Extension Cords 101 : Types of Extension Cords and Safety Tips

feature extension cords

Not everyone is lucky enough to have all electrical outlets on the spot that they need them. To compensate for this, an extension cord comes in handy.

An extension cord is a simple device with a cord with an outlet on one end and a plug on the other end. Not only is it cost-effective, but it is also practical and convenient in bringing in power to your electrical appliances or device, especially when homeowners are not able to install additional electrical outlets immediately.

Before starting with information and safety tips on electrical cords, Same Day Pros would want to stress that extension cords are not meant to be used as permanent fixtures, but they should only be utilized as a temporary solution and not within an extended period. In the long run, you should hire a licensed electrician to install additional outlets on spots where you always use those extension cords for the safety of your household.

types of extension cords

For an average extension cord user, an extension cord is just that—an extension cord, without being conscious or aware that there are different types of extension cords based on environment, purpose, or type of usage (for extended use or the general short-term use), gauge or the numerical rating of copper wire diameter and identified by AWG (the smaller the number of AWG, the thicker the wire).

We will focus on the designation letter of extension cords, as you will have to check this when purchasing your extension cord. But first, you have to know what type of appliances or device you will be using your extension cord to also help determine if it’s for light-duty, medium-duty or heavy-duty.

Light-Duty Extension Cords – this typically resembles a lamp wire cord. Warning, light-duty extension cords are often not grounded and have only two plug prongs. It is meant to be used for devices that will only require up to 7 amps like clocks and lamps.

Medium-Duty Extension Cords – unlike the light-duty extension cords, medium-duty are grounded and could be used for electrical requirements of up to 10amps of power. You can use medium-duty cords for your computers and televisions.

Heavy-Duty Extension Cords – as the name implies, these are for heavy-duty uses like for different tools and heating appliances that will need to draw up to 15amps of power. Like the medium-duty extension cords, it is also grounded. Note that in case you will use the extension cord for outdoors or for spaces like the basement, it will be better to choose cords with built-in GFCI protection or it should be plugged into a GFCI-protected outlet.

Here are extension cords designation letters to guide you:

• S – is for indoor application. It’s a general use cord.
• W is for outdoor use and has insulation unlike for indoor application. Outdoor extension cords usually have bright orange rubber, plastic, or vinyl covers.
• J – if you see this, it means that the cord has standard 300-volt insulation. If none, then the cord is designed for heavier use with 600-volt insulation.
• P – if you are looking for an extension cord for your air conditioner, then look for the P indication. This household extension cord has parallel wire construction.
• T – this designation means that the cord jacket is made of vinyl thermoplastic.
• E – this designation means that the material of the cord jacket is made of TPE/thermoplastic elastomer rubber.
• O – if you are looking for an oil-resistant cord, look for the O label. This is for a tough environment.

extension cord safety tips

Since it is widely used, many do not realize the danger that comes along with using extension cords especially if you are using the wrong kind. Consumer Product Safety Commission of CPSC estimates that every year, 3,300 residential fires originate from extension cords. CPSC also reported that the common causes of the residential fires are overloading, short circuits, and misuse of an extension cord.

Why are extension cords dangerous? The electrical currents flowing through the wires of your extension cords generate heat, and when it exceeds the current capacity of the wires, it will overheat and cause fires and short circuits.

In addition, there are also 4,000 injuries that require hospital treatments (lacerations, electrical burns, contusions, etc.) associated with extension cords.

To avoid these, here are some easy safety tips that you can apply at home:

1. If you are not using a new extension cord, make sure to thoroughly check for signs of damage and wear and tear. Also check if the prongs are darkened, if there are exposed wires through the outer jacket of the cord, cracks, or plugs separating from the wires. As soon as you see any of these, do not use them. A damaged extension cord is an accident waiting to happen, so it’s either you discard the damaged extension cord or repair it.

2. Know your extension cords. Always use the correct extension cord based on your requirement. Check the labels for the right designation and check the gauge. Note that it is preferred to use a heavier cord than a lighter one for your devices or appliances. Taking time to read the manual for information goes a long way.

3. Check the ratings of your target extension cord, choose ones that are approved by an independent testing party, and match your needs.

4. Avoid overloading your extension cord. it doesn’t mean that your extension cord has an open slot, you should also fill it in. Always choose an extension cord with a higher amp rating than the appliance or device that you will use. If it will be a multi-appliance application, make sure to add all the amp requirements before using to ensure that you will not exceed the capacity of your extension cord.

5. There are some devices that you shouldn’t use an extension cord with like hair dryers (which draws 15amps and can cause your extension cord to heat up and start a fire), toaster, waffle makers, coffee pots, irons (these 3 draws up to 10-12 amps and exceeds the limit of most indoor extension cords), treadmills (unless you are using 9-foot Tread cord or treadmill specified extension cord) and space/portable heaters (special attention should be given to heating devices as they use more power compared to non-heat appliances).

6. Remember that longer extension cords won’t be able to handle the same current as shorter currents with the same gauge. For the best electrical current, choose the shortest possible cord as much as possible.

7. Extension cords that have three-prong plugs or polarized are best. If your house does not have options for three-prongs, then it’s also an indicator that it’s time for an electrical update.

8. While using, check if your extension cord is warm or hot to touch. Heat means danger. If there is a hot spot, it means that your extension cord is not heavy-duty enough for the intended usage.

9. If you have kids in your household, practice electrical safety by using childproof covers on unused slots.

10. Do not plug multiple extension cords together in an attempt to extend the length of your cord.

11. Don’t force a three-prong plug to a two-prong out by removing the third prong or the ground pin. The chances of electric shock are high.

12. Do not run your extension cords through the ceiling or walls are it may cause your cord to overheat.

13. If your usage will require more than 100 feet in distance, then an extension cord is not your go-to device, you will have to have a power distribution box installed instead.

14. To avoid tripping or falling accidents, it is best to not run your extension cords under rugs or through doorways. Also avoid laying your extension cord across the room, aside from being a trip hazard, there is also a possibility that it will be rolled over by something heavy.

additional care tips

1. Store your extension cords properly. Place it indoors and on areas that can’t be reached by kids, pets, and even pests, as they could inflict damage to your cord.

2. Make sure to unplug extension cords when not in use. This should also be standard practice on your appliances.

3. Discard extension cords that have damages especially if you don’t have the intention to repair or if the damage is too extensive for repairs.

4. When disconnecting from the outlet, always pull the plug and not the cord.

5. Do bend, stretch, or coil extension cords when in use.

6. Do not staple or use nails on your extension cords when attaching them to surfaces, as extension cords are vulnerable to damages.

Does your house heavily rely on extension cords? If your answer is yes, again, we highly recommend for you to have additional outlets installed by your trusted electrician. As mentioned, extension cords are not meant to be used for long term. Applying safety measures will help you curb safety issues but still, continuous use of extension cords will eventually lead the insulation to deteriorate, leading to fire hazards and possible electrocution.

Need a licensed electrician to install your outlet requirements? Click here.