Fires Caused by Extension Cords
Extension cords directly caused approximately 1,540 noncontained residential fires in the United States between 2003 and 2007, according to a 2010 National Fire Protection Association report. Causing more than $58 million in property damage, the fires killed 88 people and injured 98. The report noted that 570 of the fires started in a bedroom. Many residents were using extension cords as a permanent alternative to adding outlets.
Each extension cord has a rating. Keep the total number of watts in use on the cord below the cord’s rating. Avoid connecting multiple sets of extension cords together for extra length or to plug in more items. You are likely to overload the circuit and cause a fire. Also keep in mind that power loss begins after 100 feet. This causes strain on your products. Running the cord under furniture or rugs heats it up and adds to the overload. It raises your fire risk substantially.
Using an appliance on an extension cord not rated for one is likely to start a fire. Use an appliance extension cord for a small appliance and unplug it when not in use. Extension cords are also rated for indoor or outdoor use. Using an indoor extension cord outside raises your risks of fire or electrocution. Use heavy-duty extension cords for electric tools.
Loose, pinched or pierced wire insulation is one of the top causes of arc faults. An arc fault is arcing or sparking between two wires. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, conventional circuit breakers and fuses are unable to protect against erratic currents such as arc faults.
Arc faults often occur in an extension cord when furniture sits on it, a nail or other sharp object pierces it or an animal bites it. Other sources of arc faults include overheated wires, loose connections and damaged units plugged into the extension cord. Discard old extension cords that may suffer cracked wire insulation stemming from age, heat, corrosion or bending stress.
Avoid running extension cords under doors where people, especially children, trip on them. The cord pulls on the plug in the socket, causing damage. Heavy tugs result in damage to the wiring in the wall. Loosely roll extension cords the way you would a garden hose. This prevents kinking during storage. Avoid using rubber bands. They are too constricting and may pinch the insulation. Use specialty Velcro straps, zip ties or loose wire ties. Store extension cords in a cool, dry area. If a cord becomes cracked or dry, discard it. Use clear plastic covers on unused slots. Spills, dirt and other debris lead to corrosion.
- The Electrical Safety Foundation International: Know the Dangers in Your Home
- National Fire Protection Association: Risk Watch Electrical Safety Lesson Plans
- National Fire Protection Association; Home Electrical Fires; John R. Hall; May 2010
- National Fire Protection Association; Educational Messages; 2011