Can Portable Air Conditioners Use Extension Cords?


Portable air conditioners are convenient because they can be moved around in the house. However, their portability is often restricted by their power cord length. So, can you use an extension cord for portable air conditioners?

As long as the extension cord has an electrical current rating that is able to cater to the maximum current of the portable air conditioner and has a ground wire, it is safe for a portable air conditioner to use an extension cord.

Using an inappropriate extension cord for a portable air conditioner is very dangerous as the extension cord can catch on fire. Hence, it is important to understand how to correctly select an extension cord for a portable air conditioner.

Types of Extension Cords for Portable Air Conditioners

There are three things to confirm when buying an extension cord for a portable air conditioner; a) portable air conditioner maximum current, b) extension cord rated current and c) extension cord ground wire.

Portable Air Conditioner Maximum Current

All kinds of air conditioners including portable air conditioners don't draw a fixed electrical current during operation. Their electrical current fluctuates based on operating conditions such as indoor temperature, outdoor temperature and filter dirtiness.

Most manufacturers don't state the maximum current of their portable air conditioners on brochures and e-commerce platforms. Instead, they stated the rated current.

Rated current of highly-rated portable air conditioners:

Best Portable Air ConditionerCooling Capacity (DOE/SACC)Rated Current
LG LP1419IVSM10,000 BTU11.9 A
Frigidaire GHPC132AB18,000 BTU10.4 A
Whynter ARC-14S9,500 BTU11.3 A
LG LP0821GSSM8,000 BTU9.3 A
Whynter ARC-122DS7,000 BTU10.4 A
LG LP0621WSR6,000 BTU8.1 A
Black+Decker BPACT10WT6,000 BTU10.0 A
Black+Decker BPACT14HWT7,500 BTU12.6 A
Midea MAP05R1WT5,000 BTU7.3 A
Black+Decker BPACT08WT4,000 BTU8.3 A

However, portable air conditioners are meant to be plugged into a standard home wall power socket which is rated at 15 amps in most countries.

Therefore, the extension cord to be used for a portable air conditioner must have an electrical current rating of at least 15 amps.

Nonetheless, the wall power sockets in some countries are rated at 13 amps. So, be mindful of it.

Extension Cord Rated Current

There are a few types of extension cords available on the market. Most extension cords are basic ones that only have an electrical current rating of 13 amps which is not good enough for a portable air conditioner that is intended to be plugged into a 15 amps wall power socket.

Although some portable air conditioners draw lesser than 15 amps (those with low cooling capacity), we couldn't tell if they can shoot up to around 15 amps or not because the maximum current is not stated.

Poorly-designed portable air conditioners can draw exceptionally high amperages.

Unless you absolutely confident about the maximum current of the portable air conditioner, it is safer to use a 15 amps extension cord that matches the rated current of standard home wall power sockets.

Extension Cord Ground Wire

Portable air conditioners are intended to be plugged into a standard home wall power socket that has a ground wire. So, the extension cord to be used for a portable air conditioner must also come with a ground wire.

The ground wire on electrical appliances and extension cords are used to channel leaked electricity back to the breaker and then trip the breaker to cut the power off so that potential electrocution can be avoided.

It is important to have a ground wire for electrical appliances that draw high amperages.

Extension cords with a ground wire typically can be identified by just looking at the plug pins. Grounded ones have three pins. Some ungrounded extension cords also have three pins but one of the pins is made in plastic, serving as a tool to open up the power socket for the two pins.

Grounded extension cords are also known as cords that have a 3 pronged plug.

Grounded Plug
Ungrounded Plug

Furthermore, if you have an extension plug, you also need to make sure that the extension plug itself is grounded. Cheap extension plugs are often ungrounded.

Ungrounded Extension Plug

In summary, the extension cord used for a portable air conditioner must be rated at least 15 amps. Furthermore, the extension cord must be grounded where it has a 3-pronged plug.

One of these extension cords sold on Amazon is Woods 982452 Heavy-Duty 50-Foot 15 Amps 125 Volts 1875 Watt Extension Cord. It is rated at 15 amps and grounded with a 3-pronged plug.

Extension Cord Wire Size

An appropriately rated extension cord should have wires that are sized appropriately. However, it is worth double-checking the wire size because the consequences are far too impactful. Undersized wires can simply melt and catch on fire within hours.

