Safety Tips for Extension Cord Use

Most people have used extension cords at some point. Many people use them regularly. They are very convenient but they can also become hazardous if not used with care. There are nearly 5,000 home fires each year related to extension cord usage, according to estimates by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The following tips will help you use extension cords more safely.

  • It's wise to only purchase extension cords that have been tested by a reputable testing laboratory. The most well recognized is Underwriter's Laboratory, so check for the UL on the label or look for other indications of appropriate testing.
  • Make sure you have selected the appropriate type of extension cord and choose a sufficient gauge of wire for the item you want to plug in. Remember, lower is better in this case as lower gauge numbers mean that the cord can better handle higher levels of electricity.
  • Check the amperage and never exceed the maximum. In fact, it is best to use an extension cord with a higher rating than what you need. Assume that you should only plug in items that use about 70-80% of the amperage listed on the label.
  • Don't use adaptors with extension cords. Only use the correct outlet for the design of the plug. For example, if the plug is polarized, which means it has one narrow prong and one wide one, only use an outlet intended for polarized plugs. You should never file down the wider prong to make it work and never use an adapter to make a three prong plug work in a two prong outlet or vice versa. Doing so can result in shock or fire.
  • Take care not to let clothing or items lie on top of an extension cord. It's also best not to run cords beneath rugs or heavy furniture (where the furniture sits directly on the cord). These things can damage the cord and a damaged extension cord may cause electrical shock, sparks, or fire.
  • Check extension cords occasionally while in use to test the level of heat. If your extension cord is hot to the touch, unplug it and replace it.
  • Avoid the temptation to plug one extension cord into another. This not only creates hazards but it can also damage your appliances. The current isn't as strong when multiple cords are used. This can damage motors and other moving parts. Instead, make sure you purchase the appropriate gauge and amperage cord in the required length. Measure the length of space between the item you want to plug in and the outlet and try to buy a cord that's just a big longer than needed to ensure that there's plenty of slack (but not too much excess that could cause trips and falls).
  • Never use an indoor extension cord outside. There are special cords for this purpose as well as for use in areas containing moisture or dampness. When moisture is present, extension cords must be used only in safety outlets known as GFCI or ground fault circuit interrupters.
  • Never yank on an extension cord in an attempt to unplug it. This can cause damage not only to the cord and to the plug, which can be replaced, but it can also cause damage to the outlet. Worse yet, it can cause sparks, fire, or shock.
  • Never use extension cords in place of wiring. They simply do not conduct the current the same way permanent wiring does. They will deteriorate over time.

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