Do power strip switches serve the same kind of protection a breaker do? How are they different?

I'm designing a small switchboard for my desk / workbench, in order to have better cable management and convenient outlet access. I estimate all of the equipment used together wont exceed 5 A. For that usage I want to add a current limiting switch and I think I can get a 5A (maybe less?) breaker switch from the hardware store.

My question is, does a power strip switch would add some meaningful protection if installed downstream the breaker? (I do not think that switch would trip on 5A, as most strips are rated 12A or so) Would it make sense to hack such a switch to add it to my switchboard?

I have never had a power strip tripping although I'm a regular user. I have read that they have a limited amount of events they can handle after which you basically end up with a overly complicated extension cord. Most p.s. packaging states they protect against "spikes", but I'm not sure what that refers to.

Some project details:

I never use all the equipment at the same time but I want to safely tuck most of the cables safely and not need to unplug them every time. I'm thinking of about 10 receptacles, most of them with a dedicated switch and possibly a pilot light (an indicator of whether the outlet is powered). The panel would be accessible near my desktop / workbench, bolted to a cabinet. (Main usage: Programming work on weekdays, small electronics hobbyist projects and toy repairing on weekends and free time.) Some outlets would be covered and a couple of them accessible for quickly (un)plugging tools.

My concern is someone else may turn all the switches on or plug in some other equipment in there (For example a hairdryer rated 1350 watts, or a clothes iron rated 1200 watt. A person not knowing the purpose of a conveniently placed outlet.)

I'm planing on using 3 conductor wire, about 2 meters long due to cable routing, to bolt the switchboard to a cabinet near the wall outlet. I do not want to use as thick wire as most power strips have because such cable is difficult to bend and manage neatly. I will use the proper cable gauge depending on the confirmed load rating of my device collection. The main cable would be routed around the back of a cabinet.

This won't be used near water.

The equipment I plan on using here:

  • 2 Laptop switching power adaptors.
  • 2 Cell/tablet chargers rated 0.35A
  • 1 Radio Cassette Recorder (Boombox)
  • 3 Other low power music devices (speakers and such)
  • 1 Hot glue gun (temporary)
  • 1 Soldering iron (40Watt, temporary)

I'm not in the USA but rather in Central America. Here we use 120 V (I have measured it to range 110-127 in normal circumstances). Here most homes and buildings use only plain breakers and switches/outlets, i.e. no GFCI or similar, so they are not easily available from hardware stores. Buying electrical equipment from internet is frowned upon and being here delivery cost would not be worthy.

I live in a 3 year old apartment building and have never had an electrical mishap within the building complex but we have very frequent power outages.

  • I believe the kind of "power strip" you're referring to is usually referred to as a "surge suppressor". These are designed to suppress surges coming from the wall and preventing them from getting to the outlets in the strip, not to protect the building wiring from incidents in the devices plugged into them. That said, only the hot glue gun and soldering iron are going to draw significant quantaties of power, so you'd probably be just fine plugging them into a standard outlet strip. Are you planning on buying a new strip, or is this something you're building yourself?
    – FreeMan
    Jun 17, 2020 at 18:05
  • 2
    Most power strips have overload protection built in in the form of a resettable breaker. Are you asking about that or the on/off switch?
    – isherwood
    Jun 17, 2020 at 18:08
  • @isherwood I'm asking about the protection. The switch in this case is not what I'd take from the strip, as each outlet will have its own switch.
    – Jahaziel
    Jun 17, 2020 at 20:05
  • @FreeMan I'm asking more towards protecting the contraption from being overloaded without it being overbuilt in terms of cable thickness, and protect the devices connected to it.
    – Jahaziel
    Jun 17, 2020 at 20:07
  • @FreeMan It is something I will build and thinking whether it makes sense to add the protection circuit from a surge supressor. The soldering iron and hot glue are rated 45 watts, that's about 2.5 A.
    – Jahaziel
    Jun 17, 2020 at 20:16

3 Answers 3


Most of the power strips I have seen installed do not act as mini circuit breakers. They switch on and off and their rating is based usually on the switch. The switch doesn't trip if overloaded, it starts to fail by overheating the contacts, or melting the housing.

I'm sure there are some out there that do trip if overloaded and also have surge protection but those are the more expensive ones.


This is what you are looking for in a design your power strip outlet that has all the functionality you are looking for. I do not believe you could purchase the individual components to build this yourself for the price. The product I found shows how it is put together if you want to look for all the parts yourself.

For the 5A breaker (fuse) on each outlet, I don't believe you will find that in any power strip.

Even with shipping to Central America, the price would still seem to be reasonable.

You could buy two of these and have 14 outlets available. Link to the Tripp Lite 7 Oulets

enter image description here

Another way is to purchase a power switch with surge protection and add the lighted switch to the back of the strip. This way the switches can be position on top and the outlets are now against the wall facing down. You can also add the 5A reset button on the strip to limit the max current flow to 5A. There are also circular button on/off, but none I seen that are lighted. The circular ones are easier to fabricate, as you are only drilling a hole, not have to use a punch out to make a rectangle opening for the switch.
See example below of how to do this. The switches have to be installed on the side of the outlet. There would be very little space behind the outlets.

enter image description here

  • Thanks. I'm aware of those. As for now I'm using a regular strip and the problem is cable management. That's why I'm building a switch panel. Most of the outlets will be placed "sideways" so the cables plugged in exit flat against the board. But also the spacing between the outlets will be larger to allow for unusual plugs, chargers and power bricks.
    – Jahaziel
    Jun 17, 2020 at 20:52
  • I'm planing on putting a 5A breaker for the whole panel, not each individual outlet.
    – Jahaziel
    Jun 17, 2020 at 20:53
  • 1
    The issue I ran into when doing what you are describing is making the rectangle punch-outs in the panel. You could still save some time by getting a 4' or 6' outlet strip with outlets spaced out 4-6" apart. You would only need to get the switches to mount on the side in between the outlets. Saves a lot of time in metal fabicating. Jun 17, 2020 at 22:01

Power strips tend to be very rinky-dinky and are not good or reliable quality. Relying on a circuit breaker built into a power strip is not a good idea.

I don't know what you mean by "hardware store" circuit breakers, since my shop sells everything from mains-rated Square D "QO" (top shelf) to cheapie automotive circuit breakers that trip 5 times and break. Obviously you need to use mains-rated breakers for AC mains. Most of those are designed to clip into pre-made panelboards, except for certain breakers (typically DIN rail) of the European style made for industrial equipment. That's the kind you need, but they are large.

If you're thinking of the baby breakers that are 15mm x 20mm x 30mm or so, those are the automotive cheapies.

  • I'm thinking of a Square-D type of breaker. Those are easily accesible here.
    – Jahaziel
    Jun 17, 2020 at 20:09

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