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Emergency Power

By Lucie B. Amundsen
Published: September 1, 2009

If you’re using a portable generator for emergency power, you know that it must be operated out-of-doors due to noxious fumes. And you know power gets to your appliances through extension cords plugged directly into the generator. But what about those cords?

Instead of just grabbing the cord off your electric weed-whacker, you need to choose the right cord. How? Select the cord amp that corresponds with the most powerful outlet on your generator. For example, a 30-amp outlet requires a 30-amp cord. The higher the amp of the cord, the more electricity it can transfer.

Another number to look for is the gauge. Gauge is like a golf score – the lower the number the better, because it denotes thicker and heavier conductors in the cord. Ten-gauge is considered the minimum gauge for use with portable generators. (By comparison, older household cords were only 18 gauge, but the U.S. Product Safety Commission recommends a minimum of 16 for regular household use.)

Of course, the cord should also be rated for outdoor, all-weather use and long enough to allow the generator to be a safe distance from the cabin. But there is such a thing as too much cord. If the electricity needs to travel too far, you could experience amperage drop off.

The last number to consider is the number of prongs on the plug. Thirty-amp plugs come in two varieties: 3-prong and 4-prong. The 3-prong plugs carry 120-volts only, while the 4-prong plugs carry 120/240 volts. As more cabins get tricked out with 240-volt outlets or appliances, 4-prong plugs are becoming more common.  

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