Welcome to the Take Charge of Your Home series from Direct Energy! Hiring a professional to perform household maintenance may offer convenience and peace of mind. You can do many of these jobs yourself with no experience or special tools. In the process, you’ll save money, learn about how your home works and gain a sense of accomplishment. A DIY task done well!

Have you ever taken a good, hard look at your entertainment center or computer room and tallied up all the electronics you see? If you collected them over a matter of years, you might surprise yourself with how much value you’ve accumulated. And with so much invested in your electronics, it’s wise to protect that investment.

Most modern electronics are no muss, no fuss devices that either sit on a shelf or table or are resilient enough to carry around in a pocket or backpack. But they can still be harmed by physical damage, electrical surges and improper cleaning -- and they can even add to your electric bill more than they should.

Use these tips to keep your valuable electronics safe, clean and functional.

Handle With Care

One sure-fire way to damage your electronics is to drop or crush them. When smartphones broke onto the market, some early adopters were devastated by shattered screens after a simple slip of the grip. But a new market for heavy duty phone cases soon followed, and if you’re a smartphone user, there’s no better way to protect your purchase.

Protect Mobile Devices with Cases and Screen Protectors

Rugged, reinforced cases from established brands like Otterbox, Pelican and Urban Armor Gear provide excellent damage protection, but some users may find them bulky. If you opt for a slimmer, more fashionable case, you can add another layer of protection with a shatter resistant screen protection cling. These products are also available for tablets and other mobile touchscreen devices.

Choose a Safe Location for Your Cords

Protecting your home electronics from physical damage should be much easier, but their power cords may pose a tripping hazard if you aren’t careful. Running cords across doorways or in high-traffic areas can not only get someone hurt, it could result in your computer or TV crashing to the ground. Manage your cords carefully and make sure all of your plugged-in electronics are placed safely on stable surfaces.

Here are a few handy tips for keeping your cords organized and safe:

  • Regularly use extension cords? If you find that they keep unplugging due to tension or foot traffic, tie the ends of the cords together in a loose knot.
  • Use lots of charging cables and cords? Keep seldom-used cords and cables safe and organized by storing them in toilet paper tubes sitting vertically inside a sturdy box.
  • Have a jumble of connected cables on your computer desk? Use bag clips from old loaves of bread to identify each cable so you don’t have to trace it back to its source.
  • Have other cables that you use all the time? Slide the connectors through the levers on some alligator clips and fasten them to the edge of your desk, so they’re always handy when you need them.

Prevent Damage From Power Surges

Most computer users know that they should use surge protectors to prevent electrical damage to their machines. But did you know that electrical surges can damage anything that’s plugged into your outlets, even major appliances and simple items like lamps? Electronics, like those in your entertainment center or computer room, are most vulnerable.

Electrical surges are common. Major surges can happen due to events like lightning strikes, transformer explosions and serious malfunctions within your home’s electrical system, and these surges can fry your valuable electronics in an instant. But small surges occur more often for more innocuous reasons, like when your HVAC system cycles on. Over time, these small surges can cause cumulative damage to your devices that may cause them to fail months or years before they otherwise would.

There are three main strategies for preventing surge damage:

  • Unplug your electronics when not in use. This isn’t especially convenient and it won’t protect your electronics when you’re actively using them, but it’s the most surefire way to ensure that a surge won’t harm your equipment. For devices you use rarely, this is a good approach.
  • Use surge protection power strips. It’s best to choose a reliable brand and a model that has an indicator light that shows when the strip is actively protecting. This is because surges (even small ones) wear down a surge protector over time, and they eventually lose their protective abilities. Replace these strips when they wear out.
  • Install whole-home surge protection. The most robust and convenient option, whole-home surge protection turns every outlet in your home into a surge protector. This system must be installed to your main electrical panel by a licensed electrician.

Cautious Cleaning

Some electronics are very sensitive, and even the most rugged devices may be vulnerable to chemicals contained in common cleaning sprays. So when it comes time to clean up, it’s good to know the recommended cleaning procedures for all of your devices and to follow them closely.

Here are some general safe cleaning tips for today’s most common electronics:

  • With an inexpensive, slim dusting wand designed to get into tight crevices, you can give your computer desk and entertainment center a good once-over in just a couple of minutes. Do this at least every other week to avoid dust accumulation that can clog vents, causing electronics to overheat. Every few months, do a deeper cleaning and clear those vents thoroughly with a can of compressed air.
  • To clean an LCD screen, use a barely damp microfiber cloth and wipe in a circular pattern with minimal pressure. You can dampen the cloth with diluted white vinegar to help clean tougher residue, but resist the urge to scrub. Don’t use paper towels, which can scratch sensitive screens.
  • Smartphones, tablets and other touchscreen devices should be cleaned much like LCD screens -- with a slightly damp microfiber cloth. You can use more pressure when cleaning these devices, though. Avoid using consumer cleaning products, as these can damage the screen. Refer to your specific device’s cleaning instructions for other approved cleaning solutions.
  • Use compressed air to blow dust out of the crevices between keyboard keys, and remove dirt and stains from keyboards, mice, remote controls and game controllers using cotton swabs dampened with rubbing alcohol.

Always On, Always Costing You

Many modern electronics like laptops, flat screen TVs, monitors, disc players and game consoles are relatively energy-efficient. But it’s also common for these electronics to have features that can significantly affect the amount of electricity they draw.

One such feature is the “always on” or “quick start” setting, in which the system never fully shuts down. This is common among TVs because it can reduce the amount of time it takes for the picture to appear, and some game consoles and other devices must be in “always on” mode for their voice activation features to work. These settings are sometimes activated by default, so you may have electronics that are using excess electricity without you even knowing it. Scroll through your electronics’ settings menus or check your user guides to find out for sure.

Another factor in the energy consumption of TVs and monitors is screen brightness. The brighter the screen setting, the higher the energy consumption. If you dial the brightness back a few notches and still like the look of your screen, you can save a little extra energy.

Your electronics and gadgets keep you connected and entertained, and it’s up to you to return a little of that love. Keep your equipment safe, clean and protected from surges so it’s always there for you when you need it.