An Electrician's Guide to Using An Extension Cord
Using an extension cord should be simple, right?
It's not. There's a lot more to know about extension cords than you may realize. Decisions you make when using extension cords could impact your safety and the safety of others. Knowing which types of cords to use, under what conditions and when not to use an extension cord can help you take care of your property and avoid a potential disaster.
Why Are Extension Cords Dangerous?
Extension cords can easily overheat, especially when used in the wrong location, or when used with the wrong appliance. An appliance that draws too much power can create heat that could cause a fire. The more extension cords are used around the house, the more likely it is that your extension cord use will become a problem.
Over 1,700 residential fires are started by extension cords each year. These fires cause injuries and even deaths, but most can be avoided by following extension cord best practices and by choosing the right extension cord for the job.
Use Extension Cords in the Right Places
It may seem like extension cords are designed to go just about everywhere, but they're not. Extension cords need to be used in the proper places in order to stay safe and prevent accidents.
Keep Extension Cords Out Of Pathways
Never run extension cords across pathways like sidewalks, hallways or driveways, unless you can protect them with an extension cord cover. Extension cord covers are products designed to create a small hump on the ground with a hollowed out center that a cord fits inside. Cord covers prevent extension cords from becoming tripping hazards while also preventing the cord from being damaged or sliced by everyday foot traffic. Extension cord covers can be used indoors or outdoors, so buy the type of cover that's right for the conditions where your cover will be used.
Don't Hide Extension Cords Under Rugs
Extension cords can overheat relatively easily, especially when placed under a drape of some kind. Never cover your extension cord with a rug, cloth or other material that will smother the cord and prevent heat from escaping. Leave extension cords in locations where they can "breathe."
Never Use Indoor Extension Cords Outdoors
Extension cords come in two different types: indoor and outdoor. Indoor extension cords are typically white or brown to help them blend into the background, while outdoor extension cords often come in colors like orange, to help them stand out against foliage. Outdoor extension cords are also insulated and made with a heavy gauge wire. These extension cords have a thick cover that allows them to withstand exposure to temperature changes, UV rays, moisture, some chemicals, mud and more. Indoor extension cords have none of these features.
Indoor extension cords are not meant to be used outside. It's often easy to tell the difference between indoor and outdoor extension cords, but in case you're having a hard time, outdoor extension cords are rated with a W, while indoor extension cords will be rated with an S.
Don't Use Extension Cords As Permanent Solutions
Many indoor extension cords are light duty products. Unlike outlets, which shut down if the circuit draws too much power, there's no mechanism to shut down an extension cord that's being overwhelmed by a large draw of electricity. Instead, the extension cord will get hot and turn into a potential fire hazard. For this reason, extension cords are not meant to be used in place of outlets.
If you have insufficient outlets in your home, or if you have insufficient outlets in certain places, then it's best to get an electrician to install new outlets in the places where they're needed. Hire an electrician you trust to make this change. Look for an electrician with experience performing residential work in your area. Check to ensure that the electrician you hire is licensed and bonded, for your protection.
Maintain Your Extension Cords
Maintaining your extension cords helps prevent your extension cords from becoming a danger. Extension cord maintenance is easy.
- Store extension cords indoors, even if they're rated for outdoor use.
- Don't leave extension cords plugged into the wall when they're not in use.
- Inspect your extension cords regularly, and throw away cords that are damaged. Look for splices and melted areas when inspecting your cords.
- When removing an extension cord, pull it out by the plug, not by the cord.
How to Choose an Extension Cord
Choose the cord based on the type of work it's intended to perform. You can determine what kind of extension cord it is based on the manufacturer labeling.
Light duty. Light duty extension cords are made for use with light-duty devices. They have two prongs only, and should only be used with devices that have two prongs on their plugs. Light duty extension cords are unintended to use with anything that creates heat, such as space heaters, toasters, irons and other heat-generating appliances.
Medium duty. Medium duty extension cords are grounded extension cords that include a third wire and plug prong for grounding. Medium duty extension cords can be used for televisions and devices that draw 10 amps of power.
Heavy duty. Heavy duty extension cords can draw up to 15 amps of power, and can be used for power tools and small appliances that create heat, such as irons and space heaters.
Follow Extension Cord Safety Tips
In addition to all the information listed above, be aware of the following extension cord safety tips.
- Do not use one cord to run multiple appliances.
- Don't "daisy chain" extension cords by plugging one into another.
- Never cut off the grounding pin from an extension cord to make it fit in a two-prong outlet.
- Don't coil an extension cord while it's in use.
- If you notice that your extension cord feels hot to the touch, stop using it.
- Don't use a staple or a nail to keep an extension cord in place.
- Use GFCI protection when using an extension cord in a damp environment. You can either plug the extension cord into a GFCI outlet, or you can use a GFCI extension cord (these do exist!).
- If the plug fits loosely in the outlet, replace it.
- Only use extension cords that show they've been tested by an independent testing laboratory such as Underwriter's Laboratories (UL).
- Only use an extension cord that's as long as it needs to be, and not longer.
- Consider whether an extension cord is a tripping hazard before using it. If it is a tripping hazard, change its position.
Hire an Electrician for Help Installing Outlets
Extension cords should be used sparingly, but in many homes, they're used regularly to take the place of outlets that aren't there. Installing outlets in the areas where outlets are needed is a safer solution. Hire an electrician to get the work done safely and correctly. Electricians with Add-All Electric are here to help. We install indoor and outdoor outlets in places where they're needed.
In some cases, installing outlets in your home requires an upgrade to your home's electrical panel. We can install a new breaker box in your home to ensure that your home is getting the electrical service it needs to support your new outlets.
If you need electrical outlets indoors or outdoors, call the professionals with Add-All Electric.