For 15 amps applications, the wire size must be at least 14 AWG (2.5mm2). See how to size wires for air conditioners in my post.

Sometimes, extension cords may not have the rated current but only show the wire size. So, you can count on the wire size to pick the extension cord as well.

Precautions for Portable Air Conditioners Extension Cord

Extension cords can be used for portable air conditioners. However, there are a few important precautions to be aware of if you choose to do so.

Do Not Share the Extension Cord

If you use an extension cord like the Woods 15 amps I mentioned earlier, it is a one-to-one type (one inlet and one outlet) and hence, you are good to go.

However, if you choose to buy an extension cord with multiple outlets like VIVOSUN 3-Outlet 50-Foot 15 Amps 120 Volts 1800 Watt Extension Cord, you MUST NOT share it with other electrical appliances simultaneously while running a portable air conditioner.

It is a common mistake people made that is to share a portable air conditioner with other electrical appliances simultaneously on an extension cord. If the portable air conditioner is drawing 13 amps and the other electrical appliances are drawing 5 amps, the total running current is 18 amps which exceeded the rated current of the extension cord. If that's the case, the circuit breaker may trip or the plug may catch on fire.

So, it is ok to plug other electrical appliances into the same extension cord as the portable air conditioner but never run them together. To be safe, just don't use a multi-outlet extension cord for a portable air conditioner.

Ensure the Tightness of the Plug

Cheap extension cords are often poor in the manufacturing process. Their power sockets may not fit perfectly with the power plug of the portable air conditioner. Hence, the connection can be loose.

So, try to avoid using poor-quality extension cords due to safety concerns.

In case you have a loose extension cord, do not attempt to use rubber bands or other means to tighten the plug because the heat may melt it and then lead to all sorts of other issues.

In addition, place the extension cord nicely somewhere in the house where you and your kids won't accidentally pull it and loosen the plug.

Extension Cord Length for Portable Air Conditioners

Wires need to be thicker if the distance traveled is longer. In other words, if you're extending the portable air conditioner far away from the wall power socket, you need an extension cord with bigger wires.

Below is the wire size required for different cord lengths based on a voltage drop of 5%:

Cord LengthWire Size
0 – 50 ft (0 – 15 m)14 AWG (2.5 mm2)
51 – 85 ft (16 – 26 m)12 AWG (4.0 mm2)
86 – 128 ft (27 – 39 m)10 AWG (6.0 mm2)

Wires have resistance and resistance causes the voltage to drop. Standard home power socket in the United States output a voltage of 120V. As the current travels across the wire, this 120V gradually decreases. By the time it reaches the portable air conditioner, it needs to be high enough to power the portable air conditioner.

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Most portable air conditioners accept a voltage of around 110V to 120V. Some may be more or less than that. Hence, if the voltage drop is too much, you start to “suffocate” the portable air conditioner and that's not good in many ways.

To reduce voltage drop, you need to “clear up the road” or reduce the resistance of the wire by increasing the “road space” or the thickness of the wire.

Based on the above table, the voltage starts at 120V and reaches the portable air conditioner at around 114V with a voltage drop of 5% as recommended by the National Electrical Code (NEC) which is good enough for the portable air conditioner.

Liability and Warranty of Using Extension Cords

Many manufacturers do not recommend homeowners use an extension cord to power their portable air conditioners. In fact, most of them had it written on their user manual. In case anything happens because of the extension cord, they are not liable.

Furthermore, manufacturers may void the warranty if you use an extension cord to power their portable air conditioners. However, this is grey area as they mostly didn't spell clearly on any paper.

Conclusion

It is safe to use an extension cord to power a portable air conditioner. However, the extension cord must be rated for the current drawn by the portable air conditioner. At the same time, the extension cord must have a ground wire to prevent potential electrocution.

Furthermore, other electrical appliances must not share the same extension cord with a portable air conditioner simultaneously. Then, the tightness of the plug on the extension cord must be appropriate.

The length of the extension cord is limited by the voltage drop. If the portable air conditioner needs to be placed far away from the wall power socket, the extension cord wire size must be greater to prevent causing any damage to the portable air conditioner due to low voltage.


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Yu Chang Zhen

I enjoy working on air conditioners and ventilation fans because Malaysia is a very hot country.

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