I have read a number of times that one of the largest causes of electrical fires is extension cords. As a consequence of this, we have requirements that every location along a wall be within 6 feet of a receptacle, so that no extension cord is needed to reach it. We have the 24" rule for countertops. Now we're adding "AFCIs on every residential 15/20A circuit." Etc.
I have read posts by Joe T. indicating that fire officials hate extension cords with great passion, and will do all that they can to minimize/eliminate them.
All of which begs what seems like it should be an obvious question: If we're going to create all these regulations to mitigate the effects of faulty extension cords, why don't we just require that extension cords be safer???
95+% of the extension cords in the store are total crud. It's not really a mystery that they cause fires. (I remember a thread in one of the photo forums here, of a "surge strip" in a fire station was seriously blackened from overheating. When I asked why the breaker hadn't tripped, the response was essentially that a 15 amp power strip isn't actually intended to operate safely at the limits of a 15 or 20 amp circuit. )
So what's the deal here? It's clearly recognized that cheap extension cords are a dangerous problem. And we don't seem to be shy about creating laws and regulations to deal with the situation, because fire regulations and the NEC already have a number of requirement designed to mitigate the extension cord problem. So why don't we do the obvious thing, and have requirements at the UL level that extension cords actually be robust, and actually be up to the task of operating safely on 15 and 20 amp circuits?
This has also been a thorn in my side for a long time. Extension cords allow any bonehead to play Electrician - think about it: they give someone the legal ability to run power without any form of guidance. "Cable size? What's that? They make different cable sizes? Why? I'll just get the cheapest one..."
I actually provide a list of extension cord "dos and do-nots" to customers that are planning some sort of event, but would bet they often don't even take a gander at it.
I think it's all about marketing and pricing. Joe-schmoe is not likely to spend the extra few bucks on a GFCI or even a breaker/fuse protected cable. And, in the event that it tripped, you can bet the wire cutters and black tape would come out to bypass that little "inconvenience".
You're right that this issue is more important than a lot of "product-placement" laws that are being pushed through the NEC. After all, isn't that their main objective - preventing fires? Some people up there seem to have misplaced their focus.
Reducing the 'need' for extension cord use in new construction and renovation by requiring receptacle spacing is the intent of the NEC. As are kitchen countertop and island requirements for receptacles. Remember, the NEC is not a 'design' tool.
The 'use' of extension cords, be they 2 wire 'zip' cord, or 10/3 HD, is not an NEC issue, nor is it the responsibility of the electrician, or electrical contractor. THe EC/sparky has to answer for his 'cords' only, and I have both seen and once 'owned' ratty ones.
The 'cause of fire' debate....YES, an overloaded cord can and will start a fire. A cord under a carpet can cause a fire; cord in walls, thru doorways, under doors, and a multitude of other inproper uses can and do cause fires.
A solution to the fire issue? Educate the end users? IMHO, fat chance. Mandatory fuses in cords based on the amperage of the conductor....GREAT IDEA! Cutters and tape? probably in the same aisle at the store! Power strips...a great item, as are extension cords....when used as intended and designed.
NEC issues?? Not IMHO, but a NEMA or NFPA item..
THe 'quality' of the store cords being 'crud'; I guess it depends what store. The old addage of 'ya get what ya pay for'!
We have regulations/laws for almost everything, but there is no way to instill common sense, nor make stupidity a felony.
Now I need some input as AFCI is not required here in NJ, and I have limited knowledge of it: Going from memory, AFCI of some type are supposed to detect an arc in supply cords (lamp cord, etc) which IMHO is a prime cause of fires. The 'required' AFCI only detects arcs in the 'house' (permanent) wiring. IF this is a true fact, then why not require the 'to utilization' AFCI??
Hey Ghost....maybe YOU should persue the fuse thing...you may have a $$$$$ idea! Remember the bubble cover?
Require ALL extension cords to be rated for the full current of the circuit and outlaw 15A receptacles on 20A circuits. That way there is no need for fuses or anything. In Europe there atre only 1mm2 and 1.5mm2 extension cords, both of which are rated for 16A when in free air (i.e. not buried in walls). Only Euro plugs rated 2.5A can have smaller cords, but there aren't any extension cords for those.
One issue might be the US wire size. 16AWG is a bit small for 15 amps and 14 AWG asomewhat beefy for general purpose extension cords.
I have some inflatable holiday decorations that have just the thing to make extension cords safer. The plug has a teeny-tiny fuse in it that blows at something like 6 amps.
Maybe we should try to get UL to require that the cord be protected by an appropriately sized fuse in order to be Listed.
So long as the fuse cannot be replaced easily with one of a higher rating. This is what we get in the U.K. with our fused plugs. The fuses are all the same physical size, and it's not unusual to find a 3 or 5-amp rated cord in which somebody has replaced the fuse with a 13A.
What you ask for is no less than a complete re-orientation in the way we write our code.
The die was cast long ago, when it was decided that appliances need not be wired for the circuit ampacity, but only for the appliance needs. Thus, appliances with #16 cords are routinely designed to plug into 20 amp circuits. Heck, for all I know, there are even smaller cords on some appliances! We also decided not to have any form of fuse or circuit breaker on the appliance itself. Other parts of the world have taken differing approaches ... including fused receptacles, fused appliances, limited power circuits, etc.
The cords are considered as appliances. At some point you have to rely upon people exercising a certain amount of sense.
The fact is that there is nothing that cannot be abused, misused, or broken. A failure often gets our attention; we tend to overlook the countless cords that are properly used, and which operate safely for decades.
I beg to differ! Extension cords are _not_ appliance cords! That's the key difference! Appliance cords only need to be protected against short circuits, the overload protection is ensured by the appliance itself. Extension cords have no way of knowing what might be connected to them, so they have to be rated for the full circuit ampacity.