Extension Cord Safety

The holidays and colder weather are here, and with that comes the increased use of extension cords. These can be used for connecting holiday decorations, lights, small devices, etc. to an electrical source. Extension cords are helpful tools that provide additional outlet space and power for devices or appliances. Caution should be taken when utilizing these useful pieces of equipment. When used improperly, extension cords can present many risks, including fire, shock, and tripping hazards.

All extension cords are not created equally. It is important to only use extension cords that are tested at a reputable laboratory, such as Intertek (ETL) or Underwriters Laboratories (UL). The lab information can typically be found on the product’s packaging or the label on the cord. If you are unable to find the laboratory information in either of these locations, it would be beneficial to select a different brand of extension cord.

Here are some additional considerations to think about when it comes to your extension cord you’re using:

  • whether it’s suitable for outdoor vs. indoor use
  • cord length
  • cord gauge or thickness
  • cord wattage
  • presence of grounding pin

All this information can be found on the cord’s packaging. An indoor/outdoor use cord can be determined by the letters “W” and “S,” where the “W” represents an outdoor-use cord and “S” represents an indoor-use cord. This is distinction because outdoor cords are wet-rated with protective insulation.

Cord length is often overlooked, and many are unaware that the shorter the cord, the more electrical current the cord is capable of sustaining. Knowing the wattage of the device you intend to plug in is helpful in the selection of the appropriate extension cord length.

Finally, the extension cord’s gauge, or thickness, is in direct relation to the power output. The thicker the cord, the more amps the cord can manage.

An important safety feature that all extension cords should have is a grounding pin, or a third prong on the plug. If your extension cord does not have one, remove the cord from use. Never remove the grounding pin from a cord. Grounding pins help reduce potential electrical exposures if there are failures with internal wiring or a short circuit. It provides an emergency path for electrical current to travel.

Other safety considerations are:

  • Throw away any frayed extension cord immediately.
  • Do not plug extension cords into one another, or an extension cord train.
  • Do not tape or staple extension cords to the floor or other surfaces.
  • Do not place extension cords under rugs or furniture.
  • If an extension cord feels hot to the touch, remove it from use immediately.

On another note, it is critical to never plug space heaters into an extension cord. Space heaters should always be plugged into a wall outlet. Using an extension cord for space heaters can cause the cord to overheat, resulting in a fire. Additionally, when a space heater is plugged into an outlet, do not plug any more devices into the same outlet. This can also cause a fire from the outlet overloading.

Extension cords are very helpful tools but must be used with caution. If safety measures are followed and respected, extension cords can be a useful tool to power necessary equipment and temporary devices. Read all the manufacturers’ recommendations to select the appropriate cord for your needs and, above all, stay safe this holiday season!