Extension Cords 101: Sizing, Safety Do’s & Don'ts, and More [VIDEO]
When the cord on your equipment doesn’t quite reach the outlet, extension cords offer a way for you to work beyond the equipment’s standard power cord length.
Extension cords provide electric power to a device, or in this case, piece of janitorial cleaning equipment when its own power cord does not reach an electrical outlet. Extension cords enable staff to work beyond the machine’s typical reach for improved productivity.
Without extension cords, your staff would have to transfer your equipment’s cord to a new outlet more frequently, reducing productivity and increasing overall cleaning times. But if they are not used with the proper precautions, they can be extremely dangerous.
They can overheat, posing fire hazards. Overheating is usually caused by overloading or connecting equipment that needs more power than the cord can handle. Overheating can occur at the plug, at the socket, or even over the entire length of the cord, causing the cord to melt. Using damaged extension cords can also lead to fires. In addition to increased risk of building fires, overheated and/or damaged cords can burn or injure employees.
Additionally, extension cords are a trip hazard for building occupants. People’s feet can get entangled in them causing them to fall.
The best way to reduce the risk associated with extension cords is properly sizing, using, and storing them.
There are numerous types and sizes of electrical cords. Some are meant exclusively for indoor use while others can be used indoors or outdoors. There are also several different extension cord gauges and lengths.
Choosing the right extension cord for industrial cleaning equipment begins with knowing how an extension cord works and what makes each type of extension cord unique.
Below, we’ll provide you with a guide, inclusive of the key things you need to know about different extension cord types, amperages, lengths and how to make sure you are using the best one for your equipment.
First, how does an extension cord work?
The standard 120-volt outlet has three slots, two rectangular on the top and one round on the bottom. The left slot is slightly larger than the right. The left slot is called the "neutral" slot. On the right, the smaller slot is called the "hot" slot.
The circular hole below is the “ground.” When you plug your equipment in, these three slots create a circuit. Electricity flows into the extension cord through the “hot” slot on the right, powers the piece of equipment, and then exits through the “neutral” slot. The ground slot protects the operator and others in the area from getting shocked if there is a short circuit within the machine or the cord.
One of the most common safety hazards of electrical cords is trying to use them without the ground on the plug. Extension cords should never be used if they are missing the ground plug on the cord.
The ground plug must be intact so that the machine is grounded safely; otherwise the operator is at risk of electrical shock.
So, are extension cords safe to use?
Yes, when used correctly electrical cords are safe. As mentioned, there is a risk of electrical shock when working with extension cords and corded-electric equipment. However this can be avoided with the use of the right extension cord and proper safety protocols.
Additional safety tips include:
- Always choose the right size extension cord
- Never use indoor extension cords outdoors
- Check that you have the correct gauge cord
- Do not use frayed, cut, or worn cords
- Never use a wet extension cord
In addition to risking worker and occupant safety, these extension cord safety violations can be costly to your business. OSHA has stringent guidelines on the use of electrical cords, and if not followed you can be fined upwards of $1,000 or more for each violation.
How to Select The Right Extension Cord
Electrical extension cords come in different types, lengths, and sizes. The two most important factors that determine a cord's compatibility with your equipment are:
- Wire Gauge Thickness: The thickness of the wire affects how much current the wire can carry and how much the wire heats up.
- Extension Cord Length: The length of the extension cord affects power output and load capacity.
What gauge extension cord do I need?
Amperage is how much power (or amps) a cord is made to handle. Extension cords have an AWG (American wire gauge) rating. This rating is a standardized wire gauge system for measuring electrical wire.
In general, the lower the AWG number, the thicker and higher capacity the cord.
Using the incorrect gauge electrical cord can cause equipment or outlet overheating.
To select the right size gauge cord for your equipment, first identify the gauge on your equipment’s power cord. This is typically engraved on the cord. Once you have identified the gauge of the cord on your equipment, you will need an extension cord that is at least one grade lower. One grade lower will mean that the extension cord is thicker and will be able to provide adequate power to your machine. In some cases, you may need to choose an even lower gauge.
For example, many burnishers have a 14 gauge cord and will require a 12 gauge electrical extension cord. The 12 gauge electrical extension cord will allow the electricity to flow freely for longer distances.
What size extension cord do I need?
The capacity of the cord to power the equipment will also be affected by the length of the extension cord. The longer the extension cord, the farther the power has to travel. Increased length decreases the total amps getting to the machine, creating strain on the outlet and the machine.
You should use the shortest extension cord possible that will reach where the operator is trying to go.
In most cases, the extension cord should never be the same length as the power cord. Extension cords have resistance. Longer wires mean more resistance and less power getting through to your equipment. Extension cords that do not provide adequate power will starve your machine of the correct amount of electricity. Longer extension cords will decrease the life of the motor on your equipment, as it causes them to work much harder to draw the electricity to the unit.
So, if your equipment requires 15 amps, it must get 15 amps. To properly size an extension cord so your equipment is getting enough power, consider the distance you will run the cord and the amps that your equipment needs to run (found on cord).
In general, according to ESFI (Electrical Safety Foundation International), the cord length and amp limits by length are as follows:
When using 25 - 50 feet extension cords, you’ll need a:
- 16 Gauge for 1-13 Amps
- 14 Gauge for 14-15 Amps
- 12-10 Gauge for 16-20 Amps
When using 100 feet extension cords, you'll need a:
- 16 Gauge for 1-10 Amps
- 14 Gauge for 11-13 Amps
- 12 Gauge for 14-15 Amps
- 10 Gauge for 16-20 Amps
When using 150 feet extension cords, you’ll need a:
- 14 Gauge for 1-7 Amps
- 12 Gauge for 8-10 Amps
- 10 Gauge for 11-15 Amps
How to store extension cords?
Without proper storage cords become damaged and ineffective over time. One of the most common problems is that the cords “pig-tail” or become curly.
This happens for two reasons, one being improper storage. Extension cords, curl up when the user wraps the cord improperly. Many operators use their arm to wrap the cord. This wrapping motion puts a curl in the cord every time the cord is wrapped between the elbow and hand. So, in some cases the cord could be curled 20 times on one complete wrap.
The second reason cord’s curl is because during use they are continually run over and mismanaged.
Extension cords should be kept out of the cleaning path and stored properly.
If your extension cord is curled, it should be replaced.
How to wrap an extension cord?
Start by holding the cord in one hand and go a full arm’s length with the cord. Once you reach a full arm's length, bring the cord back around to the holding hand. This creates large loops, helping to minimize curls and cord damage.
Pro Tip: Many machines come with a cord hook. Utilizing this feature extends the loop of the cord, helping to limit cord damage.
Extension cords allow you to operate equipment farther away from an outlet, for increased cleaning coverage and improved worker productivity.
Before using an extension cord, make sure you know the current gauge cord on your equipment.
Take note of the safety precautions, and always pair your machine with the right gauge and length cord.
EBP has been the leading provider of commercial cleaning products and janitorial cleaning equipment for over 100 years.
We offer a large selection of commercial cleaning products and janitorial cleaning equipment, including a range of extension cords.
Visit our shop site to view our product offering.