Flat power cords provide a convenient way to discreetly route electricity to devices far from outlets while maintaining clean sight lines.
Unlike bulky cylindrical cables, these slim, low-profile cords can virtually disappear when tacked neatly against baseboard trim. But while popular for reducing flat cord power strip clutter, flat cords introduce several unique fire and electric shock safety issues compared to traditional round varieties.
The discreteness that makes flat cables visually appealing makes homeowners and contractors overlook protection during installation.
If misused, flat power extension cords pose severe electrocution and burning hazards that can nullify any cord management benefits. By understanding critical flat cord safety mistakes and following simple precautions, however, you can safely leverage these wires for clutter-free spaces.
Let’s review the most critical considerations when incorporating flat power cords to avoid playing down risks.
Specialized Flat Cord Safety Standards
1. Maximum Current Capacity and Wire Gauge Ratings
The flat cord’s compact ribbon cable form factor makes it easy to underestimate current-carrying capacities before overheating occurs. But conductors running through narrow, thin copper strips sustain far lower loads than equivalent larger round wire. Always select flat cord gauge ratings matching the expected sustained device current draw:
- 16 gauge for under 5-amp devices like phone chargers
- 14 gauge up to 15 amps for most household equipment
- 12 gauge over 15 amps for high-draw appliances
An inadequate gauge risks insulation melting from excessive resistance heat if the current exceeds the intended rating.
2. Mismatched Polarized Connector Orientation
Never force non-reversible flat prongs into round outlets or vice versa. The neutral and hot conductor terminals must align correctly with mating receptacle holes for grounding protections to work properly.
White/silver colored flat tips denote wider neutral spades, while narrower brass prongs take live current.
3. Avoid Mid-Run Rigid Bends
Unlike round cords, a flat cord power strip incorporates a molded “Y” connection block approximately midway on standard 7-12 ft lengths. But under furniture or doors, these rigid 2-3-inch sections resist flexing and endure repeated strain over time.
Always situate flat cables so these reinforced joints are located safely near plug ends or outlet bases for maximum flexibility along the entire span.
Visibility and Protection Standards
1. Avoid Concealing Flat Cord Runs Entirely
Electrical codes mandate keeping at least some minimum cabling length visible for inspection for fire safety rather than burying it completely behind permanent structures. Consider wiring center wall sections viewable if furniture hides the majority of flat cords.
Fully enclosed runs concentrate heat buildup with no cooling airflow around jackets.
2. Use Cable Clips – Not Staples Through Jackets
Although flat cables seem made for discreet floorboard tacking, they never pierce the inner conductors or protective PVC sheathing. Use special clips or channels to affix cords tightly against the base trim without penetrating. Staple punctures risk exposed copper wires shorting or insulation cracking from tension over repeated flexing.
3. Inspect Age, Temperature, and Wear
Discontinue flat cords exhibiting any insulation yellowing or dried or cracked sections signifying breakdown.
Hardened creased spots also indicate excessive heat damaging protective coatings, necessitating replacement. Ensure good ventilation and gauge if cords feel hot, not stretching to strain safe length and temperature thresholds.
Proper Handling and Storage
1. Always Coil and Store Flat Cables Loosely
Tightly wrapping flat power cords overly bunches conductors inside, creating thin insulation spots that wear 10x faster. Constant friction and compression also degrades waterproofing compounds sooner. After use, hang or loosely coil flat extension cords instead of tightly looping to prevent premature jacket cracking.
2. Limit Chained Connections in Series
Avoid plugging one flat power cord into another “daisy chaining” connection in series whenever possible. Strain and wattage loss multiply across each additional jack, introducing more opportunities for loose joints or disconnected grounds. Use single cable runs per outlet instead and directly plug devices into endpoints for safety.
Code Restrictions and Risk Reduction
1. Adhere to 50 Feet Maximum Run Lengths
Like all low-voltage extension cords, flat power cables lose efficiency over longer distances, suffering voltage drops. Optimum safe lengths remain under 50 feet before signal weakening necessitates a larger wire gauge, more outlets, or high-capacity electrical contractor workarounds.
2. Use Only Temporarily – Not as Permanent Wiring
Although discreet for quickly hiding unsightly cables, flat extension cords still pose a heightened fire risk from accidental damage over many years. Building codes intend electrical outlets positioned properly through walls as the sole permanent wiring method, mandating licensed electrician installation long term. Classify flat power use as always temporary.
Flat power cords require special handling and monitoring compared to traditional round jacketed wires. Their slimmer construction disguises the critical safety standards necessary when installing near foot traffic or behind furniture.
However, following basic precautions keeps clever cord concealment safe. Double-check conductor capacity ratings, avoid stapling or concealing and refrain from tightly twisting or coiling excess cable. Watch for heat deterioration, such as dried, stiff, or bleached sections.