Must know about Extension Cord Safety
Extension cords are used commonly in most Victorian households.
This is not surprising - you can’t deny they are super convenient!
However, while they are handy to have around, they can pose safety risks - especially if they are used for long periods of time. Therefore, it is very important that you use extension leads properly and only as a short term fix.
Extension leads (including powerboards) can become a fire hazard or electric shock hazard very quickly if they are not used safely.
But what safety threat could a simple extension cord cause…?
WHY ARE EXTENSION CORDS A SAFETY HAZARD?
Extension cords are used throughout households, often without a second thought. However, they can pose many risks if they are not used correctly.
These hazards can include:
- Extension cords used as a long term/permanent fix
It may seem like an easy fix to use extension cords to get power to the appliances in your home that are not close enough to power points.
However, using an extension cord as a permanent fix is not only unsightly but can pose multiple safety risks including tripping hazards, rapid deterioration through constant exposure, short circuiting, increased risk of electrical shocks and sparks, and more.
If you find you are constantly reaching for an extension cord in certain sections of your property, you should consider getting an electrician to install some extra power points in those areas to reduce reliance on extension cords and increase safety!
- Extension cords running through high traffic areas
This is probably the most commonly experienced hazard involving extension cords - tripping.
It may not sound like a big deal but it can result in some pretty bad injuries.
When an extension cord is running through a high traffic area it is common for passersby not to see it which can cause trip/get tangled in it and result in injury.
This sudden tugging at the extension cord can also result in damage to the appliance you are powering and the cord itself increasing the risk of electrical shock in future.
- Extension cords hidden under rugs, tarp etc.
In an attempt to avoid the issue of tripping explained in the previous point, many people will lay something over the extension cord to conceal it.
Often this does not mitigate the risk of trip hazards as people can still trip over the lump in the carpet which they now also can’t see. It also means that people will most likely step on the cord which can damage it.
Furthermore, laying something on top of the extension cord can trap heat and once again increase the risk of cord and appliance damage, electrical shock and electrical fires.
- Using the wrong extension cords for the appliance/area you are needing to provide electricity to.
This may not be the first thing you think about when plugging in your extension lead but not all of them are made the same.
For example, there are specific extension cords made for outdoor use. All others are for indoor use only and can be extremely dangerous if used outside and exposed to weather elements such as rain and snow.
There are also certain extension cords made to deal with appliances that require higher voltages, larger appliances, etc.
The different types of extension cords are denoted by small letters on their tags. Please see the ‘EXTENSION CORD CHEAT SHEET’ below to ensure you are purchasing the correct cord for your needs.
- Extension cords left unattended around children or animals
This one might seem obvious but if your extension cord is left out around the house it is vulnerable to damage from animals including pets or vermin that may have made their way in.
Children may also be at risk if they try to play with the exposed extension lead.
- Extension cords that are too short for your requirements
If an extension lead is a tad too short for your requirements it is tempting to stretch it to its maximum capacity and plug it in when it is taut to just get the job done.
However, this can damage the plug, and wire causing electrical shock hazards and as previously mentioned, can also be a huge tripping hazard.
If you find you are constantly reaching for the extension cord in certain areas of your property, we recommend that you book a qualified electrician to install some extra power points. This will not only leave you safer but it will be much more convenient!
- Multiple extension cords or power boards plugged together
Plugging multiple extension leads together (also known as daisy chaining) or plugging power boards into extension leads can be very unsafe.
The longer the extension lead gets the less power it receives from the original source increasing the risk of shorting and sparking.
You may also be attaching cords that work on different voltage outputs which can result in overheating, overloading, sparking and - you guessed it - major electrical hazards.
- The extension cord is overheating
Always stop use immediately if the extension cord feels hot. This is a sign you may be overloading it, which can lead to melting or fire.
Make sure the appliance it is plugged into does not require more voltage than your extension cord can handle.
THE EXTENSION CORD CHEAT SHEET
You may have noticed some small random letters on your extension cord. They aren’t batch or barcode numbers, but are actually indications of the quality and acceptable uses of the cord.
