Extension cord safety is a key area of importance, especially around the holidays. We all know how useful extension cords can be whether indoors or outdoors. But many avoid executing caution with extension cords, as well as are uninformed of the dangers and certain pitfalls of extension cords. We hope to address and inform those who are gearing up to use extension cords throughout the season.
Outdoor Extension Cord Usage
These types of extension cords, of course, are great for outdoor lights, outdoor entertainment centers, and any cooking needs outdoors, however, these can become the most dangerous if damaged. Because these extensions cords are exposed to extreme elements, including extreme heat, snow, and rain. Continuous inspection of not only outdoor extension cords, but all extension cords are necessary to ensure that no part of the cord is damaged, creating a risk of electric shock or fire.
Try to minimize the amount of extension cord to extension cord connections you make outdoors. If it is completely necessary to connect multiple extension cords, you should invest in a handy extension cord cover, in order to best protect the areas where the two cords meet.
While some indoor cords seem like they may be suitable for outdoor use, you will need to guarantee their safe usage. The exterior of the cord, often called a jacket, will indicate the intended use of an extension cord as follows:
- S- general use
- W- suitable for outdoors
- J- 300-volt insulation (without a J indicates that the cord has 600-volt insulation)
- P- parallel wiring, used mostly indoors
- O- oil-resistant cord
- T- cord jacket is made from vinyl thermoplastic
- E- the jacket is made from thermoplastic elastomer rubber
For example, the cord to the left has the letters SJT and using the above guide we can tell that it is intended for general use with 300-volt insulation and that the cord jacket is made from vinyl thermoplastic.
Indoor Extension Cord Hazards
While your outdoor extension cords may be exposed to extreme elements, your indoor extension cords can pose just as large of a threat, considering these are closest to your valuable belongings and your family should fire or electrical shock occur.
Indoor extension cords typically are used for extended periods of time- more time than they should be used, and therefore can become damaged more easily than outdoor cords. Think about the times you’ve placed a rug over an extension cord or pinched it between a wall and furniture, maybe an animal has gnawed at the cord. That tiny amount of use is heading towards that particular cord to become damaged eventually and lead to short circuits.
Tips To Remember
- Never alter an extension cord’s prongs or socket! Three-pronged cords should remain plugged into only a socket meant for a three-pronged cord. The third prong provides an electrical circuit path to the ground wire.
- Depending on the gauge size of the wiring, an extension cord may be able to support larger electrical devices, since the number of wires carrying current within the cord can vary. For example, a 16 gauge wire will be able to handle smaller electrical devices like fans and lamps, while a 12 gauge wire will mostly be able to support heavy-duty electrical items like a table saw or a shop vacuum. This will be listed with the number of wires within the actual cord jacket (i.e. 10/3 means that a 10 gauge cord contains 3 electrical conducting cords inside)
- Check for overloaded cords when using an extension cord with a multiple socket head. With every electrical device, you plug into the cord, make sure that the cord will be able to handle the electrical current the device will require. If any electrical device cord is overheated, you may be overloading the extension cord. Check the maximum amperage allowed on an extension cord, and be sure that all electrical devices plugged into that extension cord fall below that maximum amount.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 4,7000 residential fires can arise due to misuse of extension cords. This is responsible for killing or injuring at least 300 people. Ensure you maintain extension cord safety standards, and make sure that your electrical cords are properly being used indoors/outdoors, without damage, and aren’t being overused.
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