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Tough, New Extension Cords

The right extension cord brings the plug to the project—safely

power cords
Photo by Nicholas Eveleigh
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Whether you're dusting off the heirloom ornaments to bring in the yuletide cheer or breaking out the light-up chili pepper garland for this summer's backyard fiesta, consider leaving your old extension cords in the bottom of the box. Those ratty brown wires with their cracked jackets and nonpolarized prongs may have helped you string lights from gutter to gutter for 20 years now, but you're lucky they haven't set the roof ablaze. Old cords cause about 3,300 residential fires a year, usually because they're damaged or overloaded.

New cords, though, are made tough, with outer jackets durable enough to resist water, wear, and cold weather. The best ones bear the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) seal and use 16-gauge wire or thicker. (The smaller the gauge number, the bigger the wire.) Fat 14-gauge cords can feed such hungry amp-eaters as circular saws and leaf blowers, up to 50 feet from the receptacle.

So, before you even think about blowing up that inflatable Santa— or mixing that batch of margaritas—get yourself one of these cords:
Whether you're dusting off the heirloom ornaments to bring in the yuletide cheer or breaking out the light-up chili pepper garland for this summer's backyard fiesta, consider leaving your old extension cords in the bottom of the box. Those ratty brown wires with their cracked jackets and nonpolarized prongs may have helped you string lights from gutter to gutter for 20 years now, but you're lucky they haven't set the roof ablaze. Old cords cause about 3,300 residential fires a year, usually because they're damaged or overloaded.

New cords, though, are made tough, with outer jackets durable enough to resist water, wear, and cold weather. The best ones bear the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) seal and use 16-gauge wire or thicker. (The smaller the gauge number, the bigger the wire.) Fat 14-gauge cords can feed such hungry amp-eaters as circular saws and leaf blowers, up to 50 feet from the receptacle.

So, before you even think about blowing up that inflatable Santa— or mixing that batch of margaritas—get yourself one of these cords:
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Decoding The Cord

 

Decoding The Cord

calamari cord
Photo by Nicholas Eveleigh
Calamari ConnectionReaching beyond the confines of a boxy power strip, where the receptacles are never far enough apart, Power Squid's five tentaclelike cords make plug-in access easy and protect electronics from power surges
About $27; Power Squid
That inscrutable string of letters on the packaging (SJTW, SJOW, etc.) offers critical information about the extension cord inside. Here's a quick explanation of the meanings:

AWG: American Wire Gauge. Designates wire diameter. The lower the number, the thicker the wire.

W: Withstands wet and cold conditions outdoors.

T: Thermoplastic/vinyl jacket. Inexpensive, but stiffens in cold and is more vulnerable than rubber.

E: Elastomeric rubber jacket. Resists abrasion and stays flexible in cold.

O: Oil-resistant. Safe for garage floors.

SJ: Junior Service. The cord you'll find on store shelves. Indicates a heavy-duty, rubber-insulated copper wire with a 300-volt capacity.

Limits on Length

The current-carrying capacity of an extension cord diminishes as it gets longer. For tools that draw 10 amps or less, a 16-gauge cord up to 100 feet long will suffice. But tools that use between 11 and 15 amps need at least a 14-gauge cord no more than 50 feet long. Here are sample minimum cord sizes for some common tools:

Circular saw (15 amps): 14 gauge
Reciprocating saw (13 amps): 14 gauge
Leaf blower (12 amps): 14 gauge
Chain saw (10 amps): 16 gauge
Lawn mower (8 amps): 16 gauge
 
 

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