When you need to use appliances and tools in an area far away from power sources, an extension cord is handy to have. In this article, we discuss our top ten outdoor extension cord picks and break down the factors you need to consider when purchasing one.
The Important Features that an Outdoor Extension Cord Should Have
The first thing to look for in an extension cord is its length. The cord you purchase should be long enough to meet your needs. If you have outdoor projects, you should ensure that it will reach all the way to where the job has to be done. However, you shouldn’t buy a cord just because it’s long. With every foot added, electrical resistance increases. This means that a longer cord will deliver less power to the device in which it is connected.
Number of Outlets:
It’s ideal if a cord has more than one outlet. While there is a risk of overloading, running multiple appliances or tools simultaneously can be helpful. Keep in mind that you should plan multiple-use sessions to ensure that when combined they don’t need more power than your cord can handle safely.
The first thing to look for when considering the safety of a cord is whether it has a UL (Underwriters Laboratories) or ETL (Intertek) certificate. When it has one of these, it means that an independent testing agency reviewed and determined that the cord is safe for its designated purpose.
Besides the certification type, there are several other safety features that cords can have. Brightly colored cords improve visibility in instances where they could be a tripping hazard or get caught up in tools. Another safety feature is a lit plug. This clearly indicates when power is running through the it. When you’re purchasing an outdoor extension cord, look for one that is thick and has a durable jacket cover. Also, remember never to use an indoor cord outside since ones designed for indoor use lack the three-pronged grounded plug, which provides additional safety for outdoor use.
Two things influence the maximum load of an extension cord- its gauge and length. The gauge (also known as the AWG) is the US standard diameter measure of non-ferrous electrical conductors. The gauge number of a cord refers to the number of gauge wires that it contains. A lower gauge number indicates thicker wires which can carry more electricity. The second influence comes from cord length. Voltage drops as the length of a cord increases, leading to longer extension cords having lower capacities than shorter ones. This is the case even when their gauge numbers are the same. For heavy-duty sessions, a 12 gauge wire is ideal. You need to check the power rating of the cord you’d like to purchase, since this will determine with what types of appliances it can be used. If you overload a cord and it gets hot, it can catch on fire or melt. Your appliance and tool manuals will generally state which power rating it needs, so check these before purchasing a cord.
When you’re planning to use a cord outdoors, you need to ensure that it’s weatherproof. The best choice will be one that can last in direct sunlight, is water-resistant, and can cope with temperature changes.
If an outdoor cord isn’t tough, it won’t last! Extension cords with a thick, rugged coating will better withstand damage from gravel, stones and being walked on. Bonus features include molded plugs and reinforced blades. Both improve durability and resistance to wear and tear.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I determine if an extension cord is suitable for outdoor use?
Besides the packaging indicating whether outdoor use is safe or not, there are other indicators as well. If there’s a “W” on the cord or packaging, it’s weatherproof. Three-way pronged plugs also indicate outdoor safety. Heavy, brightly colored cord jackets indicate suitable insulation for protection against moisture, sun light, and any temperature fluctuations.
Can an outdoor cord be left outside?
While leaving cables outside for more than a few days is not recommended, doing so overnight won’t necessarily destroy it. Extension cords are designed for temporary power supply, and leaving them outside too long can cause their protective coating to degenerate.
When this happens, sparking can occur, and there’s also a risk for electric fires and shocks. Damage from extended outdoor exposure can shorten your cable’s life. If you need a constant outdoor power supply, it’s best to seek a permanent solution.
After use, you should unplug your appliances or tools, coil your cable to avoid kinks and twists, and hang it in a dry, indoor space. Before using it again, check the cable for any damage.
How well do outdoor cables handle wetness?
Even though outdoor extension cords are weatherproof, protecting them from water is a good idea. You can reduce the risk of electric shock by installing a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter), which acts as a circuit breaker when it detects that the cable is running through water. The cable will be shut off.
Which size gauge is considered the best?
The gauge of a wire determines how much power it can carry. Light-duty cables are usually 16 gauge and should ideally be used for smaller appliances or tools like hedge trimmers, outdoor string lights, and portable box fans. Medium-duty cables are 14 gauge and suitable for drills, lawnmowers, and table saws. The voltage drop after that makes cables less powerful, and appliances like fans and lights can be run with it. Heavy-duty cables are 12 gauge, and big tools like chainsaws or circular saws can be used with them. When it comes to cable buying, the rule of thumb is to purchase a higher gauge wire that you think you’ll need.