Retractable Extension Cords – 6 Features to Look for Before You Buy

I enjoy woodworking. In my tool arsenal, I have a variety of hand saws and other tools that don’t come equipped with their own battery pack the way my hand drill does. So inevitably, the dance of maneuvering around an extension cord becomes part of the experience. And, let’s be real, it’s not my favorite part by a long shot. Especially when the closest outlet to plug in said extension cord was in the far corner of my old garage. (MILES away from where I needed my sawhorses set up. Miles. Away.)  

The heavy-duty orange extension cord got the job done, but I was constantly side-stepping over it and trying not to trip and accidentally impale myself on my jigsaw. Then, when the project was finished, there was the added task of manually coiling the cord back up again. A buddy of mine saw my dilemma when we were working on a project together and suggested that I check out a retractable extension cord to help keep my floors clear. I did some research and discovered that these cords have some excellent features to offer. Here are some options I found.  

Retractable Extension cords have great utility, keep your floors trip-hazard free, and quickly and easily coil out of the way when you are finished with them. While there are a variety of styles on the market, we’ve done the research and compiled a list of the six best retractable extension cord features to consider before you make your purchase.  

1. Bracket and Mounting Options for Retractable Extension Cords 

One of the features that gives retractable extension cords some great utility are the types of mounting brackets available. There are variations, but the types can basically be divided into two camps: ceiling-mounted and wall-mounted. How you choose to mount your extension cord is largely about preference and accessibility, so assess your space before you purchase to ensure that you have the right type of mounting bracket.  

 Ceiling Mounted Retractable Extension Cords 

Ceiling-mounted retractable extension cords are great for nearly any garage. Generally, they are installed into a ceiling joist with a small mounting bracket that will allow you to put two or three screws into the joist. In most garages, you can find power by plugging into the outlet that was designated for the garage door opener. Once you have the mount installed, you then complete the installation by inserting the mounting pin and then securing the pin with a clip so that reel will not fall. Having your reel in the center of your garage gives you an excellent range to all four corners of your workspace. It also keeps a good length of the cord hanging off the floor and out from underfoot.  

Wall Mounted Retractable Extension Cords 

If the ceiling mount is not going to work for you or your garage, a wall-mounted option might be the direction you need to go. Depending on the age of your garage, you may find yourself limited by where the plugs are located in your garage. (Depending on how ambitious you are feeling, however, it may be possible to run another power line to give your retractable extension cord a better location).  

Once you have chosen where to install, secure the cord reel to a stud in the wall. From what I’ve found, the wall-mounted brackets are normally larger and will give you a larger surface to secure the mount. Another plus to the wall-mounted option is that, once it is installed, these mounts are typically able to swivel on the X-axis to keep additional pressure and friction off the extension cord as it extends and retracts along the housing.  

2. Length of Cord – 30 ft., 40 ft., 50 ft

When shopping for a mounted retractable extension cord, the length of the cord itself is a feature you should give some attention to. If you plan to use this extension cord for projects in the garage, the shorter lengths may be all that you need. But, if you do a lot of powered work outside, say down your driveway or along the side of the house, that additional distance of 10 or 20ft. could be a big benefit for you.  

In general, the retractable extension cord lengths vary from 30, 40, or 50 ft. The reel casing size may reflect the extra coiled length of the cord, but overall the difference shouldn’t be too dramatic if you are concerned about the space you need to install it.  As far as pricing, the shorter cords tend to be more basic and less expensive. But you can weigh the value for yourself – an extra few dollars may be worth being able to use your tools in your side yard and have some additional features stacked on top of that.  

3. Number and Placement of Outlets on a Retractable Extension Cord 

The number of outlets on a retractable extension cord is also a feature that has options. Typically, three outlets seem to be the standard. However, with some of the portable extension reels, there may be four places to plug in.  

The difference here, where options come into play, is the way the three outlets are configured. Tri-socket cords will either have three outlets right next to each other in a line, or in a slightly fanned shape. The other configuration is a power block, which looks like a surge protector but has two outlets on one side and the middle outlet on the opposite side. Configuration is again, largely about preference. I have found that I like the power block style, as it feels less jammed to have my table saw cord plugged into one side, and other tools on the other, as I usually have two areas I’m working in when I utilize more than one outlet.  

4. Lighted Outlets on Retractable Extension Cords 

When I was doing my research, I found that it is common to see a power indicator light near the plug. This helps when you overload the circuit and pop a breaker. And it especially helps when you pop a breaker and are throwing a hissy fit in your driveway in the middle of the night because you cannot figure out why your saw lost power in the middle of your last cut before you called it a night… I digress… 

If you are someone that finds yourself working into the evening in your garage, or if you pull your worktables out into the driveway, you are not alone. Some retractable extension cords have a handy lighted outlet that is much brighter than just the dim indicator light. These are typically found on extension cord ends that have a clear casing that you can see the wired plug through. This fantastic feature can save you time when you need to switch tools in dim light.  

5. Circuit Breaker on Retractable Extension Cords 

Another thing you might want to consider with your purchase is having a circuit breaker included in the build of your retractable extension cord. This was not personally a concern of mine since the electrical box was nearby. I had previously installed a KVAR unit (whole house circuit breaker), and since I would not accrue the cost of having to replace fuses; the worst-case scenario is I would just have to flip back a switch.

If you, on the other hand, have an older home where you do have to replace fuses, purchasing a retractable extension cord with a circuit breaker might be a wise buy. Even if you do not plan on overloading the circuit (you rebel, you), it is a good peace of mind. 

6. Adjustable Cord Stopper on Retractable Extension Cords 

When I was younger, I always thought these plastic balls on a cord looked ugly and didn’t serve much purpose. But, as I’ve gotten older and wiser, I realized that these adjustable cord stoppers are truly a thing of genius. If you are going to purchase a wall-mounted retractable extension cord, this might not be a deal-breaker kind of a feature. For those of us who have a ceiling-mounted reel, this can be an unsung hero.   

Before we moved, I had an 8ft ceiling in the old garage. It was easy… reach up and BAM, instant access to power. When we moved the garage grew from 8ft ceilings to about 9.5ft. I know what you are thinking, does your previous life of being an Olympic hurdler finally benefit you in some way? No… I adjusted the cord stopper, so the extension cord was in easy reach. 

Final Thoughts 

Retractable extension cords are insanely practical. In a lot of ways, you really can’t go wrong with any product, provided it essential does what you want it to do – bring life to your power tools and retract easily when you are done. The features outlined are just some of the options for your preferential self to sift through before you purchase, (so you don’t find yourself wishing on the back end you had spent a few extra dollars to have those lighted outlets or the handy ball-stopper!) Armed with new info, we wish you happy hunting! We hope you find the best cord for your space!

Thanks for reading, and as always, be sure to keep it tuned to The Garage Junkie for all of your garage’s FYI and DIY needs!

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