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An extension cord can be defined as a length of the electrical power cable that has a plug on one end and one or more outlets on the other, which allows devices to be plugged in and operated at a distance.
Extension cords come in different gauges and lengths. However, not all of them are compatible with the portable generators.
To use your generator efficiently, it is essential to choose the right power cord; otherwise, there is a high chance of damaging the generator as well as the devices connected with it.
So let’s take a look at the important questions that come to mind while choosing the appropriate wiring for portable generators.
Why Do we Need Extension Cords for Generators?
Connecting devices to a portable electric generator using extension cords is simple and quick.
During a sudden power outage, they provide an immediate solution by connecting any cord-and-plug device (like a refrigerator, or window AC) to the outlet panel of the generator.
Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind the appropriate wire gauge and length of the cords before using them.
How to Choose the Right one?
While selecting an extension cord, you must know one simple thing – higher the number of Amperes drawn from the outlet, thicker is the copper wire in the extension cord i.e. it can accommodate more power.
This wire thickness is rated by the American Wire Gauge (AWG), where a lower gauge number associates to a thicker wire with more load capacity. So an AWG 10 is used for heavier appliances than a AWG 18, mainly on-site work.
It should also be noted that the length of the wire plays an important role here as well.
With an AWG 14 wire, the cord can be extended up to 65 feet for a device with a 15 Amp draw, but for the same device, an AWG 12 wire can be extended to 100 feet. [Just to remember, 15amps is usually the most common circuit capacity of the electrical outlets in your home.]
Here’s a table that clearly shows the different wattages and the lengths of the cords matching them –
Extending the Knowledge of Extension Cords for Portable Generators
The control panel of the generator consists of numerous standard 120V outlets, and one or more different high-current receptacles.
The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) is the generic standard for AC power connectors in America and some other countries that define about 150 different types of outlets.
They have a varied combination of contact blade widths, shapes, orientation, and dimensions that make them unique for different types of devices and their needs.
Therefore, you must be careful before buying an extension cord, because a mismatch between the plug of the cord and the receptacle on the generator can cause a lot of inconveniences.
Do not worry much, though; only a few standard outlets are used in case of most portable generators.
Now, NEMA wiring devices are made in current ratings from 15 to 60 amperes and voltage ratings from 125 to 600 volts. Consider the NEMA 5-15R, which the most common outlet found in the US households.
Here, ‘5’ represents a 125V two-pole, three-wire configuration, ‘15’ the rating of the device in Amps, and ‘R’ represents receptacle (‘P’ is used for a plug).
The NEMA devices can be divided into two categories – straight-blade, and twist-locking.
The straight blade configuration is mostly used for lighter, general-purpose devices. The most common examples are the 5-15R and 5-20R. The twist-lock connector is basically for the transfer switch and used for heavier, commercial-purpose devices. They have a letter ‘L’ before the name to differentiate from the straight-blade connectors. The L14-30 is predominantly used in the US.
Let’s just give you a brief idea of how an outlet looks like. The figure on the left shows a four-prong 120/ 240V L14-30 outlet, where lines 1 and 2 are electrically ‘hot’ wires. Next, we have a Honda generator showing some of the different outlets commonly used in the US.
Advantages of using Extension Chords in Generators
Immediate Solution – One can rely on extension cords for a swift and convenient solution to attach electrical appliances when they are far away, without moving them. During sudden short-term power outages, stand-alone devices can be easily connected to the generator via extension cords. However, the appropriate cord should be chosen for this purpose.
No Electrician Needed – Connections via extensions cords are simple and do not require experts for installation of the subpanel. Hence they can be used efficiently by anyone.
Low-cost – Extensions cords are pocket-friendly (a few hundred dollars, maximum) as compared to transfer switches.
Limitations of Extension Chords
Why Transfer Switches are better – The biggest disadvantage of extension cords is that it cannot be connected to devices hardwired in your house system, like lights. If such a device is to be used, it has to be manually disconnected from the house wiring and then be connected to an extension cord. It wastes time unnecessarily and may even be dangerous (due to back-feeding). Hence, transfer switches are a better option for portable generators.
Cannot be used for Long-term Blackouts – Although immediate, they can only provide a temporary solution to emergency power backup. This is because only plug-and-cord devices can be powered by extension cords, and most of your essential appliances are hardwired to the main system.
Cord Damage – Since portable generators are usually kept several feet away from the house, extension cords run through open windows and doors, which make them susceptible to bad weather conditions. If a cord connector is wet, it can lead to an electric shock. Window edges, erosion with adjacent materials, or oldness also damage the functioning of the cord.
Top Extension Cords Picks for Generators at Home
Although plenty of extension cords are available both online and in hardware stores, you will find a wide variety with comprehensive reviews on Amazon.
Always remember your purpose of connecting the extension cords, and check the brand name and outlet-type of your portable generator before buying –
Companies such as Coleman, Conntek manufacture a variety of power cables which serve various purposes. Let’s have a look at a few examples to get a better idea.
So overall, it’s safe to say that if you are looking for a simple, hassle-free, temporary solution to your power needs, without spending much, buying a portable generator and connecting extension cords with it will be the right choice.
Just keep in mind – do not exceed the marked Underwriters Laboratory ratings on the cords. They can cause permanent damage to your appliances and YOU.
Last update on 2021-01-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API