Good, Better, Best; Which Extension Cord Should I Buy??
With so many brands, colors, lengths, jackets, gauges, and stores it is hard to determine which extension cord to buy. Not only are there so many choices but there are many factors to consider when buying an extension cord.
- You need to think of what you are using the extension cord for, what environment the cord will be in,
- What the electrical specifications are for the item you are trying to bring power to,
- How far away from the outlet the device is,
- How many times are you going to be using the device, or
- Are you going to have multiple devices hooked up to the cord at one time?? With all these things to think about one person could start to have decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is when you have so many decisions to make that halfway through you give up because you just feel overwhelmed. In this scenario, that could mean by the end of trying to pick the perfect cord for the application, you just grab the most expensive, longest one thinking that is the BEST one, OR worse you buy something that you think is good enough but won’t power the device you are buying the cord for because you grabbed the closest extension cord to you and split. If you are like me and suffer from decision fatigue, I am going to make extension cord decision buying easy for you as it applies to general everyday extension cord use.
All brands are not created equal, some brands try to get away with using the minimum materials inside their cords. As a brand, Prime is seen as a “contractors” cord, Prime prides themselves on durability and building their cords to high quality standards. All extension cords are built, tested and certified at the same UL standards. Please make sure the cord you pick to purchase has an ETL or UL logo on the front of the package or stamped on the product, this is the seal of approval from the testing agencies that test to the UL standards. If you are in Canada you would look for the cETLus or cULus.
To determine the best size extension cord for outdoor use I always think of Goldie Locks and the three bears. This is because a 25ft extension cord is typically too short for applications at my house by the time I plug it in at the back of my garage and pull in thru to the front. A 100ft extension cord is typically too long and I end up tripping over the excess cord. However, a 50ft extension cord is just right giving me plenty of room to work outside without tripping or pulling the cord out of the wall.
Indoor use extension cords are generally smaller in length because they are usually used in the same room the device is in and there are plugs on almost every wall in the room. Also most at home appliances come equipped with a 6ft cord. At this time the only thing I have an indoor extension cord for is my laptop. This is because I usually like to have space to move from the couch to a chair if I am working and my battery is low. The cord I use is a 9ft extension cord so that gives me a total 15ft to move around which is plenty. For general indoor use a 6ft-9ft extension cord is perfect.
The “jacket” of the cord refers to the outer sleeve that protects the wires inside. What is the outer jacket made of? There are several different jacket types for outdoor and indoor use SJT, SJTW, SPT, STW, SJEOW, HPN, etc. Each of these jacket types are used for specific conditions and are part of what makes a cord good, better and best. For example, a rubber jacketed (SJOOW, SJEOW, etc.) extension cord is more flexible in higher and lower temperatures making the jacket material the best for extreme temperatures and would typically cost more. However, since we are speaking general application not specific conditions or specific applications I would chose SJTW for outdoor and SPT for indoor. I would choose an SJTW jacket material for the outdoor cord because it is the most generally used outdoor jacket. SJTW jacket material is weatherproof, rated for outdoor use, 300V insulation type, made of PVC (vinyl) thermoplastic and it is abrasion resistant so it won’t break through the jacket when dragging it across the floor. No fuss, no muss, just good all-around jacket. For your information if you don’t see a W in a jacket type then that means it is not for outdoor use. As for indoor use jacket material I would go with the good old SPT jacket. The SPT jacket is a parallel construction, usually insulated and used in products such as household extension cords, air conditioner cords and low voltage landscape cable, made of PVC (vinyl) thermoplastic and is a flat wire so it tends to lay nicely behind tables, chairs, couches, etc.
The gauge of a cord represents the cord thickness and how much copper is used as a conductor. The higher the number (16) the thinner the wire or cord will be. So a 10 gauge cord is much thicker than a 16 gauge cord. This is where things get tricky because wire gauge determines the amount of power delivery a device will get. This is another area that defines a good, better and best extension cord. A 16 AWG extension cord will drop from 13 amps to 10 amps after 50ft., a 14 AWG extension cord will drop from 15 amps to 13 amps after 50ft, a 12 AWG extension cord does not drop in amperage from 50ft. to 100ft. Do as you can see a 12 AWG cord would be the best in this category. However since we are speaking in general use terms I would recommend getting a 14/3 cord since my recommended length is 50ft this will still pull 15amps of power. Most indoor cords are 16AWG so any 16/3 AWG indoor cord will be fine to power the majority of indoor items. The 3 in the 14/3 is the number of conducting wires or as I think of the as the prong denotation of the cord ends. Some devices have two prongs and some have three prongs. It is better to have a cord that can receive three prong items because a two prong can still be received in the end. This is another reason I chose 14/3 for outdoor & 16/3 for indoor for my recommended gauges.
This should be a no brainer and go without saying but I am going to say it anyway buy an extension cord that has a three prong receptacle. Buying an extension cord that has three receiving outlets turns the wall outlet you plugged the cord into to a three outlet, allowing you to hook more devices up where you are working. Having the three outlets will save you the time of finding another cord and money of buying more cords.
There are a variety of excellent “general” purpose outdoor cords, but if in doubt we’d recommend buying a Prime branded 14/3 or 12/3 50ft. SJTW three prong extension cord. The best general indoor extension cord to buy is a Prime branded 6ft or 9ft 16/3 SPT-3 three outlet. Colors and prices are up to your budgets and preference. As a reminder my recommendations here are for general use extension cords. Sometimes you may need bigger or shorter cords, some with more or less power and some where you just want it to blend into the environment, the choice is always yours. You do you! Just make sure it will power what you need it to.