Here are the meanings of a couple of the letters you may find on an extension cord:
- W - can be used outdoors
- J - only has a 300 volt insulation (no J indicates that the cord has a 600 volt insulation so is better for larger devices or a power board)
- P - Parallel wiring, used mostly indoors
- O - indicates an oil-resistant cord
- T - is made from vinyl
- E - is made from elastomer
- S - for general use
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING EXTENSION CORDS
Most of us wouldn’t give a second thought to the extension cord we purchase, we just pick up the one on sale at the supermarket.
However, to ensure the electrical safety of your property consider the following suggestions before purchasing any electrical extension cords:
- Don't buy second hand extension cords
- Don't buy super cheap ones (they tend to overload and trip easily as well as sparking everytime you plug or unplug an appliance)
- If you are getting an extension cord with multiple socket outlets (ie. a powerboard) search for one that has an on off switch on the board. As well as increasing safety this will also save you a lot of money as it will not keep supplying electricity to appliances/devices that are on standby.
- Make sure you are buying the correct extension cord for your needs. Ie. If you are needing an outdoor extension cord you cannot use an indoor extension cord as it will be very dangerous. (See the ‘Extension Cord Cheat Sheet’ above if you are confused about what to buy)
- Ensure your extension cord matches the wattage output of the appliances you are planning on using it with.
- Consider the length you need before buying. It is also important to note that longer extension cords can’t handle as high a voltage as shorter extension cords (you should also never plug multiple extension cords together to achieve the desired length).
THE PROS OF EXTENSION CORDS
While extension cords can be hazardous in some situations, they can also be used to mitigate risks in others.
For example, if you are using a plug in vacuum and the cord is being pulled very tight to get the appliance where it needs to go this can actually be very hazardous.
Not only does it cause a tripping hazard but it can also cause the plug to bend or eject out of the power socket which could damage both the outlet and the appliance as well as posing a risk for minor electrical shocks.
Extension leads mean that you can use appliances anywhere in your home even if it is not close to an outlet.
Therefore, extension leads are a great option for things that you only want to use sporadically - for example if you use an outdoor power lead to power a vacuum to clean your car.
However, if you are finding yourself coiling and uncoiling that extension cord repeatedly for use, it may be time to get some extra power points installed.
Not only will it be easier for you but it will also be safer. A qualified electrician will be able to install new power points quickly and for a reasonable price.
HOW TO HIDE EXTENSION CORDS
We have clearly highlighted a couple of things you shouldn’t be doing to hide those unsightly cords but what can you do to use and hide extension cords safely?
Here’s some of our favourite tricks when it comes to hiding extension cords:
- Mount them along a wall using hooks or clips (NEVER use metal clips or nails as they are conductive).
- Cover them on the ground with plastic cable protectors.
- If it is in a safe place to do so you can mount the cord with electrical tape along the bottom edge of a wall.
HOW TO CARE FOR EXTENSION CORDS
As extension cords are only used from time to time, it is important to store them properly in between use to ensure they are safe for use when you pull them out again!
Here’s how to keep you extension cords in peak condition:
- Always store extension cords indoors
- Check to ensure there are no signs of damage before each use - if there are signs of damage throw the cord away immediately
- Unplug extension cords when they're not in use
- Throw away damaged cords
- Pull the plug - not the cord - when disconnecting from the outlet
- When storing a cable away for future use, you should do the over/under technique when coiling it instead of constantly wrapping it in the same direction, as this could snap the internal wires.
IN SUMMARY - WHEN USING EXTENSION CORDS:
- Never use indoor extension cords outdoors
- Don’t plug multiple cords together
- Don't run extension cords under rugs or furniture
- Dont bend or coil cords while they are in use
- Stop using extension cords that feel hot to the touch
- Always replace damaged extension cords
- Know the type of extension cord you need for the job
DO YOU NEED AN ELECTRICIAN?
If you are using extension leads constantly in your property it may be time to get an electrician out to provide better options for electricity provision in your property.
At 181 Electrical our qualified electricians are skilled in both domestic and commercial work as well as responding promptly to emergency call outs and can provide you with the solution that will be best for your home or business.
Contact us via 0403 734 299 or via the button below to book one of our friendly electricians today!