Not enough cord for your lamp or radio to reach the nearest outlet? Just plowing through the junk drawer for an extension cord? This may not be a good idea. Extension cords can be very helpful in delivering power right where we need it. However, regardless of the gauge or rating of the cord, an extension cord is a temporary solution and is not meant to be used as a long-term extension of your household’s electrical system.
Roughly 3,300 home fires originate in extension cords each year, killing 50 people and injuring 270 more. Extension cords can overheat and cause fires when used improperly, so keep these important tips in mind to protect your home and workplace.
Using extension cords properly is critical to your safety. With continuous use over time, an extension cord can rapidly deteriorate, creating a potentially dangerous electric shock or fire hazard. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) offers the following tips for staying safe from electric shock and electrical fires:
- Do not overload extension cords or allow them to run through water or snow on the ground.
- Do not substitute extension cords for permanent wiring.
- Do not run through walls, doorways, ceilings, or floors. If a cord is covered, heat cannot escape, which may result in a fire hazard.
- Do not use an extension cord for more than one appliance.
- Heavy reliance on extension cords is an indication that you have too few outlets to address your needs. Have additional outlets installed where you need them.
- Multiple plug outlets must be plugged directly into mounted electrical receptacles; they cannot be chained together.
- Make sure the extension cord or temporary power strip you use is rated for the products to be plugged in, and is marked for either indoor or outdoor use.
- The appliance or tool that you are using the cord with will have a wattage rating on it. Match this up with your extension cord, and do not use a cord that has a lower rating.
- Never use a cord that feels hot or is damaged in any way. Touching even a single exposed strand can give you an electric shock or burn.
- Never use three-prong plugs with outlets that only have two slots for the plug. Do not cut off the ground pin to force a fit. This defeats the purpose of a three-prong plug and could lead to an electrical shock. Never force a plug into an outlet if it doesn’t fit.
- Use extension cords with polarized and/or three-prong plugs.
- Buy only cords approved by an independent testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek (ETL), or Canadian Standards Association (CSA).
Extension Cord Designations
- S: Designed for general Use
- W: Rated for Outdoor Use
- J: Standard 300 Voltage Insulation
- T: made from Vinyl Thermoplastic
- P: Parallel Wire Construction (Air Conditioner Cords and Household Extension Cords)
- O: Oil-Resistant
- E: Made from TPE
Cord Length and Amperage Limits
- 25 – 50 Feet Extension Cords
- 16 Gauge(1-13 Amps)
- 14 Gauge (14-15 Amps)
- 12-10 Gauge (16-20 Amps)
- 100 Feet Extension Cords
- 16 Gauge (1-10 Amps)
- 14 Gauge (11-13 Amps)
- 12 Gauge (14-15 Amps)
- 10 Gauge (16-20 Amps)
- 150 Feet Extension Cords
- 14 Gauge (1-7 Amps)
- 12 Gauge (8-10 Amps)
- 10 Gauge (11-15 Amps)