Extension cords are crucial. It compensates for an insufficient number of outlets and comes in pretty handy when your electrical device is 15 feet away from an outlet. However, if you misuse them, they can invoke a death sentence. When used correctly, extension cords extend your electrical current’s reach, but they can also cause fires if misused.
Every year, extension cords cause approximately 3,300 home fires, resulting in about 50 deaths and over 270 injuries, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). Many people treat them like plug-and-play tools. But there are safety tips and precautions you have to follow to ensure your safety and those around you—the following sections of this post offer six tips for using extension cords safely based on ESFI recommendations. So let’s get started.
Tip #1: Avoid Connecting Extension Cords Together
It would help resist the urge to string cords altogether. The process of “daisy-chaining” them may cause overheating due to overloading, posing a severe fire hazard. Extension cords provide electricity wherever we need it. However, they are just a temporary solution and should not last as a replacement for the primary electrical system in your home.
There is an intended level of current that an extension cord can carry over the cord’s length, which is the distance over which it extends. Its resistance increases when you connect in series. Consequently, the cable will heat, and perhaps the insulation will get damaged, which may cause fires and electric shocks.
Tip #2: Verify Extension Cords’ Ratings Before Use
It would help ensure a proper rating of the extension cords for their intended uses, whether indoors or outdoors. Outside extensions typically have tough covers made from rubber, vinyl, or plastic. Extending an indoor extension cord outside can lead to overheating. Also, using the wrong sized cable to match the power requirements is a common mistake. Another is using a non-rated extension for the environment or the application that is not required.
When overloaded, a cord can overheat, causing its insulation to melt or carbonize, posing fire, burn, or shock hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires cords designed for heavy-duty or extra-heavy use. They use the initials — S, SE, SO, and ST on hard-service cables.
Tip #3: Ensure the Cords Are Not a Trip Hazard
Extension cords can become a trip hazard if not placed correctly. If you can keep them out of the way of foot traffic, then you can reduce the chance of someone tripping over them. However, it would help avoid using metal staples or nails to secure a temporary power cord.
Extension cords cannot traverse doorways. It seems counterintuitive until you realize that trips and falls are one of the most common causes of injuries. Someone will probably trip over them when you use them in high-traffic areas.
If you are working in a room with an outlet, keep the extension cord plugged in there and avoid running it across the room to keep it from tripping you. According to this OSHA section, the National Electrical Code prohibits extension cords in place of permanent wiring. You can find additional restrictions and guidance in this OSHA’s interpretation letter and another good interpretation letter here.
Tip #4: Match the Cord Length and Gauge to Electrical Needs
There are different extension cords. Depending on the length, it will have a designated gauge number—calculated using the American Wire Gauge (AWG) System. The smaller the gauge number, the larger the wire you require.
The length of the wire you need can also affect the gauge you need. There is no perfect conductor, so the longer the wire, the greater the voltage loss through resistance or heat. To counteract voltage drop, you can increase the wire gauge, which will increase the amperage capacity.
Tip #5: Inspect the Cord
Before using a cord, check it for damage. Ensure no cracking or fraying sockets, wires, and connections. You can suffer an electric shock or burn if you touch even a single exposed wire. It would be best to check your extensions for damage visually and when their electrical use changes, such as adding a power source or changing the outlet.
You can inspect the following defects in an extension cord:
Missing or deformed pins
There are no grounding pins
Loose plugs or receptacles
A damaged plug head
These inspections will help prevent any hazards that may occur.
Tip #6: Avoid Stapling or Attaching Cables to Walls
Since metal nails or staples can damage electric extension cords, you cannot attach them to walls or ceilings. To ensure that the extension cord is flexible, it comes with a soft jacket, making it susceptible to damage. However, even if there’s no damage during installation, it can tear by accidentally pulling the cable.
It would help not to nail or staple your extension cords to walls or baseboards and not run them through walls, ceilings, doors, or floors. Covering them prevents heat from escaping, resulting in a fire hazard.
Electric extension cords are a convenient way to transport electrical power from one place to another. Unfortunately, people always abuse and misuse them. They can cause injuries and fires if misused and abused. It would be best to practice the extension cord safety tips to prevent these adverse outcomes.