When you're further away from the outlet than a standard-length cord, but need more power than a battery can provide, you turn to your trusty extension cord. Like a bridge, the extension cord allows electricity to cross a wide space to the appliance, decoration, tool or device that needs power.
You can find these tethers strewn around outdoor events, construction sites or holiday light displays.
While these extensions help accomplish routine tasks, you should exercise caution when you use them.
The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) estimates that more than 3,300 house fires occur every year due to misuse or faulty extension cords. The United States Consumer Product and Safety Commission (CPSC) found that accidents from extension cords cause approximately 50 deaths and 4,000 injuries requiring hospitalization every year.
Practice extension cord safety to avoid potentially hazardous situations.
Extension Cord Safety: What Is An Extension Cord and What Makes Them Dangerous?
An extension cord is a connecting cable that transfers power from a wall outlet to an electrical device’s power cord.
Extension cords come in a variety of formats to fit many needs. Variations include:
- Outdoor or indoor durability ratings
- Wire gauge size
- Grounding and GFCI protection
There are three common components of extension cords:
- The socket- This end of the extension cord attaches to the appliances you want to use.
- The cable and wire- The cable makes up most of the cord and houses wire that transports the electricity.
- The plug and outlet- This is the initial point of contact that connects to the outlet. The outlet isn't technically part of the extension cord, but it's essential to staying safe.
You should assess each part to ensure safe operation.
What an Extension Cord Is Not
According to the CPSC "Extension Cords Business Guidance" article, an extension cord is not:
- A detachable supply cord
- An appliance cord
- A power strip or surge protector
- An adaptor cord supplied with outdoor tools and yard equipment
Extension Cord Safety Tips: From End-to-End
Before you use an extension cord to tackle a task, you need to make sure it's in proper working condition and equipped to handle the job you want to complete.
Below is a breakdown of extension cord safety by the three components listed above.
Extension Cord Safety: The Socket
- Make sure there is a tight connection between the appliance and the extension cord. Similar to an outlet, you don't want a loose connection between the device plug and the extension socket as it raises the chance of an electric shock or fire.
- Check the wattage rating of the appliance and compare it to the extension cord. Most devices have a wattage label on the product or instruction manual. You can also use an electricity usage monitor. Check this label to make sure you aren't trying to push more power through the cord than it’s rated to handle.
- Never connect multiple extension cords. Connecting multiple extension cords increases the likelihood of equipment failure, fire and electric shock. Only use a cable that is long enough to complete the task.
Once the socket looks good to use, you'll want to move to the cable portion of the extension cord.
Extension Cord Safety: The Cable
You need to check the cable of the extension cord to make sure it's ready to power your appliance of choice.
- Always ensure your extension cord is free of damage. Holes, frays, exposed wire or melted insulation are all signs that you should replace your cord. It's tempting to cover up these spots with tape and move on, but the cable can still be hazardous, even if the damage is covered.
- Don't hide cords under rugs or furniture. Extension cords need to dissipate heat to operate properly. When they are completely covered, they can't cool down, creating a fire hazard.
- Make sure extension cords are easy to see. Avoid placing extension cords in high-traffic areas. If you need to place a cord in a well-traveled space, make the cord as visible as possible. Illuminate the area, use a brightly colored extension cord and place signage to notify people of the tripping hazard.
- Avoid running cords through snow or standing water. Even if the cable is rated for outdoor use, you should never run the cord through a body of water. This placement can result in an electric shock hazard.
- Don't nail or staple cords to keep them out of the way. Nails and staples can tear through insulation and expose the extension cord's wires.
- Loosely wrap the cord when you are finished using it and store it inside. This storage method will reduce kinks and extend the longevity of your extension cord.
- Ensure all appliances and cables are reviewed and approved by an independent testing organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
Once you've assessed the cable of the extension cord, the final checkpoint is the plug-in and wall outlet.
Extension Cord Safety: The Plug and Outlet
You want to have a safe, grounded connection without room for hazards. To do this, you need to be certain that the plug and outlet are in proper condition for use.
- Don’t unplug an extension cord with the cable. A quick jerk of the plug can damage the cord or the wall outlet. Plug and unplug the extension cord with the case of the plug.
- NEVER remove the grounding pin from an extension cord to make it fit into a two-pronged outlet. The grounding pin protects you from electric shock. Removal of the pin can result in electric shock or fire.
- Unplug extension cords when you complete your task. Unplugging extension cords reduces the amount of wear-and-tear on the plug and the outlet over time.
- Consider adding more wall outlets to your home or workplace. If you rely on extension cords to accomplish tasks or work indoors, you may need to add more outlets to power your devices. Extension cords shouldn't function as permanent fixtures.
- Plug extension cords into GFCI outlets, especially when working outdoors. You want to make sure the appliance you are using is grounded.