How-To Geek

Upgrade Your Outlets for Adapter Free USB Charging

If you’re cluttering up all your outlets with USB charging adapters, this simple home improvement adds in two USB ports per outlet.

Over at Apartment Therapy they share a guide to rewiring your outlets with USB support using commercial outlets (don’t worry, you won’t have to build it yourself). They also showcase a plug in model that sits over your existing outlet if you prefer not to do any hard wiring.

How To Give Your Wall Outlet a USB Upgrade [Apartment Therapy]

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 02/9/12

Comments (9)

  1. Nigel

    This mod is an absolute no no. Wiring regulation do not allow extra low and low voltage outlets to share the same plate.

  2. Rick

    Nigel +1. You may or may not be right however. NEC (electrical code in the US) just says low (communication etc.) and high (120V) voltage have to be separated. It’s hard to tell from the picture but it “might” be shielded. I regularly run communication and 120 power in the same box just with a divider in them. I would check for a UL listing on the device. However MY main concern with the mod, would be surge protection and output voltage and wattage from the device (plug). Not all electronics are created equal. Consistency is slowly becoming a standard, however.

    Nice idea, but I would personally prefer to use the transformer the manufacturer supplied with a protected receptacle.

  3. Phil

    I’m curious how much power this thing consumes even when nothing’s plugged into a USB jack.

    An AC power outlet uses zero power when nothing’s plugged in – the power doesn’t leak out of the socket.

    But unless there some kind of microswitch which can tell whether or not something’s plugged into the USB socket there will be some constant power drain. It may not be a lot, but it will certainly add up over time. And unless your electric power comes from nuclear or a renewable source will contribute to extra carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

    No thanks, I’ll stick with the $1 chargers from my local discount store.

  4. Nigel

    Sorry Rick, I have been an electrical contractor in both UK and NZ, this would never be allowed in those countries. Wasn’t to sure about US. Most places I’ve been to say 50mm separation or a barrier as in trunking systems but this is totally different. In NZ at least this mod would be illegal.
    I am a bit disappointed with HTG publishing another article utilizing possibly 230V or 115V mains projects for people all over the world to try to duplicate. What works in some countries may be a no no in another. Plus, wiring colors and terminations are different for sure.
    For anybody thinking about doing this, check with your local regulators first. Also, you can buy plug adaptors with USB sockets in them without resorting to meddling with your electrical installation.
    Nice idea but frought with possible ways to kill oneself :D

  5. Steve-O-Rama

    To be fair, the Newer Technology Power2U outlet sold at OWC is UL listed, and includes an integral on/off ‘safety’ switch, in addition to an internal fuse protecting the 125VAC and USB outlets. Perfectly safe, even if overpriced. RTFM.

  6. liquidsunset
  7. Wayne Riker

    My concern is possible heat build-up. I’ve seen low voltage adapters melt down. What if it happens inside the wall with now way to vent or yank it out? I love DIY stuff, but not really this in this way.

  8. Steve Durette

    I don’t think these would violate the NEC. If you look at the website there is no low voltage wiring here at all. It is an outlet with a transformer built in instead of plugging in the outlet with one. Technically no low voltage wiring so no violation.

  9. Rick

    @ nigel
    I to am an electrician with 22 years experience. I agree that this mod is a bad idea. Not sure what “authority having jurisdiction, is in play in NZ, but in the US it’s NEC (National Electrical Code). It is legal here to have the low and high voltage in the same enclosure as long as there is some form of separation. This could be as simple as the divider in a Walker box. The only reason for the separation between the two is only to reduce flux and interference. The 120V flux could actually increase the voltage in the low voltage line or cause interference with the USB or CAT5 etc lines.

    Thanks for the update on the fusing and the UL listing, that in itself makes it legal in the United States. Even though, safety in my mind isn’t the real issue. 120V 15A isn’t going to kill anybody unless they’re on a pacemaker.

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