Don't Get Zapped: A Primer On Power Cords

22 January 2019
 Categories: , Blog

Some are long, some are short. Some are thick, some are thin. They're easy to ignore, but they're all around us in our homes and offices. Power cords are a vital part of day-to-day life in modern society, but if you're like most people you probably don't much about them. When it's time to replace a power cord or buy an extension cord, you may just gravitate towards the cheapest or first option you see. This is especially easy to do when shopping online, but choosing the right Americord power cords for your application is important both for your safety and for the proper operation of your electronics.

Read on to learn a little bit more about these ubiquitous, but unsung parts of our daily lives.

Just What is a Power Cord?

The average electric cord used for household or office appliances and electronics is a fairly simple item. The outer insulation that you can see is called the jacket, and it may be made of one of a variety of materials depending on the cord's particular application. Inside the jacket are wires which are attached to the prongs on the cord connectors. Generally speaking, there will be three wires inside the jacket: a live (or "hot") wire, a neutral (sometimes called a negative wire), and a ground wire.

At each end of the cord are the connectors, which are sometimes referred to as the cord set. The connectors are what allow you to plug the cord into outlets or whatever device will be receiving power. In most cases, one side will use a standard three- or two-prong connector, while the other side may be a proprietary design for the device being powered. In the case of extension cords, one side is usually a female end or a splitter of some type.

What is Wire Gauge and Does it Matter?

Wire gauge indicates the thickness of the wire within the cord. It is commonly abbreviated as AWG, which stands for American Wire Gauge. When dealing with wire gauges, a lower number indicates a thicker wire. Thicker wires (with a lower AWG number) can carry a greater amount of current without heating up. This is extremely important when dealing with extension cords or replacement cords, as choosing wire that is too thin can result in overheating or even fires.

Although checking for wire gauge is fine, in most cases cords will be listed as light, medium, or heavy duty to help you determine if they are suitable for your application. When selecting a cord, read the maximum recommended power draw (given in amps) and compare that to the current requirement of the device you will be powering. Never use a cord that is insufficient for your power needs, and do not chain multiple power cords.

What About Jacket Material?

Cord jackets come in an almost endless array of materials and far too many options exist to list in a single article. Instead, consider your specific needs when selecting a cord:

  • Will the cord be used outdoors or is it for indoor use only?
  • Will it be subjected to physical abuse or will it be in a relatively safe area?
  • Will it come into contact with oils or other chemicals?
  • Is it important that the cord be flexible?

Once you have answered these questions, it will be much easier to select a jacket type that fits your needs. When choosing, however, remember that cables which are not rated for outdoor use should be used only indoors and most cable jackets have poor resistance to oils and other chemicals. To avoid dangerous accidents, be sure that the cord you choose is properly rated for your specific application.