Choosing an extension cord

Sam Bauman reports on Choosing the right extension cord in the Nevada Appeal (05jl30). Hot weather and air conditioners were the stimulus.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that about 4,700 residential fires originate in extension cords each year, killing 50 people and injuring some 280 others. You don’t want to be part of that statistic.

There are things to consider in selecting an extension cord that should not be overlooked. The length and guage will depend upon the total electrical load you put on the end of it. Smaller guage and shorter cords carry larger loads. The typical RV camper feed is 30′ of ten guage which is good for about 3,000 watts.

Cords should be unplugged and stored when not in use. Keep them out of sun and weather. Don’t use any cord that is frayed, has loose connectors, or shows other signs of wear and tear. Avoid any ‘adapting’ to get a cord to plug in on either end. Don’t kink cords. Cords in use should not be coiled up tightly – they may need cooling so try to use just enough cord for the current need and lay any excess cord under your trailer, Try to place your cord so people won’t trip over it and allow some ‘expansion’ length so if someone does catch it, they have a chance to stop before pulling it out of the wall or hitting a hard stop.

In Air Conditioning weather, RV parks will often have trouble keeping up the supply. The result is lower voltages being fed to RV’s. This is hard on air conditioner compressors. If the voltage at your rig gets below 110 volts, you need to shed load – turn off the air conditioner. There are things called autoformers that will help keep the voltage up but you need to remember that lower voltage input means higher currents, more ‘things’ in the line means more losses, and all of this means more stress on the system.

After low voltages, the other common problem is fried plugs. Sometimes the connections in the park pedestal or your power cord get loose or dirt gets in the connections or wear and tear frays internal parts. When this happens, it is hard for electricity to get through the connection. That causes heat. Sometimes the situation is bad enough to melt connectors. Sometimes it can even cause fires. So make sure your connections are solid. When you plug your cord into the outlet it should be firm and tight. Make sure the cord does not pull on the connection. When running big loads (the air conditioner) check to make sure the plugs aren’t getting hot (warm is usually OK).

Big cords make things safer but can be bulky and heavy. A bit of consideration about your needs can help you choose extension cords to suit your needs or help you adapt your needs to work safely within the limits of your equipment.

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