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Extension cords are among the most common household items, yet there are many different kinds of expansion cords built for various purposes. Here’s what you must know around extension cords and also when they can and can’t it is in used.

The different Gauges (aka AWG)

The wires within an extension cord come in all different thicknesses, i m sorry is denoted as “gauge”. It’s likewise sometimes referred to as “AWG”, which means American cable Gauge. However, don’t get this perplexed with the yes, really thickness the the cord chin (though the more thick the gauge, the more thickness the cable, come an extent). Instead, gauge describes the thickness of the wires within the expansion cord.

Extension cords selection anywhere from 18 gauge to 10 gauge, v 10 gauge gift the thickest. Lower gauge (aka thicker) wires allow more electrical existing to circulation through the extension cord, do lower-gauge cords far better for larger appliances and also tools that need a many juice.

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Most higher-gauge extension cords room pretty thin and compact (like this one), and made come be used with electronics that don’t require a lot of power, choose lamps, alarm clocks, fans, and also more. This are likewise known as “light duty” expansion cords.

Thicker-gauge expansion cords in the range of 10-14 gauge are well-known as “medium duty” or “heavy duty” extension cords (like this one) and also usually look like a really-thick ethernet cable of sorts. They also usually have actually bulkier connectors in ~ the end to defend the components on the inside. However, you have the right to sometimes discover light-duty expansion cords that look choose heavy-duty persons (like this one), so be sure to dual check the gauge, which deserve to sometimes be uncovered printed top top the cord itself.


Thicker-gauge extension cords space suited for an ext demanding appliances and tools, like space heaters, refrigerators, and also more. There’s a the majority of controversy about using expansion cords v demanding appliances, therefore we’ll talk much more about that in a moment.

Grounded vs. Ungrounded

The moment you set eyes on various extension cords, you’ll an alert one glaring difference: the plug will either have two or 3 prongs. The third prong is a floor connection, which gives a return course for overabundance electrical present to prevent damage to the appliance, or also worse, electrical shock come the user if there’s a short.

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You’ll mostly see light-duty expansion cords sport only two prongs, i beg your pardon is additionally known as an ungrounded expansion cord. These can be supplied safely with items the don’t draw a most power (lamps, fans, clocks, etc.). However, if an appliance has actually a three-pronged plug, you’ll must plug it into a three-pronged (aka grounded) extension cord.

You deserve to plug one appliance through a two-pronged plug right into a grounded expansion cord there is no a problem, but do no plug in a three-pronged plug into an ungrounded extension cord (by utilizing one these adapters), mostly because anything through a floor prong is usually high-powered and also should not be plugged into a light-duty expansion cord in the very first place.

Outdoor vs. Indoor

Just by looking at an extension cord, you might not have the ability to tell if it can be offered outdoors or just indoors, however the insulation the the extension cord offers makes every the difference.

Most indoor light-duty expansion cords (like the one pictured above) have little insulation, and would at some point deteriorate when exposed come the outdoor facets for any far-reaching amount that time. Outdoor expansion cords, however, have much better insulation and much more of it. They’re able to resist the warm sun, and also the freezing winter there is no causing any problems.

However, many outdoor expansion cords don’t provide a water-tight seal wherein the plug is, since there’s really no means to achieve that in the first place. For this reason it’s quiet recommended that you it is in careful roughly wet areas and also elevate the plugs if there’s any type of standing water in the area. It’s additionally a an excellent idea to wrap the connection in plastic to protect against rain water indigenous making its method inside.

When and Where friend Shouldn’t Use extension Cords

Contrary to what you may think about extension cords, there room some instances where they shouldn’t it is in used, relying on the appliance and how far away the is.

First off, extension cords have the right to only be so long. In general, the more thickness the cord is (gauge-wise), the longer it deserve to be (up to roughly 150 feet with the thickest cords). This is why friend hardly ever see light-duty expansion cords much longer than 25 feet or so, due to the fact that the voltage would die down prior to it reached the appliance, result in gadgets not getting sufficient power and possibly creating safety hazards. This is additionally why friend shouldn’t daisy chain extension cords.

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Furthermore, extension cords need to not be mounted inside of walls and also used permanently, since they’re unshielded and not heat-resistant, whereas true romex electric wire is.

As for using extension cords to power high-wattage appliances prefer a an are heater or a hair dryer, it’s normally frowned upon. Many appliance manufacturers will tell you not to execute this, since it’s really basic to usage an expansion cord that isn’t rated because that the power essential from the appliance. However, it’s typically not a trouble if you usage the correct kind of expansion cord.

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For instance, if your space heater pulls 15 amps, you’ll desire an extension cord that can handle at least 15 amps. This method you’ll probably end up with at the very least a 14-gauge extension cord, yet even 10- or 12-gauge cords will occupational as well. What friend don’t desire to perform is use a light-duty expansion cord the isn’t rated for the power draw a space heater pulls—that’s questioning for trouble.

Craig LloydCraig Lloyd is a smarthome skilled with practically ten year of experienced writing experience. His work has actually been published by iFixit, Lifehacker, Digital Trends, Slashgear, and also GottaBeMobile. Read full Bio »