How to Choose an Outdoor Rated Extension Cords?

Have you ever had to move an outdoor electrical appliance and wondered if the extension cord you used was the best for the job? If you answered yes, this article is for you. When searching for an outdoor extension cord, various terms are thrown around. This cannot be very clear, especially if you are a first-time shopper. Because extension cords can be one of the most cost-effective ways to power high-wattage equipment, you must choose the right outdoor-rated extension cord for your electrical needs. 

The last thing anyone needs is an electrical fire, and that’s why you need to learn how to choose the best outdoor-rated extension cords to buy when you go shopping. 

1. Check the Amperage Rating

Check the extension cord packaging for the amperage rating if you don’t understand how length and thickness relate. It’s not advisable to think you should use 10 A or 13 A indoor/outdoor extension cords.

Get one rated at least 15 A. (If the cord doesn’t say how many amps it can handle, you shouldn’t use it at all.) In this manner, you can plug in any household tool or appliance, and 15 A breakers or fuses — typically found in residential electrical panels — will shut off the power before the cord is overloaded. 

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Voltage ratings aren’t something you need to bother about if the appliance is going to be used in the home. Most cables will say 125 V or 130 V, which is the same as the voltage in most US homes. To comply with workplace safety regulations, contractor cords intended for construction sites may be rated for a maximum of 300 V. However, unless you’re a specialist, there’s no point in shelling out the extra cash for these cables.

2. Thicker Cords Mean More Power

In addition to its overall length, an extension cord’s maximum allowable current is determined by the thickness of its internal wires.

Hence, wires with a greater diameter can transmit more power over greater distances. Low-power devices like lights, battery chargers, and stereos can be powered by any cord found at a big-box store, as long as it meets certain minimum specifications (see table below). 

Cord Length Required Thickness
100 feet  10/3 (10 AWG)
50 feet 12/3 (12 AWG)
25 feet  14/3 (14 AWG)


However, if you want to use power tools like saws, drills, or wet/dry vacuums at their full potential and safety, you need more than the bare minimum. In the US, gauge, or AWG, is usually used to describe how thick a cord is. Larger numbers indicate smaller wires, which reduces the amount of power they can transport. 


The thinnest extension cord we advise using is 14 AWG, but only for lengths of 25 feet or less. The thickest extension cord gauge you’re likely to find is 10 AWG. To determine which cord best suits your needs, refer to the numbers in the table above.

3. Choose the Right Length of Cord

When purchasing an extension cord, it’s best to err on the side of caution and get the one that’s one length longer than you think you’ll need. Having a cord that barely reaches your work area is inconvenient, so having a longer cord is more practical and safer. As a result, you shouldn’t daisy chain extension cords, meaning that you shouldn’t connect one to another. 

Multiple cords plugged into one outlet create more electrical resistance than one cord because of the longer total length of the cords and the lack of thicker wires to compensate for the greater distance. When there is more resistance, the voltage can drop, which makes tools like saws, drills, and vacuums work with less power. 

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When you connect cords in a chain, the extra resistance can also cause more heat to build up along the way, which increases the chance that one of the cords will melt or even start a fire. 

4. Check for NEMA) or UL Ratings or Certifications

When buying an outdoor-rated extension cord, check to ensure it has been tested and certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or the National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association (NEMA). These two organizations have created standards for testing and certifying products for safety.

5. Ensure it Matches Your Outdoor Environment

Upon observation, you’ll notice the best extension cords are noticeably more flexible at cooler temperatures than others. Flexibility in a power cord’s makeup makes it less of a hassle to use in confined spaces, coil it up for storage, and use it elsewhere. Although not all cord packaging will specify a cord’s optimal operating temperature, cords rated for use in temperatures below freezing tend to be more pliable regardless of ambient temperature.


Choosing the right extension cord can be a tricky task. Numerous options are available, and they often feature technical jargon, making it hard to know which product best suits your needs. Based on the information above, you should now have a better idea of how to choose an outdoor-rated extension cord for your job site needs.

You’re better off looking into individual product descriptions and customer reviews for more information about these products. Often, these will also be easily accessible on the manufacturer’s website.

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