Q&A / 

Extension Cords, Accessories & Storage Tips

Voltage drop across electrical wires is really no different than water pressure loss in your water supply lines. The electrical current encounters friction as it tries to travel great distances. This friction reduces the energy level of the electrical current. Voltage drop doesn't hurt things like light bulbs. They just burn with less intensity. However, electrical motors react differently. To offset voltage drop you simply use large gauge wires that can deliver the required power at the end of the wire run.

Mr. Ohm and His Law

A scientist, who lived in the early 1800's named George Simon Ohm, discovered an interesting mathematical relationship concerning electricity. The formula he discovered is very simple. It simply states that if you multiply volts times amps you get watts. For example, say you have 120 volts and a motor that draws 15 amps while running. 1,800 watts are used while this motor spins.

So what does this have to do with voltage drop and extension cords? I'll cut to the chase. Mathematical formulas dictate that if you adjust one value on one side of the equation up or down, you have to adjust another value on the same side so that the total stays the same.

This means that if there is a voltage drop, the amperage must go up to compensate for the voltage loss. When the amperage goes up in an electrical motor, it can cause the wires in the motor winding to overheat. This in turn causes the insulation on those wires to melt which leads to motor failure.

So if you power your new circular saw, table saw, hedge trimmer, etc. with a wimpy extension cord, you may be causing damage to the motor windings.

Flexible Cords - A Reality!

Who among use hasn't cursed those wicked orange extension cords that will not coil neatly in our hands? Older homeowners remember extension cords that were supple. The outer insulation in these black beauties had high rubber content. The vulcanized rubber made them very resistant to chemicals and allowed the cords to flex with ease in the coldest temperatures.

The advent of cheap plastics 20 years ago lead to a flood of "safety" orange poly-vinyl chloride(PVC) insulated extension cords. Sure there were some advantages to using PVC (don't ask me what they are), but those never made up for the rat's nest of tangled wire one has when the temperature drops to 20 degrees!

Fortunately, you can still buy a super high quality rubber extension cord or two. The black cord has been replaced with a brilliant amphibian green color. It is both flexible and environmental!

Extension Cord Accessories

Have you ever plugged in an extension cord, walked 100 feet and then had no power? That can be aggravating. What if I told you that you could have a cord with a built-in light at the end of the cord? The light would glow when you have power.

How about a short extension cord that has a built in circuit breaker? Or one that has a built-in safety ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) breaker? This is what is now available in cords. Many of these features were not readily available four years ago - at least not to homeowners like you and me.

You can even buy an extension cord that powers different accessories like trouble lights. Instead of buying several different lights all with different cords, why not buy one cord and then plug in the lights and other accessories into the single high quality cord? The person who thought of that should get the rest of the week off!

Storage Tips for Cords

Do you have an extension cord that is twisted and distorted? It probably has been wrapped around your hand and elbow a few times. This will really mess up a PVC cord that contains filler fibers within the cord. The filler fibers are inserted to separate the wires and give it a more round appearance. They also bind and twist if you coil the cord improperly.

The best way to wrap up a cord is to use a method similar to the way a cowboy coils a lasso rope. You hold the cord in one hand and make successive loops . You need to twist the wire as you make the loops or it will start making figure 8's in your hand.

Another handy device is a cord rewinder or retractor. You can store an extension cord without twists if you wind it up on a factory made spool or one you make yourself. This is the same way the lawn chemical companies store their spray hoses.

Another simple method of storing an extension cord is to coil it within a 5 gallon drywall bucket. Be sure to remove the joint compound first or you will have a real mess on your hands! I know, make sure I don't quit my day job to become a comedian.

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