Tired of fumbling around in the darkness of your shed searching for tools? Maybe you wish you could illuminate your workspace with something that doesn’t require batteries or a match.
You don’t want to go into all the effort it takes to dig a trench and run wiring to your shed. Perhaps you’re wondering, “Can I use an extension cord to power my shed”? You can use an extension cord to power your shed as long as you understand the limitations of an extension cord and stay within certain safety parameters.
You can use an extension cord to power your shed, but only temporarily. You can only use an extension cord for single circuits. An extension cord can under no circumstances be buried, and it must be unplugged when not in use.
Can You Use an Extension Cord to Power a Shed?
Let’s go more deeply into this topic. First of all, it’s important to understand that an extension cord is not for permanent use. This is for a number of safety reasons.
First of all, unlike permanent wiring, which is generally concealed in side walls and ceilings, extension cords are exposed and therefore create tripping hazards.
Secondly, because they’re not tucked away in a wall, they are also more susceptible to damage from foot traffic and yard tools such as lawn mowers. If an extension cord is damaged, it can short, which can cause the cord to overload, overheat and start a fire.
Also, even extension cords that are rated for outdoor use aren’t designed to be exposed to the elements for extended periods. They will eventually break down, increasing the likelihood that an extension cord will short and overheat.
For these reasons, an extension cord should be unplugged and stored when not in use. In addition to extending the life of your extension cord and minimizing some of the risks mentioned above, this eliminates the chances of a cord becoming damaged and shorting out while you’re not around.
An extension cord that is left out also presents a tripping hazard that is susceptible to damage or theft. When it is time to plug it back in again, check the cord to make sure it isn’t damaged.
Although it may be tempting to bury an extension cord, don’t do it. Extension cords aren’t rated for direct burial.
You should also make sure that an extension cord is completely uncoiled when in use.
Extension cord ratings take into account that they will be used uncoiled, so they can cool properly. Failing to do so can cause the cord to overheat, which can lead to a fire.
How to Safely Power a Shed With an Extension Cord
When considering how to power your shed with an extension cord, it’s important to understand that extension cords are labeled with wattage or amp ratings (Amps = watts/110), which tells you how much load the cord can handle. An electrical appliance, in turn, is labeled with a rating that lets you know how many amps it consumes.
Determine what appliances, lighting and power tools you will be using in the shed and identify how many amps each consumes. Make sure you purchase a cord that can handle the desired amperage.
Some appliances consume a lot of power. While a work light will typically use less than 10 amps, an air compressor might need up to 20 amps.
To minimize the chances of an extension cord shorting, make sure you go with a heavy-duty, thick gauge extension cord. Common household extension cords typically come in gauges ranging from 16 gauge to 10 gauge. The smaller the gauge, the thicker the wire and therefore the greater wattage and amperage the cord can handle.
You also need to consider the distance from your power source to your shed and buy the appropriate length cord. A cord’s rating is based on its length. Generally speaking, a 50’ 12-gauge cord can handle up to 20 amps while a 100’ 12-gauge cord can only handle up to 15 amps.
It’s important not to daisy chain extension cords together as this negates each cord’s listed amp rating and can lead to overheating, creating a fire hazard. Use a single cord to cover the distance from the power source to shed and stick to its wattage rating.
Keep in mind that the longer the distance you need to cover, the lower the gauge of cord you will need to provide a high enough wattage to power your shed.
You also need to consider the outlet you will be using in your home. Make sure you use a GFCI-rated outlet, like the kind you would find in most kitchens and bathrooms. A GFCI-rated outlet includes a built-in breaker that automatically cuts power to the circuit if it senses an imbalance in the current.
This prevents the circuit from overheating and potentially starting a fire. For this reason, GFCI outlets are required to be used near sinks and other water sources, which can cause an outlet to short out.
This goes without saying, but only use extension cords rated for outdoor use. These cords are typically constructed with heavier insulation to protect the wires and a third grounding wire, which is evident by a third prong on the plug.
You’ll also want to be aware of how you get your extension cord into your shed. Going through the door is an option, but not a great one. A cord trailing out of the doorway creates a tripping hazard and can be damaged by the shed door.
Consider investing some time and money into wiring an inlet into your shed. Outlets such as Leviton power inlet, create a male outlet on the exterior shed that serves as a plug for your extension cord. The inlet can then be wired to an outlet in the interior of the shed.
Dangers of Using Extension Cords to Power Your Shed
It’s important to understand the dangers of improper extension cord use as the consequences can be catastrophic.
Burying the Cord
Although it might be tempting, don’t bury your extension cord. As we’ve already discussed, extension cords are not rated to be buried.
The insulation that covers the wires on an extension cord can eventually breakdown underground, resulting in a short that overheats your cord. This can heat the entire cord, causing a fire at either end of the cord, your home or your shed. Critters may also find your cord interesting and begin gnawing on it, potentially resulting in a catastrophic end to both your shed and the critter.
Overloading Your Cord
While you may be tempted to run your cord to a power strip in your shed and attach all manner of power tools and appliances to it, don’t. Remember the amp limitations of your cord and stick to them.
Overloading your extension cord can result in overheating, again creating a fire hazard.
Best Way to Powering Your Shed
An extension cord may offer a temporary solution to powering your shed. However, it is not a long term answer. If you are using your shed as a workshop, home office or even gardening shed, you’ll need a permanent wiring solution. This is the best way to turn your shed into a storage building for yard equipment to a fully functional work space.
This involves burying a rated electrical line from your home to your shed. And while this may sound like a complicated job, it’s something most experienced DIYers can accomplish themselves. Check out my guide how-to to wire a shed safely.
While powering your shed with an extension cord may not be a long term fix for the electrical needs of your shed, it can offer you a temporary solution. However, it is critical that you understand the limitations of an extension cord and closely adhere to the safety guidelines discussed in this article. Electricity is nothing to play around with.
If you’re planning on turning your shed into a fully realized work space, then consider permanent wiring for your shed, which is both safer and more functional.