You see it every year: As temperatures climb, air conditioners begin their migration to window-ledge berths. And like the crush of Fourth of July traffic overwhelming a narrow beach road, the power demands from these high-wattage appliances can put too much strain on skinny extension cords.

In 2002 alone, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that improper use of extension cords caused about 900 fire-related visits to emergency rooms. To be safe, Underwriters Laboratory, the independent testing organization, recommends using 10-gauge extension cords; thinner 16- or 18-gauge cords like the ones you get at the supermarket can become overburdened and spark fires.

Additional safety protection is on the way. Air-conditioner manufacturers agreed last summer to equip the plugs of all new units with either arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) or leakage current detection interrupters (LCDIs), both of which cause the units to shut down in the event of a blackout or short circuit. So keep cool, and breathe easier.
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