What Is An Extension Cord?
An extension cord is a long piece of metal or plastic used to connect two points together. It’s usually made up of several lengths of wire, but it could just as easily consist of one or two wires connected with some sort of connector.
The purpose behind using an extension cord is to make your job easier when working outdoors. You don’t have to carry around extra lengths of power line, you can simply run an extension cord from your workstation to the location where you need to install a new outlet.
Extension cords are generally rated in terms of their maximum current rating (the amount of electricity they’re capable of supplying). These ratings are typically expressed in Amps or Volts.
For example, an 18-Gauge extension cord will provide more than enough voltage to charge most electronic devices. However, if you need to use a larger device like a computer monitor, you’ll want to choose a longer extension cord.
How To Choose The Right Extension Cord For Your Needs
There are many different types of extension cords available today. They come in all shapes and sizes.
Some are flexible while others are rigid. All extensions cord have three main parts: the plug, the receptacle (or housing), and the ground connection. The ground connection helps protect you from electrical shock. If the receptacle (housing) is missing its ground prong, it should not be used.
Some concerns to keep in mind when choosing an extension cord are the size of the cord and the length. If the cord is too small for your purposes, the moving parts inside will quickly become damaged or worn out.
This can create a fire hazard.
Always remember that a heavier duty cord can not be used to supply a lighter duty device. For example, do not try to use an RV extension cord for a television.
This can result in a fire hazard.
If you’re using an extension cord outdoors, make sure it is specifically designed for outdoor use and sunlight resistance. Cords designed for indoors won’t stand up well to the elements.
Extension Cords For Specific Uses
There are different types of extension cords for different uses.
Lighting Cords: These cords are used specifically with holiday lights. They come in a variety of colors, but they are not suitable for other purposes.
The wiring is often too light to be used with electric power tools.
Garden Cords: These cords have special connectors which allow you to easily extend your outdoor electrical supply. They are generally green, which helps to camouflage them in the yard.
These cords are not suitable for other purposes, however.
Aircraft Cords: These cords are very heavy duty and designed to be used with airplanes. They can also be used for other large devices like electric generators.
These cords can’t be used for anything else.
Extension cord sizing is measured in gauge. The lower the gauge number, the heavier the cord.
Most people find it easier to choose the cord based on the length they need. The following table will help you to choose an appropriate cord for your needs.
Extension Cord Size Guide
Size Wire Gauge Length in Feet Maximum Wattage Lightweight Up to 150 ft Medium Weight 20ft to 50ft 150 watts Heavy Duty Over 50ft 300 watts Extra Heavy Duty over 75ft 500 watts
How To Store Extension Cords
Properly stored, the average extension cord can be used for up to 5 years. If not stored properly, it will only last for one year.
To maximize the life of your extension cord, you should store it:
Out of the sunlight
At a constant temperature
Far away from potential moisture
The reel makes storage easier, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. You can wind the cord onto a flat surface if you prefer.
Just make sure that it is wound tightly and kept away from anything that might snag it (like pets or children).
You should never coil or loop an extension cord. This can actually damage the cord by putting undue stress on it.
Even if the cord withstands this treatment, it can fail when you need it most.
Never store your cord in a damp location. The moisture can damage the cord and cause short circuits down the road.
If you live in a humid area, consider storing your cord in a sealed bag to keep out moisture.
Always check your cord before and after use. Look for suspicious bumps, damage or discoloration.
If you notice anything wrong, stop using the cord right away and get a new one. Damaged extension cords are a fire hazard.
How To Use Extension Cords Safely
There are many safety rules to follow when using an extension cord. Some of these rules differ depending on where you are using the cord, so pay attention.
Inside vs Outside
It may not seem like a big deal, but using an extension cord inside can be more dangerous than you’d think. Most building codes will not allow you to run an extension cord through wall spaces or ceiling openings.
This is for your safety and the safety of others. Extension cords passing through walls can sometimes create a fire hazard in your home.
If you absolutely must use an extension cord inside, make sure that it is a heavy-duty, outdoor cord. Even then, there is always a small risk that the cord could start a fire.
Do not run the cord under carpeting or rugs. Make sure there are no flammable materials touching the cord.
In most cases, it is better to go wired if you need to have power in more than one location inside your home. If you do decide to go cordless, make sure you follow the safety tips for outdoor use.
Outdoor cords should never be used indoors under any circumstances. Never.
These cords are not made for inside use and doing so can be a fire hazard. Extension cords for indoor use are required to be a certain gauge size to prevent this, but outdoor extension cords are not.
Make sure that you are using the proper gauge cord for your needs. Using a too-heavy cord can cause a fire hazard.
Do not run the cord under rain or snow. Keep it away from high traffic areas, like sidewalks or driveways.
Do not nail the cord in place. This can damage the insulation and create a fire hazard or shock hazard.
Check the outside conditions as well. If there is snow on the ground, the melted water could seep into the insulation and cause a short.
If this happens, the cord will still work, but will become a shock hazard rather than just a fire hazard.
Make sure that kids and pets cannot get to or chew on the cord. The insulation is not edible, but the wires inside are.
Keep an eye on the area while you are using the cord outdoors.
Outdoor extension cords must only be used outdoors. Never bring them inside and never try to use one indoors even if you are having a “disaster”.
Indoors or Outdoors
Outdoor extension cords and electrical devices should never be used indoors under any circumstances. If you are going to use electrical devices inside, you must have holes drilled through the exterior walls and run cords through them.
This will not be easy, so plan ahead.
Using an extension cord outdoors does not guarantee your safety. You can still suffer a shock if the cord is damaged in some way.
Outdoor extension cords are more prone to damage than regular cords.
Using A Three-Pronged Extension Cord
There are two types of extension cords: the old, two-pronged, ones that everyone should throw away, and three-pronged, “grounded” models. Everyone should throw away the two-pronged cords and buy three-pronged cords in their place.
It is safer and much preferred by all electricians.
Three-pronged cords come with a “grounded” plug. This plug has three prongs: a round prong for the “neutral” wire, a longer rectangular prong for the “hot” wire, and a short, thin prong where the “ground” wire should be.
(The third, round prong, is actually where the “ground” wire would go on a three-pronged extension cord. Since every building’s electrical system is different, you need an electrician to connect the third wire.)
Cords without a “ground” are called “two-pronged” or “ungrounded”.
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