Clarification needed on use of extension cords

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Old 03-06-07, 08:34 PM
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Clarification needed on use of extension cords

What is the code legality of "stuffing" ordinary extension (lamp) cord in the gap (approx. 3/8" wide) between the carpeting tack strip and the baseboard moulding, when you need to get power (from a switched outlet) from one end of a room to another? Is that a good idea or not? In some ways it seems better, since the cord is more protected from damage than it would be if it were just resting on top of the carpet. Also, less of a trip hazard. But something tells me the NEC would not like that, but I can't explain why, exactly. I assume its a really big no-no to route NM type cable this way, right?

Also, while we're on the subject, how about when it comes to routing lamp cord up along beams in an open beam ceiling configuration? In some ways, it would seem to be fine, since you can buy "cord & plug" pendant lamps that are meant to be hung from a ceiling hook, with the cord run along the ceiling and wall, and then plugged into an ordinary wall outlet. But then again, I've seen home inspectors "ding" homeowners for running extension cord along the rafters in their garage to power various flourescent lights. Not sure I know what the difference is. Is it mostly a matter of height? I think I recall something about 7' min height, but I'm not sure. Clarification anyone, on the general rules regarding lamp cord?
 
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Old 03-06-07, 09:35 PM
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Stuffing lamp cord anywhere is a terrible idea. Lamp cord is considerably smaller wire than house wiring on the same circuit. It's allowed only because the lamp cord is required to operate in free air where it can quickly cool. If you stuff it in some crack, it is likely to overheat and cause a fire (not to mention the potential damage from the tack strip).

NM cable cannot be routed this way either, because it is relatively fragile. It won't overheat, but it might get damaged.

Routing a lamp cord on top of open beams is okay, but pretty goofy looking. That is okay only if the cord is exposed to the room. However, such cords are only designed to be used in lengths of 6 feet or less. Extension cords are usually heavier wire, but even they are only designed for temporary use.

The correct way for all of this is to use real house wiring (such as NM) in properly protected and supported and secured places, and to wire permanent receptacles where you need the power.

This is another example of something I often say. Doing something right is usually only slightly more difficult, and sometimes no more difficult, than doing it wrong. All it takes is the will to learn how to do it correctly. There are many books on home wiring that will show you how to do it correctly if you are willing to take the time to read them.
 
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Old 03-07-07, 09:20 AM
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Another quick point to add is that lamps and light fixtures are tested for safety and certified by a laboratory like UL. Modifying that lamp by increasing the length of the cord voids the UL listing because you no longer can be certain that the lamp will meet minimum safety standards.

Appliances that are intended to have long cords (vacuum cleaners, "swag" lamps) have them installed and tested at the factory.

Inspectors (both AHJ and home inspectors) will ding a homeowner for using an extension cord in any permanent way. The only truly acceptable use of an extension cord is for temporary use when you unplug the appliance, roll up the cord, and put it away. Any permanent use, like garage lighting, should be served by permanent wiring.
 
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Old 03-07-07, 10:04 AM
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Thanks for the info. That clarified things for me. I'm all for putting in outlets where they are needed, and have done so many times. The only reason I bring up the extension cord issue at all is because the house I live in now, has a concrete slab floor and open beam ceilings (no attic!) with a tar-and-gravel roof (think "Eichler", if you know that style of architecture), and there is no elegant way to invisibly run NM cable without a crawl space or attic. All the options (like interior surface raceways or exterior conduit runs along the roof or walls) are cosmetically inferior solutions, and create potential leak problems, etc.

Based on what you said, I think its fair to say that extension cord use violations are probably pretty rampant all across the nation, especially in older homes where there are fewer receptacles in a room.

I just had a thought. Do you know if there is a wireless device on the market that would allow you turn on a light located far away from a switched outlet? That is, you would plug a base transmitter into the switched outlet, and the receiver in a non-switched outlet, such that when the power is applied to the base unit, it sends a wireless signal to the remote receiver, commanding it to switch on power to a lamp plugged into it? Maybe that would be the solution to my problem of wanting to locate a lamp in a far corner of the room, well away from the switched outlet.
 
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Old 03-07-07, 10:34 AM
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I am not familiar with a device as you describe. However, there are devices that will allow for a receptacle to be remote controlled. You can certainly find something to get the desired effect.

As for extension cords, yes they are improperly used all the time. Their improper use causes fires and kills people. Three years ago we had a fatal house fire in the fire district I serve. The culprit was an overloaded extension cord that ran around the room from the receptacle. The cord overheated and started the fire. One dead, three homeless, house destroyed.
 
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Old 03-07-07, 10:49 AM
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All home centers sell something called a "remote switch". You can just stick the switch anywhere you want on the wall (it has a self-adhesive backing), and put the remote unit between the plug and receptacle of the device you want to control.
 
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Old 03-07-07, 12:11 PM
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Originally Posted by John Nelson View Post
All home centers sell something called a "remote switch". You can just stick the switch anywhere you want on the wall (it has a self-adhesive backing), and put the remote unit between the plug and receptacle of the device you want to control.

Yeah, I've seen those devices, though they don't do exactly what I'd like. I really don't want to have a separate switch...Basically, I'd like my existing single wall switch to turn on two lamps at opposite ends of the room...one lamp from the exisiting switched outlet, and another lamp that is far removed from that switched outlet. Part of the problem is that there is an exterior door that "breaks" the continuity of the wall, so even if I wanted to run an extension cord along the top of the carpet, I couldn't do it without creating a major trip hazard at the door.
 
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Old 03-07-07, 03:27 PM
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Take a look at X-10 or Insteon products. Basically they both allow you to put controlled receptacles or plug-in boxes anywhere there's power, and control them from anywhere else using either mounted switches or wireless controllers. I've seen simple setups like yours with one switch and one receptacle, to whole houses wired with them.

They are never as reliable as hard-wired solutions, as RF interference, split phases, etc. all can cause problems. But in the few cases I've used them, they solve problems like you are having quite well.

There are a lot of options at www.smarthome.com (but they are available many places also).
 
 

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