Technology has evolved drastically over the last decade, and today we have an electrical appliance for almost all the needs in the home. However, the power cords for some of the electrical appliances may be short, and to reach the power outlet on the wall, you may need an extension cord or a power strip. Though these extension cords have become prevalent for home improvement, they may cause a hazard if they are of poor quality. So, one must consider several safety factors before purchasing an extension cord, especially longer ones. That’s because the longer the cord, the more distance electricity must travel from the outlet to the machine or appliance. Electrical appliances used in the backyard require such longer extension cords.
An extension cord essentially is a bundle of insulated electrical wires with a plug on each end. Electrical current flowing through wires generates heat, and when too much current flows through a wire, it can overheat and melt the plastic insulation of the wires, causing short circuits and fires.
This is normally not a problem when you plug an appliance directly into an outlet using its factory cord because the manufacturer has sized the cord appropriately for the electrical current demand, or load, that the appliance requires. But if you use an undersized extension cord to extend the reach of that appliance cord, you can exceed the safe load capacity of the extension cord, and the result can be disastrous.
Extension Cord Gauge and Length
Electrical extension cords come in different types, lengths, and sizes. Two important factors determine any cord’s load capacity, its ability to carry electrical current:
- Wire gauge: The thickness or diameter of the wire affects how much current the wire can carry and how much the wire heats up.
- Length: The length of the extension cord affects voltage drop, or how much voltage is lost through resistance in the cord wires.
Gauge is a numerical rating of copper wire diameter and is identified by an American Wire Gauge (AWG) number. For example, a 12 AWG, 120-volt cord contains 12-gauge wires and is intended for use with standard 120-volt outlets. In the AWG rating system, the smaller the number the thicker the wire.
Voltage drop is an effect that reduces the voltage of electricity in wiring due to electrical resistance. The longer the wire, or cord, the greater the voltage drop. For this reason, long extension cords have a lower capacity than shorter cords of the same AWG size.
For example, an 18 AWG cord may only be rated for 5 to 7 amperes (amps) of load at a length of up to 25 feet. To get the same load rating with a 50-foot cord, the cord must have larger, 16 AWG wire. Because of the voltage drop, it’s best to use the shortest extension cord possible for the job at hand.
Light-Duty Extension Cords
Light-duty extension cords are those that resemble lamp wire cord. These cords should never be used with anything other than very light-duty devices. They are especially dangerous to use with space heaters and other heat-generating appliances, such as toasters or clothes irons, which draw heavy electrical loads. Light-duty cords often are not grounded: They have only two plug prongs and do not include a third wire and prong for grounding, so you should never be used with appliances that have a three-prong grounded cord.
- Uses: lamps, clocks, and other light-duty electrical devices drawing up to 7 amps
- Cord length up to 25 feet: use 18 AWG wire
- Cord length up to 50 feet: use 16 AWG wire
- Cord length up to 100 feet: use 14 AWG wire
Medium-Duty Extension Cords
Medium-duty cords usually are grounded extension cords, which include the third wire and plug prong for grounding. They have plugs that accept three-prong grounded appliance cords.
- Uses: televisions, computers, and other devices that draw up to 10 amps of power
- Cord length up to 25 feet: use 16 AWG wire
- Cord length up to 50 feet: use 14 AWG wire
- Cord length up to 100 feet: use 12 AWG wire
Heavy-Duty Extension Cords
Heavy-duty extension cords are suitable for drawing 10 to 15 amps of power. These are always grounded extension cords that include a third wire and plug prong for grounding and have plugs with three slots for accepting grounded appliance cords.
- Uses: tools and heating appliances drawing up to 15 amps of power
- Cord length up to 25 feet: use 14 AWG wire
- Cord length up to 50 feet: use 12 AWG wire
- Cord length up to 100 feet: use 10 AWG wire
Note: Follow appliance manufacturer instructions regarding the use of extension cords. Some appliances never should be used with extension cords.
If you are looking for an extension cord, here is a list of the top five safest extension cords for home improvement.
1. Americord 10 Gauge Extension Cord
The first one on the list is one of the best extension cords when it comes to length. Americord is a renowned brand that manufactures high-quality and safe extension cords for home improvement. This cord may be an ideal choice for you if you are looking for an extension cord with a 100ft length or more. The key features of the Americord extension cord include a three-prong outlet and support of a 30 amp current. The flexibility and reach of this extension cord are something that grabs the buyer’s attention.
It offers superior resistance to sun, chemicals, ozone, and cracking. Thus, you can use it to power outdoor electrical appliances in the backyard and garden. When you are buying longer extension cords, you must consider their thickness too. So, if you need a 100ft length cord, make sure you pick a 10 gauge extension cord since that is the recommended number.
2. Anker Power Strip Surge Protector
The next one on the list is a surge protector power strip suitable for indoor usage. From TV to smartphone chargers, laptop chargers, smart home devices, the number of electrical appliances plugged are many in any room. Thus you may need a power strip that comes with a surge protector to avoid any hazard in case of overload. The Anker power strip has a whopping 12 three-prong power outlets, a switch, and USB slots for optimized charging.
Whether it is for your home office or entertainment center with multiple devices, this power strip can handle it like a pro. The best part is that you can select from three different lengths, six, eight, and ten. The power strip can handle up to 3 amps of current.
3. Cable Matters Heavy-Duty Extension Cord
Here’s another safe heavy-duty extension cord you can get your hands on. The power cord comes in two-pack cords, both with three-prong outlets. Whether you need a 3ft, 6ft, 10ft, or a 15ft long heavy-duty extension cord, this is an ideal fit as it is available in all those sizes. The colors available for this extension cord are white and black, and it has a thickness of 16 gauge.
You can rest assured about safety since the product also bears an impressive safety rating from a renowned third-party certification company. Once again, most customers who bought this cord online have appreciated the flexibility and reach but complained about how hot the cord got over long usage. That is the only downside of this extension cord.
4. GE Three-Outlet Power Strip
The GE Three-Outlet Power Strip is by far the most functional indoor use power strip on the list. The cord has a total of 3 two-prong power outlets, two on the front and one on the back. The unique design allows you to plug in multiple devices at various distances. The best part is that all three prongs have sliding covers so you can protect your children and pets from electrocution.
However, the cord is not suitable for usage in moist and wet areas. You can use this extension cord in dry settings only, like an office or an entertainment center in the living room. The product has an average of 4.7-star rating on Amazon, and most customers liked the flexibility and the color options available. You can choose from four different colors – green, white, brown and black.
5. Southwire Outdoor Extension Cord
The last cord on this list is the best outdoor extension cord of all. The Southwire Outdoor Extension Cord has a flexible vinyl jacket layer that protects the cord against abrasion, moisture, and sunlight. Such high-level environmental protection makes it a perfect outdoor extension cord. The cord is available in 50 and 100 ft lengths with a three-prong outlet. The reinforced blades around prongs prevent them from breaking and bending.
It also comes with a light at the end indicating the power. The Southwire Outdoor Extension Cord can handle input current up to 15 amps making it perfect for heavy-duty machinery used outdoors. If you want an extension cord for your gardening and landscaping appliances, this is your go-to cord. The cord comes in yellow color and also has a 4.8-star rating on Amazon.
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Those were the top five safest extension cords for home improvement. You must consider the length, thickness, amperage rating, and other factors to ensure that the extension cord you use is safe and does not cause any fire hazards. Especially, when buying and using longer extension cords. Also, it is always better to buy an extension cord that is longer than you need.