If you were compiling the world’s top 10 to 100 best inventions, extension cords, while underrated, would probably be in the upper half of your list. Hands down, extension cords are one of the most convenient items in any household. Phone chargers, laptop or desktop computer chargers, lamps, speakers – maybe more – all in one place? Sounds fantastic. However, this winter, the Umatilla County Fire District in Oregon and other fire departments have issues public service announcements, cautioning against one extension cord mistake you should never make.
The One Extension Cord (Power Strip) Mistake You Should Never Make in Your House
Most people who use an extension cord or power strip are under the assumption that they’re using a surge protector. Contrary to popular belief, surge protectors do exactly that – protect – by automatically cutting the power off when it overloads and experiences a power spike. According to Minnesota tech company, Emerson Technologies, there are a few causes for power spikes:
- Lightning strikes (however unlikely)
- Power outages
- Tripped circuit breakers
- Short circuits
- Too many or incorrect devices plugged into an extension cord/power strip
Should a power spike occur and your devices are plugged into a power strip rather than a surge protector, they can become damaged. Or worse, cause electrical fires that damage your home. And that is exactly what fire departments are warning the public about…
Just because an extension cord or power strip has bunch of extra sockets, it cannot necessarily handle every one being used simultaneously. In January 2016, Cincinnati Fire Captain Maurice Vassar highlighted this urgent fact after an extension cord had caused a house fire.
“Really, extension cords are meant for temporary use. They’re not meant to replace permanent wiring. So, if you have a situation where you’ve got an extension cord and you’ve got it taped to the wall or stapled to the floor, you want to call an electrician and have them put in another outlet.”
Using Extension Cords or Power Strips and Space Heaters in the Winter
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With all the frigid air people face during the winter months, their initial reaction is to turn up the heat. A lot of the time, many people dig up their space heaters and place them throughout the house for added warmth and comfort. But a space heater can pose a dangerous risk to your life and home because power spikes can occur even if it’s the only device plugged into an extension cord.
A year later, the Umatilla, Oregon fire department echoed Vassar’s warning on their Facebook page after a small extension cord fire at their own fire station! (Pictured above.)
“The weather is getting colder, and people are pulling out their space heaters. We just wanted to remind you that you should NEVER plug a heater into a power strip. These units are not designed to handle the high current flow needed for a space heater and can overheat or even catch fire due to the added energy flow. Please share and stay safe this Winter season.”
How to Prevent Power Spikes and Fires: Extension Cord Safety
Did you know that half of all heating-related house fires occur in the months of December, January, and February? According to the National Safety Fire Administration, between 2011 and 2015, heating equipment was the cause of over 54,000 house fires, 480 civilian deaths, 1,470 injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage. Those numbers may seem small or insignificant in the grand scheme, but you can never be too careful.
13 Power Strip and Extension Cord Safety Tips to Prevent Electrical Fires
Extension cord safety can be the difference between a happy home and a burned one. If used improperly, they can overheat and cause fires. So, please keep these important tips in mind to protect your home and workplace, courtesy of the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI).
- Don’t attempt to plug extension cords into one another
- Make sure extension cords are properly rated for their intended use, indoor or outdoor, and meet or exceed the power needs of the device being used
- Keep all outdoor extension cords clear of snow and standing water
- Do not overload extension cords
- Heavy reliance on extension cords suggests you do not have enough outlets to support your needs, get more installed
- Inspect cords for damage before use by looking for cracked or frayed sockets, loose or bare wires, and loose connections
- Do not nail or staple extension cords to walls or baseboards
- Do not run extension cords through walls, doorways, ceilings, or floors because covered cords don’t allow heat to escape effectively, thus increasing fire risk
- Never use three-prong plugs with outlets that only have two slots
- Never cut off the ground pin to force a fit, which could lead to electric shock
- Buy only cords that have been approved by an independent testing laboratory
- Do not substitute extension cords for permanent wiring – they are merely temporary
- Do not use an extension cord or power strip with heaters or fans, which could cause cords to overheat and result in a fire
 Power Strip vs. Surge Protector. (2010, January 28). Retrieved January 09, 2018, from http://www.emersontech.net/2010/01/28/power-strip-vs-surge-protector/
 WCPO. (2016, January 29). Beware fire risk from extension cords. Retrieved January 09, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpu6mnstomQ
 Umatilla County Fire District #1. (n.d.). Retrieved January 09, 2018, from https://www.facebook.com/Fire.District.One/posts/2236108459748280
 Heating. (n.d.). Retrieved January 09, 2018, from https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/By-topic/Top-causes-of-fire/Heating
 ESFI: Reaching to Safety – Use Extension Cords Properly. (n.d.). Retrieved January 09, 2018, from http://www.esfi.org/resource/reaching-to-safety-use-extension-cords-properly-542?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI5YODtaPL2AIVh7rACh0frAaZEAMYASAAEgLlqvD_BwE
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