Extension Cords

July 15, 2015

Which Extension Cord Do I Buy?

Occasionally our electricians are asked about the use and safety of extension cords in and around the home or business. Because of the extensive choice available on the hardware store shelf, it may be a confusing decision as to which one to buy.

I am reminded of a customer whose refrigerator was cycling at an alarming rate. After some time, he called an appliance repair company to troubleshoot the problem, thinking that the refrigerator needed fixing. The refrigerator power cord had been plugged into a flimsy extension cord, which in turn had been plugged into a wall outlet some distance away. The light weight extension cord was incapable of providing sufficient power to keep the refrigerator compressor running. Both the compressor and the extension cord were too hot to touch! The customer was able to save the appliance but the reality was that a fire could easily have occurred had the problem gone undiscovered for too much longer.

Flexible extension cords are designed as a convenient and quick solution when temporary power is needed. A properly rated cord should be used for each specific use and location. But how do you know which cord to use?

Here are a few tips to help you make the right choice. 

  • When choosing your extension cord, take note of the gauge or size of the wire it is made of. A heavier gauge wire will have a smaller or lower number. For example, a 12 gauge wire would be larger, and can therefore power larger wattage appliances than a 14 gauge wire.
  • Purchase the correct gauge of cord to meet your needs as some power is always lost due to resistance (voltage drop) as it travels down the length of the cord. For example, a 12 gauge extension cord, up to 100 feet in length, can safely power a 12 amp circular saw. A 14 gauge cord can only be 60 feet long, and a 16 gauge cord can be no more than 35 feet long to provide sufficient power for the same saw.
  • If you are going to use an extension cord to power two or more appliances you must add the total wattage rating of all connected appliances to determine which gauge size you will need. This is an important tip for all those students heading off to college or university, who are planning to solve all their electrical needs with the use of one power bar extension. Overloaded extension cords can get hot enough to burn.
  • Never run extension cords under carpets or rugs and always uncoil a cord that is in use to prevent possible overheating.
  • Check cords occasionally for damage. A nicked cable or damaged cord end is dangerous. Discard it and replace it with a new cord.
  • Never use an indoor rated extension cord outdoors although the reverse is acceptable. Extension cords that can be used outdoors are clearly marked “Suitable for Outdoor Use”. Using a cord which is not designed to withstand the elements could result in an electric shock or fire hazard. An outdoor rated cord is a small price to pay for safety. As an added note, please remember to always use a proper GFCI when plugging anything into an outdoor power source.
  • An improperly placed extension cord can create a tripping hazard so avoid laying it across a garden path, and any other area where it can catch someone’s foot.

The extension cord is a useful tool that provides a quick and efficient means of bringing temporary power to a variety of locations. But where frequent or constant power is required, Blue Crest Electric recommends the installation of a properly installed electrical outlet for the safest and most reliable power source option.

If you have any questions or require more information, just Contact us here or call us at any of the numbers listed on our contact page.

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