Choose the Right Extension Cord

How Do I Choose?

If an electrical appliance draws more current than the rating on an extension cord, it may result in the cord and/or the appliance overheating and starting a fire.  Be sure to choose the right extension cord for the job and you won’t have that kind of a problem.  Here are a few factors to consider:

  • TYPE – Do I need to use the cord outside?
  • RATING – What is the total wattage for the devices I’ll power with the cord?
  • DISTANCE – How many feet away from the outlet will I need the cord to run?

Look at the label on the extension cord you are considering to see how it matches up to the three factors.   All three items should be visible on the label; if not, look for a different cord whose label does contain the information you need.

TYPE: An outdoor cord can be used either inside or outside, but an inside cord should never be used outside as it could result in a fire or an electric shock for the user.

RATING: Cords are categorized by length by size (called the gauge.)  The gauge is based on the American Wire Gauge (AWG) System with larger wires having smaller gauge numbers.  The larger the wire, the more current they can safely carry.  The owner's manual or the data plate on the appliance will tell you the wattage the appliance needs to operate.  If watts is not given, you can calculate it: Amps times Volts = Watts.   If you are going to use the extension cord with two or more appliances at the same time, you must add together the wattage rating for all appliances used on the cord.

DISTANCE:  To determine what size (gauge) cord you need, you need to know the distance from the outlet because a cord can only carry a certain wattage for a specific distance.   As the distance grows, the cord has a reduced carrying capacity.   For example, a 16 gauge less than 50 feet long can power a 1625 watt (W) appliance, but if it is more than 50 feet it can only power up to 1250W.

Choose the right extension cord for the job so that you and your family remain safe.  If your cord is cut or damaged, or if it does not have polarized plugs (one blade wider than the other), get rid of it and buy a new one.   It isn’t worth jeopardizing a family member for the small cost of a replacement cord.

Questions?  Give us a call – we’ll be glad to help!

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