USB power: The curse of modern tech

Once nice thing about living in a home built in the last few years is that unlike my previous, nearly 100 year old home, the electrical system is modern and code-compliant, with electrical outlets far more plentiful. But just like the old house, there’s still almost never an outlet where you need it, despite paying my builder a lot of extra money to put even more outlets in the place than the plans (or code) called for. And making matters worse? So much stuff is powered by USB these days, there are ugly power bricks everywhere. I have tried to make life moderately better in that regard, however.

When we moved-in just a few years ago, I don’t think the problem was as serious as it is today. I saw Leviton’s combo USB outlets (shown in the featured image) at the local Home Depot, and didn’t immediately jump at the idea; they were expensive (and still are), but I eventually got and installed them in the places you might expect, like replacing the outlets behind the nightstands in the master bedroom where phones tend to be left to charge.

Over just the past few years, however, the problem seems to have exponentially increased:

  • iPads seem to have multiplied, and require USB power
  • Nintendo Switches have arrived, and require USB power
  • Amazon Fire TV Sticks arrived, and require USB power
  • Several Amazon Echos arrived, and require USB power
  • Apple Watches arrived, and require USB power
  • A Bluetooth speaker arrived, and requires USB power
  • Wyze cameras arrived, and require USB power

I could go on; you get the general idea. All seemed like good candidates for a more elegant solution than shoving yet another bulky power brick into a wall receptacle. Enter the Leviton solution.

It happened slowly at first; one here, one there. But it ended-up like Whac-a-Mole; put one in at one spot in the house, and another location suddenly screams for one. I’ve started buying them in the bulk pack at Home Depot, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s just a matter of time before every outlet in the house has one.

Installing a new receptacle isn’t particularly difficult. Simply kill power at the breaker, and use common screwdrivers to remove the old outlet and install the new one, then turn the power back on. You may need a pair of electrician’s pliers to trim, strip or shape the ends of the wires depending on how the old outlet was installed. Obviously pay attention to the hot vs. neutral vs. ground wires; the outlet is packaged with directions to guide you.

The USB outlets provide enough amperage in the USB ports to charge or power pretty much any average USB-powered device, but not enough to handle the Nintendo Switch, or other high-power-demand devices. You may also find that things like an iPad Pro will charge — just more slowly than with the supplied power brick.

All in all, Leviton’s solution — and others like it from companies like Legrand — are an elegant way to juice-up your ever-growing collection of tech that is increasingly not just USB-powered, but anymore, comes only with a USB cable and no power adapter whatever.

No wonder the model homes I tour these days are bragging about having these very outlets pre-installed in key locations around the house. I never thought USB power would become so ubiquitous.