The Ultimate Guide to Extension Cords

Do you think you don’t need an extension cord? Well, think again! Extension cords provide power to indoor and outdoor devices that cannot reach nearby electrical outlets. Hence, this is why extension cords make the life of many homeowners much more manageable. Most physical and online stores sell a wide range of extension cords that you can use for different purposes.

You may have seen various extension cords in a hardware store, ranging from cheap to expensive, and you may even need clarification about which one to go for. Hence it is always challenging to find the right product. Also, it is essential to understand that using the wrong extension cord may cause problems like equipment failure (or even worse) or a severe safety hazard in your home.

Not all extensions are suitable for you. If you are buying it for the first time, you can follow the guide below to determine better which suits your needs.

yellow extension cord

The basics of buying an extension cord

 1. Amps, volts, and watts

Amperes or amps is the current of electrons passing through an electrical conductor. The higher electrons that pass through the conductor, the greater the current. The conductors in an extension cord are the copper wires within the cord.

Voltage, also known as volts, is the measure of electrical forces that causes electrons to move. The higher the voltage, the greater the electrical energy. Wattage or watts is the unit of measurement for the electricity consumed. Watts are commonly used to measure the power consumption of lights, appliances, and other electrically powered devices.

Look for the amperage, voltage, and wattage value on the extension cord’s packaging. Choose a cord rated for at least the same total amperage, voltage, or wattage as the appliance or device you need to power using it.

2. Length

Another essential thing to consider when buying an extension cord is its length. Specifically, purchasing an extension cord longer than you need is a good idea. If you are still undecided about going for a shorter and less expensive cable, remember that nothing is more inconvenient than barely reaching the outlet at your workspace.

A longer cord is not only more convenient but also much safer. Also, you don’t have to create a “daisy chain” of extension cords which is more likely to fail. A longer cord is also helpful because it allows you to get rid of buying another one for your next project.

3. Gauge

Besides the length, it would be best to consider the extension cord’s gauge, which is the diameter of the wires or conductors within the cord itself. The thickness of the cord is measured in American Wire Gauge or AWG. It is abbreviated to “gauge” and expressed numerically.

Most extension cords for household use come in 16-gauge, 14-gauge, 12-gauge, and gauge. The lower the number, the bigger the gauge and the greater the amperage. An oversized gauge cord can also deliver electricity over extended distances without suffering voltage dips. A voltage drop means voltage loss as it travels down a long wire, which is more likely to happen in a narrower gauge extension cord.

Therefore, if you have appliances with motors, it is better and more practical to use an extension cable with a larger gauge. If you try to connect such devices to an extension cord with a smaller diameter, it can cause irreparable damage. Hence, it’s best to look for the gauge of the cable on the product package. It is also printed on the cord’s outer insulation or jacket.

The thickness of the cord also indicates how much power it can safely deliver. Thicker wires can carry more power, even over farther distances. Any cord at a decent electronics store must meet the minimum requirements to operate low-power gear such as lights, a stereo, or a battery charger. However, the minimum won’t do any good if you use power tools (drills, saws, vacuums, etc.), especially if you run them at their peak power.

Here is the recommended wire gauge for extension cords:

  • For a 25-foot-long cord – 14/3 (14 AWG)
  • For a 50-foot-long cord – 12/3 (12 AWG)
  • For a 100-foot-long cord – 10/3 (10 AWG)

4. Plug and connector

The plug and the connector are some of the standard parts of the extension cord. In a two-prong or non-grounded extension, the male end has two parallel blades. Both ends are “polarized,” meaning one edge or slot is broader than the other. 

The thicker prong of an extension cord plug carries the neutral conductor, while the narrower prong carries the “hot” conductor. It is a safety feature that helps ensure that the extension cable’s neutral and hot conductors always match the outlet’s circuit conductors into which it is plugged. 

The male and female ends are also polarized in a three-prong extension cord. The cord also has a third prong known as a grounding pin. Use this extension cord only with appliances with a three-prong plug. Avoid removing the ground pin from the plug or circumventing the ground feature.

You can plug a non-grounded cord into a grounded outlet. Most extension cords have a lighted connector or a lighted locking connector for visibility and signal that the cable is powered. This feature is handy if you work in a dimly lit environment.

extension cords and power strips

Indoor and outdoor extension cords

Indoor extension cords are available in non-grounded and grounded types and lengths ranging from three to 15 feet. Sixteen-gauge cords tend to have the lowest wattage, making them suitable for small appliances such as alarm clocks, electric fans, floor or table lamps, and chargers for mobile devices. On the other hand, fourteen-gauge cords are intended to use with higher-wattage light bulbs and appliances. But no matter the gauge, indoor extension cords are not weather-resistant and thus are intended for indoors only.

If you’re using devices like flat-screen televisions and desktop computers, they should be connected to a surge protector.

Outdoor extension cords, in comparison, are weather-resistant. They are meant for outdoor use but can also be used indoors. Outdoor extension cords are generally flexible because they are engineered to withstand sub-freezing temperatures. They are available in various lengths and gauges.

black extension cord

Extension cords – an essential tool in every household

Extension cords are something everyone should have in their house. It provides you with outlets to plug in appliances and saves time by joining everything together in one place. In addition, some extension cords even feature surge protection to protect your expensive devices from getting damaged due to voltage spikes.  

Depending on the size and length of the extension cord, you can stretch it as far as 100 feet. Hence, we suggest reading this guide thoroughly before going ahead and making a purchase decision.