Extension cord safety at home

Household 2 min read

For most people, using extension cords is a daily part of life. There always seems to be something in our homes that needs power — a lamp, a vacuum cleaner, or just about anything — that’s just a bit too far out of reach of a wall outlet. Extension cords are meant to be convenient, but they’re supposed to be temporary solutions. Common sense can go a long way toward maintaining extension cord safety to minimize potential fire hazards.

Are extension cords safe?

When appropriately used, extension cords are safe. However, relying on them too much can lead to extension cord hazards. Using the cords in the right way is critical. You must use cords marked “indoor only” inside and “outdoor only” outside. While this might seem obvious, in a pinch, you might quickly grab the nearest available cord without regard for its intended use.

Another way to stay safe is to use only those extension cords that an independent laboratory has tested. Cheaply priced cords might seem economical, but if they haven’t gone through a documented testing process, you can’t be sure about their quality and safety.

In addition to properly vetted cords, it’s best to use cords with three-prong plugs or polarized ones (where one side of the plug is slightly larger than the other). Using polarized cords helps to ensure the electrical circuit is safe and less prone to an electrical fire. Learn how to use a fire extinguisher and the benefits of smart smoke detectors.

Extension cord safety tips

  • When pulling an extension cord out of an outlet, pull on the plug rather than the cord itself.
  • Don’t use an extension cord in rain or wet conditions.
  • Only use extension cords that can handle the wattage of your device.
  • Neatly roll up cords when not in use and store them indoors.
  • Avoid plugging a space heater into an extension cord, as this could lead to a fire.
  • Make sure children do not handle or play with extension cords.

Can extension cords be a fire hazard?

Yes, extension cords can be a fire hazard. Anytime extension cords are run underneath a rug or a carpet or taped to the floor; they could overheat. Further, overtaxing them by plugging multiple devices into the same cord can be detrimental. It’s also best to avoid connecting an extension cord to another extension cord, whether you’re indoors or outside.

If you suspect an extension cord could be a fire hazard, don’t use it. If it shows signs of fraying or cracking, throw it away. Additionally, if you pick up a cord that you just used and it’s hot to the touch, it’s best to discard the cord (after it cools down, of course). Don’t plug it in if an extension cord is missing its grounding pin — the round bottom pin on a three-prong plug. And in case the worst happens, learn how to create a home fire escape plan for you and your family.

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