Safety Tips by Fire Marshal Andrea Testa: Plug into Extension Cord Safety

During the holiday season, families often string together extension cords without a second thought—after all, all cords are created equal, right? Think again. Just because the extension cord has the length to reach the outlet across the room, it doesn’t mean it’s the right one for the task at hand. If the tool, appliance or holiday display is drawing more current than an extension cord can carry, it may cause the cord (and whatever is connected to it) to overheat and start a fire. Fortunately, all cords are labeled with wattage restrictions to help you make smart connection decisions. To keep your family safe, follow these simple steps when using any extension cord:

STEP 1: Read the manufacturer’s instructions for the device(s) you will be using. These booklets contain important information about your tools, appliances and decorations and will provide instructions on their use.

STEP 2: Check the information on your cord. Extension cords are labeled with valuable information as to the use, size and wattage rating of the cord. Cords are offered in many lengths and are marked with a size or “gauge.” The gauge is based on the American Wire Gauge (AWG) System, in which the larger the wire, the smaller the AWG number. For example, a 12 gauge wire would be larger and can power larger wattage appliances, than a 14 gauge wire.

STEP 3: Decide whether you will be using the appliance indoors or outdoors. Extension cords that can be used outdoors will be clearly marked “Suitable for Use with Outdoor Appliances.” Never use an indoor extension cord outdoors; it could result in an electric shock or fire hazard.

STEP 4: Determine the gauge needed. All appliances indicate how much wattage is consumed when operated; that rating can be found on the appliance itself and often within the use and care booklet that accompanies the product. Other appliances will indicate power usage in amps, rather than watts. Quick tip: If your appliance indicates that it uses 5 amps at 125 volts, then its wattage rating is 625W (5×125). 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. The total of those wattage ratings will help you determine which gauge size you will need. STEP 5: Place the cord correctly. Extension cords should not be placed underneath rugs or other heavy furniture. They should not be tacked in place to a wall or taped down. Extension cords should not be used while coiled or bent.

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