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Short Circuit

There's a home office riddle for you: What do you get when you plug too many pieces of computer equipment into one wall outlet? Can you say blowout?

"If you've got a 20-amp circuit, it holds only so many volts of electricity," says New York City architect Denise A. Hall. "And if your office is in a big room and you're using one electrical circuit for your television, your lights, your answering machine and your coffeemaker, chances are, you're going to overload it at some point."

But you can take steps to keep from blowing a fuse. Before you plug anything in, add up the total amperage of all the equipment you need to use. Standard wall outlets can handle between 115 and 120 volts. (Even if you've already plugged it all in and encountered no problems so far, count it anyway.) Does your grand total exceed the maximum? If so, it's time to call a professional electrician; more than likely, he or she will have to do some electrical rewiring so your office can handle all that high-tech equipment.

If power issues aren't a problem, make sure you at least use a surge protector, such as Curtis Computer Products' SP 9200T, which features eight outlets, Internet and telephone line protection, and an alarm that sounds when a surge occurs (cost: $54.99). Surge protectors are important because they diffuse those extra bursts of power that cause blackouts and destroy critical data, sometimes even equipment.

Once you have the wiring under control, don't overlook ventilation and temperature. Think personal comfort: If you're reasonably comfortable in the office, your PC probably is, too. But if you've set up shop in the attic or the basement (areas known for poor ventilation and extreme temperatures), try installing a ceiling fan or opening a window, if possible. Your goal is to get enough fresh air circulating around the office to diffuse the heat emanating from your equipment.

It really just boils down to common sense. With just a little bit of it, your business is sure to stay humming--and to keep overloaded circuits at bay.

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