Extension cords are ubiquitous -- pretty much everyone has one or has used one in their lives. But no matter how often you used them when growing up, when you buy your first one, the different choices available seem overwhelming. It's hard to tell what features you need when you've spent the past several years just plugging in whatever you had lying around the house. There are a few items that you need to check out to ensure you get the best extension cord for your home.

Wattage/Amperage Limits

Just as outlets have a certain amount of power running to them, extension cords are rated for a maximum wattage or number of amps. Plugging in appliances that would draw more than that max could be dangerous. At best it could cause the appliances to not work or the cord to simply fail. However, it's also possible that the wiring in the cord could catch fire. So, if the extension cord is rated for 15 amps, for example, everything you plug into that extension cord can't draw more than 15 amps. If you plug in an 18-amp hair dryer, for example, you could have problems.

Heat Dispersal and Excess Length

Many people try to hold down excess cord lengths with lots of tape, by putting a rug over the cord, or even doing a little construction and creating a false baseboad to hide the cord. Don't do that. The cords need to be out in the open so that heat can disperse safely. If the cord is not out in the open, it could get too hot and cause items next to it to burn. Always check the length of the cord and get one that will be enough for the appliance-outlet pair you have, but not so long that there is a lot of extra cord in the way.

Extension Cords and Surge Protectors

Extension cords are not the same as surge suppressors. Even if you know that already, be careful because many stores place the two right next to each other. You can obviously plug things into a surge suppressor if you just need extra cord length, but if you're actually looking for a surge suppressor, make sure you don't choose a plain extension cord.

Outdoor Ratings

Extension cords are rated for indoor or outdoor use. If you need one to use outdoors, say for Christmas lights, do not use an indoor-rated cord. It will not hold up well if it rains, and it could create an electrocution risk.

This does make choosing a power cord extension cord seem really complicated, but it's not. This is new information that you didn't have to think about before. Once you get used to looking for the items listed here, choosing a cord will take only a couple of minutes.