Proper Use of Extension Cords

Proper use means longer life for power tools, and less fire hazard

Using proper extension cords with power tools during any remodel or maintenance project, is not only a smart thing to do, but a safe one as well.

It's Smart, Because........

Using an extension cords with the correct ampacity (the abilty to safely handle a certain amount of current) rating, should match, or be able to adequately handle, the amperage rated for the power tool itself. Many power tools are rated at 15 amps. The correct cord to use, for example, would be a #14 gauge.

Use the following guide when matching power tools with the proper extension cord(according to number of amps):

  • #14 gauge (thickness) can safely carry 15 amps

  • #12 gauge can safely carry 20 amps

  • #10 gauge can safely carry 30 amps

    Here's a good rule of thumb. The higher the number (gauge), the smaller the wire (in thickness)

    And it's Safe, Because ...

    Using the correct gauge cord for a specific amperage will result in unimpeded flow (resistance) of current through the cord itself. This, in effect, keeps the cord and tool from overheating.

    If resistance was introduced at any point, such as using a #16 gauge cord with a tool rated at 15 amps, the cord, and the tool will begin to overheat. This is the point at which a fire breaking out is possible.

    Important items to remember:

  • The smaller the gauge, the more resistance (to the flow of current). Thus, if you have something with too many amps and less gauge, you will overload the conductor, and possibly cause a fire.

  • The longer the length (of cord), the more resistance, due to the extra amount of cord the current has to pass through

    For efficient, safe use of extension cords, use the correct gauge cord that lets the current flow freely, and limits the amount of resistance. (Please read manufacturer's guidelines when using your power tools, and for proper use when using extension cords. It may seem tedious, but is well worth your time).

    Resistance causes three things in a circuit:

  • Limits current

  • Drops voltage

  • Produces heat, which can cause fire

    So remember:

    - Don't use a long extension cord when a short one is called for. There's simply too much cord for the current to travel through, providing higher resistance. When the need arises for a long extension, use the correct (lower number) gauge.

    - And don't connect a power tool with an improperly rated extension cord. Either, or both of these situations can result in problems for you now, and/or later.

    - Read all manufacturers labels with regard to operating procedure. Don't play around with electricity, even for just a "few minutes". It just takes a couple of seconds to do some serious harm.

    Follow the Manufacturer's Guidelines

    I've used basically the same power tools over many years because I've always followed the manufacturer's instructions, and used the correct gauge extension cord when using a certain power tool. This undoubtedly has added to the power tool's usefulness and long life.

    It's kind of like changing the oil in your car every three, or four thousand miles. You wonder if you're really doing any good, and suddenly, you realize your car has 126,000 miles on it, with no major problems or accidents to speak of.

    This is essentially what you're doing here, providing long life to your tools while maintaining a measure of safety for you and your surroundings.

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