turned off, there may still be some power flow going to these items. This electricity is used for appliance features such as standby mode, clocks, timers, or similar functions that use energy even when the device is seemingly dormant. To save energy, or to prevent fire hazards, some people like to completely cut off the power to such items. In the past, the surest way to do this was by unplugging the device from the wall. The outlet switch offers an alternative.

The outlet switch works by being plugged directly into a standard electrical outlet. It will have one or more receptacles into which devices can be plugged, along with a switch, usually on top of the device. The switch be backlit, so that it is easier to see in the dark. It will also usually be clearly marked with "on/off" on opposite sides of that switch.

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Those who wish to use outlet switches, may find they are somewhat inconvenient, especially if installed on hard-to-reach outlets. To help counter this inconvenience, there is also an option for a wireless electrical outlet switch. This device will usually not have any cutoff on the physical wall unit, but will have a remotely-operated switch. When triggered, the switch will send a signal to the device directing it to open or close the circuit.

In addition to the convenience factor of outlet switches, some also serve a safety role. Some switches come with a built-in surge protector, which will protect appliances from electrical surges in the wiring. Without this protection, a power surge could render expensive appliances and electronics useless.

Outlet switches can be purchased cheaply online, and in many retail hardware stores. Many come in pairs, or even packs of four, depending on what the consumer wants. There is usually no setup required, other than simply plugging them in. The remote portion of a wireless outlet switch usually runs off a standard AA or AAA battery, which may or may not be included.

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