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Choose and Use Extension Cords Safely

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Extension Cords

(CITY, ST) — Many people have tried to use an electronic device only to find out the cord is too short to reach the outlet. This is where extension cords come into play. They are useful for their practical, cost effective solutions to these problems, but remember to choose and use extension cords safely.

“Extension cords are designed for temporary use,” explains Shiloh Liberatore, Safe Electricity Advisory Board member (OR YOUR EXPERT HERE). “They should never be put in place as a long-term solution. A qualified electrician can help you install the necessary wiring and receptacle outlets for a permanent solution.”

If you go shopping for extension cords, you will find a variety of options available. However, research the extension cord you are buying to ensure it fits your needs. First, look for key safety labels that show that the product has been tested for safety. Underwriters Laboratory (UL), Intertek (ETL), and Canadian Standards Association (CSA) are common safety laboratory seals of approval to look for.

It is important to choose an extension cord that is properly rated for the device(s) you will have plugged into it. If an appliance or power tool is drawing more current than an extension cord can carry, it may cause the cord and tool to overheat and create a fire. Check the packaging on the cord for its rating, size, and wattage, and check the appliance or its user manual for its power usage.

Additionally, it is important to consider the environment in which you will be using the extension cord: indoors or outdoors. Extension cords in stores will be clearly labeled “indoor,” “outdoor,” or “indoor/outdoor.” Extension cords designed for outdoor use have thicker, more durable jacket covers, which is the rubber insulating the cord’s wiring.

The Safe Electricity program offers safety tips for the use of extension cords both indoors and outdoors:

  • Occasionally check the condition of extension cords. Look for fraying or cracking along the entire length of the cord and for damage to the plug or sockets. Cords used outdoors should be checked more frequently because of the constant wear and tear. Cracked insulation or exposed wire can cause electric shock, burn, or electrical fire. Replace any damaged cords.
  • Never remove the grounding pin (or third prong) from an extension cord to make it fit into a two-prong outlet. This is a safety feature designed to protect. Instead of removing the third prong, hire a qualified electrician to install a new outlet.
  • Do not overload extension cords with too many electronics or power tools. It may cause the cord to overheat and start a fire. If you are going to use the extension cord with two or more appliances, you must add together the wattage rating for all appliances used on the cord to make sure the cord will not become overloaded.
  • Extension cords always conduct electricity when plugged into an outlet, even if it is not being used. Therefore, always unplug the cord when you are finished with it.

Tips for indoor use of extension cords:

  • Be sure the cord is rated for indoor use.
  • If any part of the extension cord becomes hot while in use, unplug it immediately and discard it.
  • Keep extension cords away from children, pets, and high-traffic areas.
  • Do not place extension cords under carpets, rugs, furniture, or cover with any other objects.

Tips for outdoor use of extension cords:

  • Use durable cords rated for outdoor use.
  • Be sure to provide some slack in order to prevent tension on the cord.  Tension on any part of the cord can cause damage.
  • Do not use cords in wet conditions. Water conducts electricity, and working in wet conditions increases the chance of shock or electrocution.
  • When not in use, store extension cords indoors, in a dry area and steady temperature climate. Storing extension cords outdoors will deteriorate the cord.

For more information on electrical safety, visit SafeElectricity.org.

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