My office needs a computer in it
March 16, 2010 7:50 PM   Subscribe

If I run an extension cord or long power strip under my steam radiator, will something bad happen?

My new apartment has a great little nook that I intend to use as an office. However, after moving in we found out that there are no electrical outlets in the room (apparently it was originally built to be completely taken up by a murphy bed.) The closest outlet is a good ten feet away, and there is a radiator against the wall between the office and the outlet. If I run an extension cord (or a very long surge-protecting power strip) and an ethernet cable under the radiator, will it melt or damage the cord? If I wrap the cord in felt or something so it doesn't make direct contact with the hot pipes, will that be enough or will that just trap the heat and make it worse? The base of the radiator is about 4" off the ground, with pipes connecting it to the ground on both ends. I think wrapping the cord loosely in thick fabric and securing it as far away from the pipes as possible will be fine but my husband disagrees. Who wins the bet?
posted by doift to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You should, under no circumstances, allow power/network cords to come in contact with the radiator bits (either the coils or attaching pipes). However, if you can tack them down to the floor/baseboard, they should be able to be pretty close (1" or more) without issue. I don't think wrapping them would make any difference.
posted by kjs3 at 8:04 PM on March 16, 2010


I wouldn't go wrapping an electrical cord in cloth near a hear source.

You might try something like this.

There's no way to know exactly how it would work without knowing the temperature of the radiator, etc. You'd have to do some cautious testing.
posted by The Deej at 8:11 PM on March 16, 2010


Or even a *heat* source.
posted by The Deej at 8:11 PM on March 16, 2010


You should be able to find a four letter/digit code printed in your extension cord - two cords that happen to be near me are SPT-3 and SJTW. These cords are rated for 32 to 140 F and 40 to 110 F respectively.

You could test the area by placing a small thermometer under your radiator to see what sort of temperature it reaches.

I'm with kjs3 in that you should use some small clips to hold the extension cord tight against the wall away from the radiator pipes.
posted by davey_darling at 8:14 PM on March 16, 2010


You could run it along the baseboard and probably be fine. Be careful it you tack it in place not to puncture the cord's insulation. I would not wrap in fabric, that would probably be a fire hazard. Might want to take a thermometer and put in under the radiator. See how hot it is down there just to be sure.
posted by PhillC at 8:15 PM on March 16, 2010


Extension cords (especially the heavy duty kind you should use in this situation) are really a braided bunch of small, thin copper wires. This is what gives the cord its flexibility. The equivalent, solid copper wire would be smaller, but much much stiffer.

The Problem: if too many of those small, thin wires damage/break then your cord will get hot in that area and become a fire risk. How much current a wire caries is a function of both the material, and its cross sectional area. All those small wires, together, give the cord its current capacity. Damage too many of them and the cord can't safely carry the same amount of current.

A good way to make copper wire brittle is to repeatedly heat/cool it. Like under a radiator. I wouldn't forbid someone from doing this, but measuring the max temperature and comparing it to the cord rating is essential.
posted by sbutler at 8:42 PM on March 16, 2010


Also, for the exact same reason I list above, you shouldn't tightly bend or pinch an extension cord. That will damage those thin, braided wires also. When using U-nails to anchor the cord to the baseboard make sure the cord is still a little loose against the wall (don't nail it tight).
posted by sbutler at 8:44 PM on March 16, 2010


Big hardware stores will also carry all the bits and pieces (pipe wrap, stiff insulation board) you need to insulate the bottom of the radiator and the pipe coming out of the floor, to keep the area around the electrical wire cooler. You'll lose a little heat out of the radiator but most of that was probably going towards heating the floor & baseboard anyway.
posted by range at 9:54 PM on March 16, 2010


WHEN USING U-NAILS TO ANCHOR THE CORD TO THE BASEBOARD MAKE SURE THE CORD IS STILL A LITTLE LOOSE AGAINST THE WALL (DON'T NAIL IT TIGHT).

Emphasis added by someone who just went through two mysterious house fires in one season, both starting in the same spot in the house... As we were moving out, the electrician beginning renovations on the place found char spots where the romex (house wiring) was stapled to the notches in the joists near the fire.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:02 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Graphicly: Cause. Result.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:20 PM on March 16, 2010


Consider that an electric grill or coffeemaker, or toaster or kettle or Iron are connected to a plug via (usually) the very same copper wires that you propose. I would just make sure that the cable is 14 (preferably 12) guage, and simply not worry about it.
posted by Neiltupper at 11:25 PM on March 16, 2010


I did this for years in my last house and had no problems, and that was with pretty cheap extension cords. I used some electrical tape to hold it in place.
posted by mikepop at 5:51 AM on March 17, 2010


Yeah, not sure what I was thinking with the fabric + heat + electrical cord thing.

Very useful information about cord ratings, etc. Thanks!
posted by doift at 7:13 AM on March 17, 2010


A thermometer kept an inch from the bottom of the radiator for an hour while it was on this morning didn't get above 94 degrees F. Even assuming that's not the hottest it gets, a 140 degree-rated cord seems like it would be fine, as long as we secure it away from direct contact with the pipes. I'm liking the cord covers The Deej linked to as well.
posted by doift at 8:35 AM on March 17, 2010


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