fbpx
May 15, 2021

Professional Tool Reviews for Pros


Extension Cord Size Chart – Understanding Wire Gauge and Amps

Extension Cord Size Chart Understanding Wire Gauge and Amps

After searching the Internet recently, we realized people needed a definitive extension cord size chart. This chart breaks down how both the wire gauge and length of the extension cord affect its ability to convey power to a corded tool. Running a 15-amp tool? How about a full 20-amp tool? We can help you understand what length and gauge extension cord gets you and keeps you up and running.


Extension Cord Size Chart – Wire Gauge vs Length

That’s right, we’re giving you the chart right up front without making you read through paragraphs of text. If you want to know more, like what is AWG or American Wire Gauge, see below. However, if you simply want to know what gauge extension cord you need to support a particular amount of amps, or how long an extension cord you can run without losing power, here you go. Getting a firm grasp on understanding wire gauge and amps and how they interrelate can protect your tools and keep you safe.

We broke our charts down by extension cord length since that’s where most people start when looking for the right gauge cord:

100-foot Extension Cords

If you want to run a 100-foot long extension cord, you have to take into account the fact that you’re essentially creating a huge resistor. With that in mind, you typically don’t see 100-foot cords exceeding 15-amp (15A) capacity.

Current DrawMinimum Wire GaugeVoltage Drop
20A10-gauge4.00%
15A12-gauge5.00%*
12A12-gauge4.00%
10A12-gauge3.33%

*Yields a 5% voltage drop—the maximum allowed in our calculations. Consider using the next size up for anything that is at or near 5% or—even better—opting for a shorter cord whenever possible.


50-foot Extension Cords

Current DrawMinimum Wire GaugeVoltage Drop
20A12-gauge3.33%
15A14-gauge3.88%
12A14-gauge3.10%
10A14-gauge2.58%

25-foot Extension Cords

Current DrawMinimum Wire GaugeVoltage Drop
20A14-gauge2.58%
15A14-gauge1.94%
12A14-gauge1.55%
10A14-gauge1.29%

See below for some recommendations on extension cords which should match the above requirements.

Assumptions for Sizing Extension Cord Length

For our extension cord size chart calculations, we assumed 120V single phase with a power factor of 1. We also utilized the 2014 NEC Chapter 9, Table 9 numbers for impedance and voltage drop calculations.

We also allowed for up to a 5% voltage drop—which some people might consider too high. With that being the case, only one of our recommendations hit that level, the 100-foot 12-gauge extension cord with a full 15A draw. This might be an unusual application for some, but we felt it represented a great scenario. It helps you understand what happens when using a 100-foot extension cord on a tool with a high current draw.

Why Understanding Wire Gauge and Amps Matters

Everyone on a job site or remodel has some experience with running extension cords. For larger tools that require them, it’s not enough to simply tap into the temp power pole or a nearby outlet. You have to ensure that if your tool requires 15 amps, it gets 15 amps. Use an extension cord that doesn’t carry the correct thickness (gauge) wire and you “starve” your tool.

But, you also do something worse. First, you can tax the tool motor—causing it to work harder to draw the energy it needs to run. Think of this like trying to breathe through a straw. If that straw isn’t large enough to deliver air, you struggle to breathe. That’s your tool on an improperly-sized extension cord.

Secondly, you potentially create a dangerous situation. An undersized extension cable will heat up over time. Use it in that state for too long, and the wire insulation could melt. This particularly holds true if you keep the wire in a coil, which creates resistance and a magnetic field that heats up.

Some Helpful Do’s and Don’ts

DO:

  • Understand how much current you need to draw for your tool or appliance
  • Properly size the wire gauge to the length and current draw required
  • Keep your cables as short as possible for higher current tools
  • Unroll extension cords fully so they aren’t coiled during use

DON’T:

  • Use cables not properly rated for your tool and the length of cord
  • Keep your extension cords coiled during use
  • Use a cord that lacks a ground plug (either missing or broken)
  • Run multiple high-current tools off a single cord or circuit
  • Use a long extension cable if you have a short one handy

Hopefully, you found our extension cord size chart helpful and direct to the point. Understanding wire gauge and amps and how to properly size your cords for the tool and distance can make your tools last longer and run more optimally. You may also want to see our article on what kind of extension cord do I need for even more info.

Related articles

How Much Torque Do You Need on an Impact Driver?

How Much Torque Do You Need on an Impact Driver? More Is Always Better, Right? In today’s world of power tools, pushing the envelope of more power is more than just a 1990’s Tim Allen sitcom. When you look at two impact drivers with the same price tag, and one has more power than the […]

What Makes Makita Brushless Motors Different?

If you ever take a look through the features of a product on Makita’s website, brushless motors get lots of mention. We interviewed the company about what actually makes Makita brushless motors different from the competition. During the process, I had the fortunate opportunity to chat with Carlos Quintana. Carlos is the Senior Product Manager […]

Best Work Gloves Reviewed for 2021

When we realized that, in all our years of writing, we never tackled the question of who makes the best work gloves, well…something had to be done. We quickly assembled the team and began discussing what made a pair of work gloves better than another. We wanted to cover every conceivable application as well. The […]

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
28 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Brian Holder

My 2 cents worth. The voltage drop calculation should include the length of the wire run from the receptacle being used back to the electrical panel from which the receptacle is being fed. As an example, in wiring a house, it is not uncommon to run #14 wire to two or three outside receptacles. The wire length of that run could be from the panel to the first outside receptacle forty feet in length. The second receptacle could be on the opposite side of the house with a wire run 60 feet long. Add that 60 feet, to the 40… Read more »

fingerman88

Clint, good job for a “young buck” on a needed topic for DIYers & young trades workers. Suggest explaining why you should uncoil the longer cords. Also, as a cost motivator for the tool owners: I’ve seen 15 amp corded drills & saws burn out the triggers, & melt the varnish of the windings in the stator & commutator, making repair of the tool impossible. As the tool sees lower voltage, the amperage draw goes up to maintain the same/equivalent power. For single phase motors the formula is volts x amps = watts. Drawing more amps than the tool is… Read more »

John Fahner

I think there is a typo on the chart. For the 50 foot cords, shouldn’t the last line be 14 or 16 gauge rather than 12 gauge?

Travis

You provided the information I needed and the background to make it all make sense. Excellent stuff. (I spent over thirty years as a technical writer and technical editor, and I don’t often have reason to compliment pages on the internet. Nice job.)

Len G.

Hi Clint, I just bought a 14cf freezer and put it in my basement mechanical room, plugged into a 15amp outlet coming directly from my generator panel. The freezer panel inside says 1.8amp, defrost power: 280 watts. 280 watts at 120v would imply 2.3-2.4amps. Doesn’t seem too high, but I don’t know if the outlet is on a designated, unshared breaker. The freezer brochure says to not use an extension cord, but when I called the company, the representative on the line said she has a similar situation and does use an extension cord. So my question is: I am… Read more »

28
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x