Extension cords can be a huge help when performing certain tasks in your Charlotte, NC, home. The problem is that they can also be a major safety hazard if damaged or used incorrectly. Improper use of extension cords is one of the most common causes of both electrical fires and electrocution. As such, it is important that you always follow these safety tips any time you need to use an extension cord.
Inspect and Unplug Cords
Using a damaged extension cord can be extremely dangerous and carries a risk of electrocution. A damaged cord can short circuit, damage, or destroy whatever you have plugged into it. If the wires are frayed or the cord is otherwise damaged, the electrical current could also spark and catch any nearby combustible materials on fire. The next time you need to use the cord, you should then make sure to fully inspect it to make sure it is safe to use. Things to check for are frayed wires at the plug end or if the plug end seems loose. You should also make sure there are no splits or cracks in the shielding or insulation around the wire. If you notice any of these issues or see any other damage to the cord, you should throw it away and use a different one.
Any time you’re using an extension cord, you should always unplug it after you’re done. Roll it up and store it somewhere safe. This will help protect it from damage and also prevent it from getting wet.
Use Certified Cords and Appliances
It is required by law that any electrical product sold in the U.S. must be certified, listed, and labeled by a third-party testing laboratory. This includes the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) or Electrical Testing Laboratory (ETL). This certification ensures that the product meets certain quality and safety standards.
Despite this requirement, there has been an influx of products from China and other countries that haven’t been tested or certified. Using an uncertified extension cord or electrical device can be extremely hazardous and pose a major fire risk.
Never Use Indoor Cords Outside
Extension cords are rated for either indoor or outdoor use. You can use a cord that is rated for outdoor use inside with no issue. However, you should never use an indoor cord outside. Outdoor cords are thicker and better insulated to protect them against damage. This also ensures they can withstand exposure to moisture, the sun, extreme temperatures, etc.
Outdoor cords typically have higher amperage ratings since outdoor equipment and tools usually draw more power. The packaging on a new outdoor extension cord will be labeled with a “W” to show that it is rated for outdoor use. This label may also be stamped or printed at various points on the cord itself.
Check the Wattage on Your Equipment and Electrical Cords
An extension cord can only safely carry so many total amps or watts of power. The number of watts and amps a cord can supply depends on both its gauge and length. Any time you need to use an extension cord, it is essential that you don’t exceed the total watts or amps it is rated for. If you use an undersized cord and it gets overloaded, it could overheat and catch fire.
All new extension cords will have a UL or ETL tag near one of the ends that shows the cord’s wattage, voltage, and amperage. Electronic devices should also have a UL or ETL label that shows their wattage and amperage. Before plugging any device or equipment into an extension cord, you should check both the tag and label. If the wattage or amperage exceeds what the cord is rated for, you need to use a larger, higher-gauge cord.
There are four primary gauges of outdoor extension cords. This includes the 16-gauge light duty, 14-gauge medium duty, 12-gauge heavy duty, and 10-gauge extra-heavy duty. Extra-heavy-duty extension cords that are between 25 and 100 feet long are rated to supply up to 20 amps or 2,400 watts of 120-volt power. Heavy-duty cords of the same size are rated for 15 amps, or 1,800 watts. A 25- or 50-foot medium-duty cord can also supply 15 amps, but a 100-foot medium-duty cord can only supply 13 amps, or 1,560. A light-duty cord can supply 13 amps up to 50 feet, but a light-duty cord that is longer than 50 feet can only safely supply 10 amps, or 1,200 watts.
These wattages we listed are the maximum. To avoid overheating the cord or overloading the circuit, you should never exceed 80% of this maximum wattage.
Every 120-volt circuit in a house is rated for either 15 or 20 amps. You can use a light-, medium-, or heavy-duty cord in either a 15- or 20-amp circuit as long as you make sure not to overload either the cord or the circuit. However, if you’re using an extra-heavy-duty cord, you need to make sure that the outlet you’re plugging it into is on a 20-amp circuit. If you try to use a heavy-duty cord on a 15-amp circuit, you could easily overload the circuit and trip the breaker.
Use GFCI Protection in Wet Environments
Water and electricity donâ€™t go together. Using an extension cord that is sitting in water can result in electrocution. This is why it is important that you never plug in a cord that has a wet end. You should also ensure you have GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protection when working around water or in a damp environment.
A GFCI is designed to cut off the flow of electricity if the current takes an unintended path to the ground. Electricity tries to take the easiest path to the ground, where it will meet the least resistance. If the outlet, plug, or equipment you’re using gets wet, the water can conduct the current to the ground through your body. This is because there is no resistance. A GFCI will prevent this, as it can detect when even a tiny amount of current leaks out. If water did conduct the current, the GFCI would trip and shut the flow of electricity off before electrocution takes place.
The National Electric Code requires GFCI outlets or GFCI circuit breakers to be used on all electrical circuits that may be exposed to moisture. This includes all outdoor outlets and fixtures. However, this requirement is only for new homes or when performing renovations. This means that the outdoor outlets in many older homes aren’t GFCI receptacles. If you need to use an extension cord in a non-GFCI outlet, you need to make sure that the cord itself has a GFCI.
Electrical Cords Should Have Slack
If an extension cord is stretched too tight and doesn’t have any slack, it can put extra tension on the outlet. This tension can damage the outlet and cause a connection to come loose. If the outlet has a loose connection, the current can spark and cause it to catch fire. You should unplug cords by pulling directly on the plug instead of just yanking on the cord itself.
Acosta Heating, Cooling & Electrical has been providing expert home services in the Charlotte area since 1972. Our licensed electricians specialize in residential electrical repairs, inspections, and installations. We also have a team of comfort consultants ready to handle your heating and cooling needs. For more information or to set up a service appointment, give our team at Acosta Heating, Cooling & Electrical a call today.