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Extension Cords and Appliance Safety

When it comes to appliance safety, one of the most commonly used, and commonly misused, gadgets on the market is the extension cord. Extension cords pose several risks. First, the extension cord connections may not be secure. Besides causing power fluctuations that may damage the equipment, poor connections can also result in sparks that could start a fire. Another problem with the appliances connected by extension cord is that they are extra vulnerable to water penetration. This is especially true in damp areas such as laundry rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, garages and outdoors. Water and electricity are a dangerous combination responsible for many avoidable deaths each year.

Extension cords also come in different sizes, and not every width is suitable for every appliance. People often make the mistake of using extension cords that are too small. The wires on extension cords are rated according to size, with lower ratings corresponding to larger sizes. A simple household extension cord for a lamp might have 16-gauge wire. An outdoor cord may have 14-gauge wire. Heavy-duty cords are usually 12-gauge. It is a good idea to plug things in directly to the socket or to a surge protector whenever possible; when an extension cord is necessary, make sure that it is large enough to handle the electrical load it is going to carry. In general, in those circumstances where use of an extension cord is unavoidable, employ one that is heavier than the wires already attached to the appliance.

Also, whenever using power tools or similar equipment on long extension cords, be aware that the longer the cord the more power that is lost en route. This phenomenon, called voltage drop, is much less pronounced in heavier wires. Whenever you use an inadequate cord, you run the risk of damaging the appliance or causing the wires to overheat and become a fire hazard.

When extension cords, appliance wires and outlets are incompatible, people often use adapters to make things fit. Most commonly, people have a three-prong plug and a two-prong outlet. The third prong is the ground, and it offers important safety advantages. A much better long-run solution is to have an electrician replace your 2-prong outlets with properly grounded three-prong outlets. Heavy-duty appliances have plug configurations that are unique. Never use an adapter to fit these into more standard outlets.

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