The Real Skinny on Extension Cord Use

I can not tell you how many extension cords I see when I inspect homes.  I have inspected houses where extension cords are plugged into an outlet in a crawl space and run up through the floor of the home.  This can be a very dangerous situation and I do not think people are fully aware that it is and why.  This picture seems crazy and nobody would do that right?  Wrong!  I see things this dangerous on a regular basis.

Extension cords are a leading cause of electrical fires.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 3300 residential  fires originate in extension cords each year.  The most frequent causes of such fires is short circuits, overloading and damage to the cords.

Extension cords should only be used when necessary and on a temporary basis only.  The best practice is to plug any appliance directly into a wall outlet.  Things like garage door openers, outdoor fountains and freezers in garages should not have extension cords powering them as a permanent wiring solution. Extension cords are labeled with use,size and wattage ratings.  Cords are offered in different lengths and marked with a gauge based on the American Wiring Gauge (AWG).

When deciding to use an extension cord, carefully read manufacturers instructions for the tools you will be using.  A cord based on its gauge can power an appliance of a certain wattage only at specific distances.  As the cord gets longer, the current carrying capacity gets lower.

Quick Tip: If your appliance indicates that it uses 5 AMPS at 125Volts then the wattage rating would be 625 Watts. (5 x 125)

If you use an extension cord with 2 or more appliances, you must add together the wattage ratings for all the appliances being used on the cord.

If you decide to use an extension cord to temporarily power a tool or appliance, here are some tips to safely use the cord;

  • Check the plug and the body of the cord.  If it is hot (not warm) or the plastic is soft, this is a warning that the plug wires or connections are failing and the cord should be replaced
  • Do not use an extension cord while it is coiled or looped
  • Never cover an extension cord with newspapers, clothes or a rug.  It can overheat if it can’t discharge heat
  • Do not use staples to secure a cord to baseboard or other surface.  Staples can damage the cord and be a shock or fire hazard.
  • Do not overload by plugging in appliances that draw more watts than the rating of the cord.
  • When using outdoor tools or appliances, use only cords rated for outdoor use
  • Use polarized cords with polarized appliances and tools Polarized is where 1 prong is wider than the other and only goes in one way)
  • Do not use an adapter to plug a 3 prong cord into a 2 prong outlet
  • Do not plug extension cords together.  Use one long enough for the job

Use extension cords wisely to protect you and your home.  Feel free to call our office if you have any questions about extension cord use or any other home related concerns.  We would love to talk with you.