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Old 12-19-2008, 05:38 AM   #1
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Extension Cord Safety


Hi all;
It's Christmas time. Lots of colorful lights for all to enjoy, and lots of... extension cords.
When I see how many people use extension cords, I want to start a campaign to improve their safety.
With all of the fires that have been started by improper use of extension cords, I am troubled by the lack of better regulations on their manufacture.

We all know that the consumer will do what is most convenient for him or her. Most people don't understand enough about electricity to realize that the small cord that is OK for Christmas lights or a video game won't do the job for powering a heater or vacuum cleaner. It is difficult for me (well educated in the field of electricity) to comprehend how little most consumers know about what makes all of our favorite tools and toys work.

I have read that all UL listed cords are now required to use 16 AWG or larger wire. That's a great improvement already!
However, I think that two more additions could reduce the number of fires caused by extension cords.

1) All cords should be protected by a circuit breaker (at the plug end), which is rated according to the cord's ampacity.
2) Cords should have better insulation, to prevent damage caused by the abuse many of these cords receive. Insulation rated to 90C would be a start, but also adding a layer of some kind of abrasion resistant materail would help too.

I have read that many injuries are to children who put the (live) cords into their mouths. Probably not even a GFCI would protect a child from shock in this case, since the child is probably sitting on a non-conductive surface and not contacting a ground.
Better supervision and general safety practices are what is needed to prevent these injuries.

Other injuries occur when people trip over extension cords (or over-stretched appliance cords).
That is why the NEC requires a receptacle for every 2m (6 ft) of wall space. But unfortunately, many homes were built (and wired) before this rule was implimented, so there still aren't enough receptacles to eliminate the use of extension cords.

I have always believed in what many others have said: The best defense against accidents is education.
Whether it be TV ads, better labeling, or a school program, education will always be our best defense in protecting people from themselves.

What do you think?

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Old 12-19-2008, 07:00 AM   #2
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Extension Cord Safety


Yeah, I'm totally for 25 foot extension cords that cost $150.

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Old 12-19-2008, 07:40 AM   #3
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Yeah, I'm totally for 25 foot extension cords that cost $150.
Do you think that adding a circuit overload protection device is going to increase the cost so much?
Not to say that I am taking your figure of $125 seriously, but honestly; what do you think a circuit breaker integrated into the plug would cost?
If they're made in China<g>?
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Old 12-19-2008, 07:53 AM   #4
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Extension Cord Safety


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Originally Posted by KE2KB View Post
Do you think that adding a circuit overload protection device is going to increase the cost so much?
Not to say that I am taking your figure of $125 seriously, but honestly; what do you think a circuit breaker integrated into the plug would cost?
If they're made in China<g>?
You said you wanted built in circuit breakers, GFCIs, anti-abrasion sheathing, etc...

It is important to note that a power strip that has a circuit breaker is allowed to be installed semi-permanently like under a computer. Mostly because there's really no other way to deal with the large amount of outlets needed for a typical computer installation otherwise.
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Old 12-19-2008, 08:33 AM   #5
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Extension Cord Safety


Good post!

Funny/sad thing is that I see more unsafe use of extension cords and the use of unsafe cords themselves on construction sites than I see in peoples' homes!

My favorite is the romex extension cords that are all too common in residential construction. Sitting in water, sitting in mud, getting ran over by 50 trucks each day! 9 out of 10 times they're ran to the temporary electric service at the back of the lot and the wires are stabbed into the receptacle's plugs. AND THE ELECTRICIANS ARE THE ONES THAT MAKE THEM!
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Old 12-19-2008, 09:13 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Gigs View Post
You said you wanted built in circuit breakers, GFCIs, anti-abrasion sheathing, etc...

It is important to note that a power strip that has a circuit breaker is allowed to be installed semi-permanently like under a computer. Mostly because there's really no other way to deal with the large amount of outlets needed for a typical computer installation otherwise.
Did I say anyting about GFCI's? I can't find that in my post. Maybe you were reading my mind, because I was going to write that, but realized it would be a bit much.

I guess the insulation improvement would really up the cost, but a simple circuit breaker?

Perhaps the last paragraph of my post is the most realistic: Education!
Get the consumer to understand why they cannot use a 16 AWG cord to power the toaster, and the microwave, or why they shouldn't be using extension cords as permanent wiring.

Edit: Oh, there it is. I did mention GFCI when talking about the children who stick the receptacles in their mouths. I wasn't suggesting that a GFCI be installed, I was just noting that even if the cord were protected by a GFCI breaker or receptacle, it probably wouldn't prevent that kind of accident. Sorry if I was misleading.
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Old 12-19-2008, 09:21 AM   #7
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That UL requirement you mentioned, does it apply to IEC equipment cables too? I know a lot of computer cables are only 18 AWG... and with computers these days that can pull 1000 watts... it's a potential issue.
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Old 12-19-2008, 09:55 AM   #8
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Quote:
Good post!

