Extension Cords – Surprisingly Hazardous

If your home or business depends on the use of extension cords for more than a temporary fix, you might want to consider adding a new outlet to your electrical system instead. Extension cords are surprisingly hazardous. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that about 3,300 residential fires originate with these cords each…

If your home or business depends on the use of extension cords for more than a temporary fix, you might want to consider adding a new outlet to your electrical system instead. Extension cords are surprisingly hazardous.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that about 3,300 residential fires originate with these cords each year. The CPSC website recommends, “Use extension cords only when necessary and only on a temporary basis.” Many local building codes have made permanent use of these cords illegal in homes and businesses.

The Hazards

One trouble with extension cords is that they're often in the way. People can trip over them. Or possibly even worse, walk on them. Walking on a cord can damage it. This is not the only way the cord can be damaged. A cord dropped from one room to the next can be damaged by a door repeatedly closing on it. If used outside, it can deteriorate due to exposure to the sun.

If the cord is damaged, it can create a short circuit, causing a fire hazard. A “short circuit” means the electricity is traveling in a different path than intended, one in which larger amounts of electricity can be drawn into the cord. Overly large amounts of electricity can overload the wires, heat them up, and possibly ignite a fire. The hazard can be heightened if an indoor cord has been tucked under a rug to prevent tripping. Under the rug, the cord can be damaged by being trod on, but the damage is hidden. And the rug only adds to the fire hazard.

Extension cords that provide more than one outlet and allow more than one appliance to be plugged in create another hazard. They can allow overloading of the wires in the cord and overheating.

Solutions

A power strip is a safety improvement over an extension cord. Power strip cords run from a couple of feet up to 12 feet. If you use a power strip, make sure that it is equipped with a circuit breaker. If damage to the cord results in a short circuit or if too many appliances are plugged in, the resulting power overloading will shut off power to the cord. This eliminates the problem of overheating and fire hazard.

Of course, with the power strip, there is still the tripping issue, and over time, the circuit breaker can deteriorate without giving any sign. Adding a conveniently placed outlet is a safer solution. Many qualified electricians will be happy to give a free estimate for such installations.