Do You Have an Extension Cord Fire Hazard?


August 31, 2020

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2020 Update

Although nearly a year old, all the information in this article is still relevant. It is important to know if your extension cords are a potential fire hazard; scroll down to find out more.  

Extension cords are so convenient that that they’re easy to misuse. Despite being an everyday item, it’s easy to turn this handy piece of equipment into a major safety hazard. Read on to find out if you have a power extension cord fire hazard or not. 

Causes of Extension Cord Fire Hazards 

While extension cords are intended for temporary use, many people plug them into various places and they become a permanent fixture. It’s convenient to run the power cord from your laptop to the outlet behind the couch and that’s ok; it’s when the cord gets covered by a carpet or a rug that problems start. That’s when the cord can become a fire hazard. Cords under rugs can overheat, especially when the wires inside begin to break down because people are trampling on them. This reduces the ability of the cord to transmit current, causing it to get hot. Furthermore, statistics say cord overheating is most likely to happen in the middle of the night when the household is fast asleep.  

Why do people snake cords under rugs and through doorways, anyway? Cost and convenience are the usual reasons. This is especially true in older homes that weren’t meant to run multiple electronics at the same time, let alone computers, mobile phones, and smart tablets all charging at once.  

However, running extension cords throughout the house is not a long-term solution. If you’re using a lot of power extension cords in your home, maybe it’s time to call an electrician and get some additional outlets installed throughout your home. Even when extension cords are put to their proper use, such as for temporary holiday lighting, people often forget basic safety precautions. 

Here are a few precautions you should take to keep you and your home safe. 

  • Never run a power extension cord under a rug, through a wall, over a beam or through a doorway or window. 

  • Avoid using coiled extension cords. 

  • Don’t tack extension cords to the wall with nails or staples.  Besides creating another potential fire hazard, you could also shock yourself.  

  • Plug all kitchen appliances, such as microwaves, coffee machines, and toasters, into wall sockets rather than an extension cord. 

  • If you have to use a temporary extension cord, plug in only one appliance per cord. 

  • If an extension cord feels unusually warm to the touch, unplug it from the wall outlet and buy a new one. 

  • When buying a cord, make sure it’s UL-certified and the right cord for the job. If you’re unsure, get a second opinion from the hardware or general store employees. 

  • Only use a cord designed for outdoor use for your outdoor power tools and equipment. To save money, you can buy extension cords rated for outdoor use for your home, since these can be used safely indoors.  

  • Always protect extension cords used outdoors or in wet locations with a ground fault circuit protector even if it is an outdoor extension cord. 

  • If you do damage your extension cord, don’t try to slice, tape, or otherwise repair it. Instead, get a new one. 

Finally, know when to toss out your old extension cords. Throw them away when you can’t locate certification or rating labels, the cord doesn’t have a three-prong plug and connector for modern wall receptacles, the plug has same-size blades instead of modern polarized plugs, the wires have cracked insulation or exposed wiring, or the cord and plug have a loose connection. 

Lauren Slade is a Dallas-based writer and editor.

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