Funny/sad thing is that I see more unsafe use of extension cords and the use of unsafe cords themselves on construction sites than I see in peoples' homes!

My favorite is the romex extension cords that are all too common in residential construction. Sitting in water, sitting in mud, getting ran over by 50 trucks each day! 9 out of 10 times they're ran to the temporary electric service at the back of the lot and the wires are stabbed into the receptacle's plugs. AND THE ELECTRICIANS ARE THE ONES THAT MAKE THEM!
I agree, but in another way I don't. There is something to be said of the quality of a professional jury rig as opposed to a completely ignorant DIY rig. I have been on jobs where it was understood who did the electrical rigging. In other words, when the electrician stabs some 12-2 into a duplex and secures the cable to the pole, it is understood that the guy who buffs the floors is in no way to take the cover off the TPO and wire his cord to the main lugs.

If you are only there for a day, and need power for some special equipment, come to me and I will make it happen. You will get your butt chewed if I catch you digging in my panel. And that goes for anyone. I have crawled up more than one GC for doing it as well.

I do not necessarily think it wrong to rig a piece of romex up for a couple of hours in order to hot check a building. But I do think it quite dangerous and frankly stupid to pull the carpet up to run an extension cord under it.

Maybe the Brits have it right. Their receptacle outlets are required to be switched at the outlet, and fused. Their cords are also required to have a fuse in the plug.
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Old 12-19-2008, 10:40 AM   #9
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Here in northwest Iowa there have been alot of fires recently, fire investigators found modified cords, miswired receptacles, extension cords used in walls, etc. I don't think we will ever stop fires from happening, some people will just hack things up. We can at least prevent them from happening to people who aren't hacks, but just don't know.
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Old 12-19-2008, 10:49 AM   #10
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Maybe the Brits have it right. Their receptacle outlets are required to be switched at the outlet, and fused. Their cords are also required to have a fuse in the plug.
And also no DIY is ever allowed to do any electrical work. This forum wouldn't even exist if we did it their way.
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Old 12-19-2008, 10:52 AM   #11
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And also no DIY is ever allowed to do any electrical work. This forum wouldn't even exist if we did it their way.
I never said get rid of DIY, but it wouldn't hurt to have a local disconnect and fuse at each receptacle.
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Old 12-19-2008, 01:54 PM   #12
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That UL requirement you mentioned, does it apply to IEC equipment cables too? I know a lot of computer cables are only 18 AWG... and with computers these days that can pull 1000 watts... it's a potential issue.
I can't say for sure, but I would suspect not, since each OEM has his own specifications, and should only be required to provide power for that equipment. I would hope that a computer system that is spec'd to draw up to 1kW would use at least a 16 AWG cord.
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Old 12-19-2008, 03:23 PM   #13
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I can't say for sure, but I would suspect not, since each OEM has his own specifications, and should only be required to provide power for that equipment. I would hope that a computer system that is spec'd to draw up to 1kW would use at least a 16 AWG cord.
Ive seen them, My 600watt psu came with a 16 awg. My 1600 watt psu came with a 14 awg cord with a circuit breaker in it, only allowing 1200watt, and a cord with a 20 amp plug, 12 awg cord, no breaker in it, for the full 1600 watt.

Space heaters have 105c cords sized to 16awg. Manufactuers sell cords called "heavy duty" most of them have just more insulation.

Extension cords should have breakers on them, what if you plugged a 16 awg extension cord in to a 20 amp circuit and put a load of 20 amps...10 amps more than the rated ampacity.
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Old 12-19-2008, 04:22 PM   #14
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Ive seen them, My 600watt psu came with a 16 awg. My 1600 watt psu came with a 14 awg cord with a circuit breaker in it, only allowing 1200watt, and a cord with a 20 amp plug, 12 awg cord, no breaker in it, for the full 1600 watt.

Space heaters have 105c cords sized to 16awg. Manufactuers sell cords called "heavy duty" most of them have just more insulation.

Extension cords should have breakers on them, what if you plugged a 16 awg extension cord in to a 20 amp circuit and put a load of 20 amps...10 amps more than the rated ampacity.
Just curious; What all does your computer have that it needs a 1600 W PSU?
Are you a really serious gamer, or are you a member of that Sweedish (or whatever) team that is looking for the "God particle" with their super-accelerator?
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Old 12-19-2008, 05:51 PM   #15
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Just curious; What all does your computer have that it needs a 1600 W PSU?
Are you a really serious gamer, or are you a member of that Sweedish (or whatever) team that is looking for the "God particle" with their super-accelerator?

I game all of the time, a 1200 watt would probably work with what I've got, but I want some room for more things. Right now I have an Intel qx9650, 2 Nvidia 9800gx2s, 2 cd/dvd burners, 1 320gb 10k hdd, 500gb 7200rpm hdd, 40gb 7200rpm, Nvidia 790i ultra sli mobo. I might oc in the future. I also liked the "modular" design of the psu.

I mainly use my computer for gaming.

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