Extension cords are a convenient way to power up devices and appliances without having to rearrange your home around the location of its outlets. They can let you put your microwave in the corner you want it in, or allow you to charge your phone while lounging on the couch and using it to text your friends. Unfortunately, extension cords carry a set of risks with them you must be aware of if you want to use them in your home. Extension cords are available in both 2 and 3 prong varieties, and they are not created equal. When picking out your next cord, you will definitely want to choose a 3 prong extension cord. They are safer than the 2 prong option although no extension cord should be used as a permanent fixture of your home's electrical system.
What Is the Significance of a 3 Prong Extension Cord?
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Extension cords carry a shaky reputation, and with good reason. They can wear out quickly, and users often overload them, risking fire or electric shock. If you are going to use an extension cord though, go with a 3 prong extension cord. The reason for this is that the third prong creates a path to the ground wire. This lowers the risk of shock and fire considerably, making the cord safer to use.
Not all outlets carry 3 prong holes though. You will typically find 2 prong outlets in older houses with outdated electrical systems. If this is the case in your home, we recommend updating it, giving your outlets 3 holes to allow for the use of 3 prong extension cords and power cables. This is safer than using ungrounded outlets and cords, and much safer than using 3 prong adapters to make your plugs fit.
TIPS FOR SAFELY USING A 3 PRONG EXTENSION CORD
A 3 prong extension cord is the safest version of an extension cord, but you still must follow some guidelines when using one. Failing to do so may result in electrical fires, shocks, and worse. Emergency rooms see a whopping 4000 patients per year because of extension cord-related mishaps, from tripping over them to children chewing on them and more. You do not want yourself or a family member to become patient number 4001. Here's how you can minimize the chances of any extension cord-related mishaps.
1. ONLY USE AN EXTENSION CORD WHEN YOU HAVE TO
Extension cords can deteriorate quickly with prolonged use, which makes them a risk factor for electrical shock or fire. The risks they carry mean you should only use them when you have no other option. If you have a tangled nest of extension cords in your home and cannot reach outlets with the cords on your appliances and devices, you would be better off calling an electrician and having more outlets installed. If you must use one, use a 3 prong extension cord.
2. PICK THE RIGHT CORD FOR THE JOB
You know you should use a 3 prong extension cord for any job a cord has to do, but there are many kinds of cords available. They fall into three categories: light use, frequent use, and rugged use. On the packaging of an extension cord, you will find letters that tell you what that cord is rated for. Be sure to find cords that are rated for the jobs you need them to do.
For example, an S on the packaging means the cord will work for normal indoor use. A W means a cord is rated for outdoor use. This means it is more heavily insulated, usually with bright orange rubber or plastic, so it can stand up to the elements. If you need to use an extension cord outside, never substitute an indoor-rated cord for an outdoor-rated one.
3. BE CAREFUL WHERE YOU PLACE THEM
The placement of extension cords can create just as many hazards as overloading a cord or using the wrong one. Do not place a cord out in the open where it can be tripped over or where it can be pulled down from a higher position. The latter may result in the cord knocking objects down, causing injury.
In addition, avoid running extension cords under carpets and rugs. They may overheat, especially when older, and cause a fire.
4. DO NOT SECURE THEM BY PUNCTURING THEM
The casing around a 3 prong extension cord keeps the wires from electrocuting anyone. If you want to keep an extension cord running right along a wall, it might be tempting to use a staple gun or nails to do so. This is very dangerous. Instead, seek out cord clips at your local hardware store that will allow you to snap easily a cord into place.
5. DO NOT BEND OR TWIST THEM
Wherever you place your cables, you should be careful not to allow them to be bent around corners or twisted. This will risk cracking the insulating casing of the cord and speeding up its deterioration. Deteriorated cords present a much higher risk of injury than cords in good condition.
6. DO NOT OVERLOAD YOUR EXTENSION CORDS
Every 3 prong extension cord you buy will come with an amperage rating. This refers to the amount of electrical current it can safely carry. Before you plug anything into a new cord, you should first check the appliance or device you intend to use with the cord to see how many amps it draws and make sure that your cord has an amperage rating higher than that.
If your device gives its amperage in watts, you can easily convert it to amps by dividing it by 110. Keep in mind, too, that longer extension cords will suffer from electrical resistance and will deliver less overall power to your device.
7. CHECK THEM FREQUENTLY FOR WEAR
Extension cords can often wear down quickly. Keep an eye on yours and watch for wear and tear on the rubber, plastic, or vinyl casing that insulates the wires inside from the outside world. Even a tiny bit of exposed wire carries a major risk of shock or fire.
Excess heat is another sign of an extension cord that needs to be replaced. If your cord feels hot, or the casing feels softer than normal, you should immediately discontinue use or at the very least reduce the load on the cord.
8. DO NOT TREAT THEM LIKE SURGE PROTECTORS
While 3 prong extension cords are grounded and therefore safer than other kinds of extension cords, they are not built to protect sensitive electronics from power surges. Surge protectors can block or divert excess power from a surge, so it does not damage an appliance or device, but extension cords cannot. Even a small surge can be enough to knock out some electronics for good, so be safe and use a surge protector for these.
9. CHILD-PROOF YOUR EXTENSION CORDS
Small children sometimes strangle themselves with extension cords and have been burned or electrocuted by previously damaged cords or by chewing on them. Keep your extension cords out of reach of small children, and if that is impossible, be sure to always closely supervise children in the presence of loose electrical cords.
10. MAKE SURE YOUR CORDS ARE LAB-TESTED
An independent testing laboratory should approve any 3 prong extension cord you buy. You can find these approvals marked on the packaging. Look for labels like UL, for Underwriters Laboratories, or ETL (ETL-SEMKO). These organizations ensure that the manufacturers' claims on an extension cord's packaging are true, which is important when determining how much power it can run before it overloads.
Extension cords are convenient, but in order to keep them safe, you must use them properly. 3 prong extension cords are always preferable to 2 prong extension cords, and you must take care with what you plug into them. Never daisy-chain two cords together and always use a surge protector when plugging in sensitive electronics.
Cords that see a lot of use will develop wear and tear. Luckily, there are several things you can do to extend their lifespan. Always store them indoors even if they are rated for outdoor use. Unplug them when they are not used to keep them from overheating. When you unplug a cord, pull it from the plug rather than the cord to avoid damaging the insulation between the plug and the rest of the cord. Finally, if a cord shows any sign of deterioration, like overheating or cracks or soft spots in the insulation, discard it immediately and purchase a new one.
Care for your extension cords properly and always follow the safety precautions above and you should be able to take advantage of their convenience with no further concerns. If, however, you find that these cords have become a permanent fixture of your home, consider calling an electrician and having more outlets installed in your home. It might be expensive, but it will make your home a safer place to be.