Extension Cord Safety

Are you struggling with electrical outlets that have less than the ideal placement? Does your cell phone charger cord need to be just a little bit longer? Are you thinking that an extension cord may be an easy and inexpensive fix? It may be – but take a moment to make certain you’re following some basic extension cord safety guidelines.


Electrical Safety Foundation International has put together a list of safety tips to keep in mind before you plug it in:

  • Do not overload extension cords or allow them to run through water or snow on the ground.
  • Do not substitute extension cords for permanent wiring.
  • Do not run through walls, doorways, ceilings or floors. If cord is covered, heat cannot escape, which may result in a fire hazard.
  • Do not use an extension cord for more than one appliance.
  • A heavy reliance on extension cords is an indication that you have too few outlets to address your needs. Have additional outlets installed where you need them.
  • Multiple plug outlets must be plugged directly into mounted electrical receptacles; they cannot be chained together.
  • Make sure the extension cord or temporary power strip you use is rated for the products to be plugged in, and is marked for either indoor or outdoor use.
  • The appliance or tool that you are using the cord with will have a wattage rating on it. Match this up with your extension cord, and do not use a cord that has a lower rating.
  • Never use a cord that feels hot or is damaged in any way. Touching even a single exposed strand can give you an electric shock or burn.
  • Never use three-prong plugs with outlets that only have two slots for the plug. Do not cut off the ground pin to force a fit. This defeats the purpose of a three-prong plug and could lead to an electrical shock. Never force a plug into an outlet if it doesn’t fit.
  • Use extension cords with polarized and/or three-prong plugs.
  • Buy only cords approved by an independent testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), ETL-SEMKO (ETL) or Canadian Standards Association (CSA).
  • Do not substitute extension cords for permanent wiring.

RealSimple.com offers a few safety suggestions as well, including:

1. Keep unprotected cords out of the path of foot traffic and furniture to prevent fraying, overheating, and tripping.
2. Never run a cord under a rug. It prevents the cord from releasing its heat and could lead to a fire.
3. Don’t leave cords dangling anywhere where they can be pulled down and tripped over.
4. Make sure there is no crimping or pressure on cords, and don’t force them into small spaces or behind furniture. Over time this could lead to a breakdown of the cord’s insulation. When using cord-bundling devices, such as Cable Turtles or plastic spiral wire wrap, avoid cramming too many cords together. Keep it loose.
5. Never use staples or nails to attach cords or cord bundlers to a surface, such as a baseboard or a wall. They could puncture the insulation and create a shock or fire hazard.
6. Don’t overload outlets or extension cords with too many appliances, or appliances with too much wattage (space heaters, microwave ovens). Check the maximum capacity of an extension cord, and make absolutely sure you don’t exceed it.
7. Don’t use an adapter to get an extension cord with a three-prong plug into a two-prong outlet.
8. Don’t plug extension cords together. Instead use one long enough for your purpose.
9. Don’t use an extension cord to plug in a power strip. Instead buy a strip with a longer cord.

Extension cords are a leading cause of electrical fires, and according to EFSI and the CPSC, cause an estimated 3,300 residential fires each year, killing and injuring over 300 people. Trip injuries are also common, including sprains, fractions, and lacerations, caused when people trip over a poorly placed extension cord.  They’ve put together a safety sheet that can be printed and shared at home and the workplace – Just click here to download a copy.

Electricity is a modern convenience we rely on every day, but it can be dangerous if not handled correctly. Cell phones are notorious for heating up, so make sure you’re using a manufacturer approved charging cord to prevent a dangerous situation, and if necessary, a correctly rated extension cord. Be extension cord savvy, and always follow the safety guidelines.

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