Extension cords are a common and convenient way to provide power to appliances, tools, and other electrical devices.
They allow us to reach outlets that are far away or in inconvenient locations, and they can be used indoors or outdoors. However, it’s important to use extension cords safely to avoid potential risks.
One question that often comes up is whether it’s safe to leave extension cords plugged in when not in use. No, it is not safe to leave extension cords plugged in when not in use due to the potential risks of electrical fires, tripping hazards, and damage to equipment.
In this article, we’ll explore the potential risks of doing so and offer tips for safe extension cord use.
Potential Risks of Leaving Extension Cords Plugged In
One of the biggest risks of leaving extension cords plugged in is the potential for electrical fires.
Electrical fires can start when cords are overloaded or damaged, or when they come into contact with flammable materials.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), electrical failures or malfunctions caused an estimated 44,880 home fires in the United States in 2019, resulting in 490 deaths, 1,400 injuries, and $1.4 billion in property damage.
While not all of these fires were caused by extension cords, it’s clear that electrical fires can have serious consequences.
Another risk of leaving extension cords plugged in is that they can become a tripping hazard.
Cords that are left lying on the floor or stretched across walkways can cause people to trip and fall, resulting in injuries.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there were an estimated 4,000 injuries related to extension cords treated in emergency rooms in the United States in 2019.
While not all of these injuries were caused by tripping over cords, it’s clear that cords can be a hazard if they’re not properly managed.
Damage to Equipment
Leaving extension cords plugged in can also cause damage to equipment. Electrical surges, voltage drops, and other issues can occur when cords are left connected to devices that are turned off or not in use.
This can lead to problems such as reduced lifespan of equipment or damage that requires costly repairs or replacements.
Factors That Affect Extension Cord Safety
Length and Gauge The length and gauge of an extension cord can affect its safety. Longer cords and thinner cords have more resistance, which can lead to more heat buildup and potential fire hazards.
According to the CPSC, extension cords with a wire size of 16-gauge or smaller should only be used for light-duty applications, such as powering lamps and small appliances. For heavier loads, a cord with a larger wire size is needed.
It’s also important to use the right length of cord for the job, as longer cords can cause more voltage drops and reduce the effectiveness of the equipment being used.
Another important factor in extension cord safety is load capacity. Each extension cord has a maximum load capacity, which is the amount of power it can handle safely.
Overloading an extension cord can cause it to overheat and potentially start a fire. It’s important to check the load capacity of an extension cord before using it and to make sure that the devices being powered don’t exceed the cord’s capacity.
The environment in which an extension cord is used can also affect its safety. Moisture, heat, and cold can all cause damage to cords and increase the risk of electrical hazards.
Extension cords that are used outdoors should be designed for outdoor use and should be plugged into ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets to reduce the risk of electrical shock.
Cords that are used in wet or damp environments should be checked regularly for signs of damage and should be replaced if necessary.
Best Practices for Safe Extension Cord Use
Now that we’ve explored the potential risks of leaving extension cords plugged in and factors that affect extension cord safety, let’s discuss some best practices for safe extension cord use.
Unplug When Not in Use
To reduce the risk of electrical fires and other hazards, it’s best to unplug extension cords when they’re not in use. This applies to both indoor and outdoor use.
If you’re using an extension cord for a specific task, such as powering a tool or appliance, make sure to unplug it when you’re done.
Don’t leave cords plugged in overnight or for extended periods of time when they’re not needed.
When not in use, extension cords should be stored properly to prevent damage and reduce the risk of tripping hazards.
Cords should be wound or coiled neatly and stored in a dry location. Avoid wrapping cords too tightly, as this can cause kinks or damage to the cord.
It’s also important to avoid storing cords in areas where they can be damaged by sharp objects or heavy items.
Inspect Cords Regularly
To ensure that extension cords are in good condition and safe to use, they should be inspected regularly for signs of damage.
This includes checking for frayed or damaged cords, cracked or broken plugs, and loose connections. If you notice any damage to an extension cord, it should be replaced immediately.
Use the Right Cord for the Job
It’s important to use the right extension cord for the job to ensure that it can handle the load and is safe to use.
Make sure to choose a cord that’s rated for the intended use, with the right length and gauge for the job.
Don’t use cords that are damaged or have been repaired, as this can increase the risk of electrical hazards.
Keep Cords Away from Water and Heat Sources
To reduce the risk of electrical hazards, extension cords should be kept away from water and heat sources.
Don’t use cords in wet or damp environments unless they’re designed for outdoor use and plugged into a GFCI outlet.
Keep cords away from heat sources such as radiators or heaters, as this can cause damage and increase the risk of fire.
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In conclusion, while it may seem convenient to leave extension cords plugged in when not in use, it’s important to use them safely to avoid potential risks.
Electrical fires, tripping hazards, and damage to equipment are all potential risks of leaving extension cords plugged in.
Factors that affect extension cord safety include length and gauge, load capacity, and environmental factors.
To use extension cords safely, it’s important to unplug them when not in use, store them properly, inspect them regularly, use the right cord for the job, and keep them away from water and heat sources.
By following these best practices, you can ensure that you’re using extension cords safely and reducing the risk of electrical hazards.
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