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Editor’s note: This post was originally published in May 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
When you plug something into an outlet, you expect there to be power, right? And most of the time, there is! But sometimes, things aren’t that simple.
Electrical safety has gotten a lot better over the years. If your house is older, this might mean that your power outlets are outdated. But the good news is that they can be replaced with newer, safer versions.
Keep reading to learn more!
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When to Replace Electrical Outlets
Just because something is old doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be replaced. But when it comes to power outlets, age is an important factor.
Here are some other factors to consider:
- Do you have any three-prong outlets?
- Are there enough power outlets around the house?
- Do plugs fall out frequently once they’re plugged in?
- Do you have mobile babies or toddlers in the house?
The main reason to upgrade or replace electrical outlets around your house is safety. But it can also be a convenience issue.
Relying on power strips and adapters to use a device with a three-prong plug isn’t safe. (It’s also a huge pain.) Your device will turn on, but it won’t be properly grounded.
Babyproofing your house with little plastic outlet covers isn’t foolproof. (And it takes forever!) Tamper-resistant receptacles (TRRs) are much safer.
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Types of Power Outlets
Two-slot vs. three-slot receptacles
Two-slot power outlets used to be the standard in home construction. Unfortunately, these outlets aren’t grounded. This means that they’re missing the third wire that protects you from electric shock.
Grounded outlets are much safer than ungrounded. Not only do they protect you from getting shocked, they also lower the likelihood of short circuits. A short circuit happens when electricity leaves a circuit. This can short out and damage appliances. Even worse, it can cause an electrical fire.
A three-slot power outlet has a grounding wire. It’s the round slot at the bottom of the plug area. If any electricity leaves the circuit, it will go to the grounding wire instead of your hand (or anywhere else).
GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. These types of power outlets are safety devices. If there’s a change in the current running through the circuit, a GFCI device shuts off the power. This prevents an electric shock.
Unless your house is brand-new, your GFCI outlets are probably just near sinks, in your garage, and on the outside of your house. If you do have a brand-new house, all your power receptacles should have GFCI protection on them.
AFCI stands for arc fault circuit interrupter. AFCI receptacles are also safety devices, but they reduce the risk of electrical fires instead of shock. If the current in a circuit arcs, the AFCI device shuts off the power to the circuit. An arc of electricity can start a fire. Shutting off the power to the circuit prevents any more arcing.
AFCI protection comes in two forms: AFCI circuit breakers and AFCI outlets. An electrician can advise you on what’s best for your house.
Tamper-resistant receptacles (TRRs)
Tamper-resistant receptacles have a cover behind the plug slots. This cover will only move out of the way if the prongs of a plug are inserted into the slots with equal pressure. So, for instance, the cover will not move if you stick a hairpin or a paperclip into one of the outlet slots. The cover prevents the piece of metal from touching the contact points in the outlet. This prevents shock and electrocution.
TRRs are now required in new construction by the National Electrical Code. If you have small children and an older home, ask your electrician about upgrading to TRRs.
Other types of receptacles
There are other types of outlets available that are designed for convenience, like the following:
- USB outlets are handy for charging phones and other devices without needing a plug. A strategically placed USB outlet in a bedroom or living space can make life a little easier.
- LED nightlight outlets have a built-in LED light in place of one of the plugs. This takes up less room and uses less energy than a traditional nightlight. These are great for kids’ rooms or hallways.
- Recessed outlets are set back into the wall so that any plugs inserted do not stick out from the wall. These are useful for places where you want furniture to be flush against the wall.
- Pop-up outlets can help eliminate tangles of cords. These types of receptacles are often installed in a countertop and stay hidden until they’re needed. If you’re a stickler for a clutter-free space, give this option a look.
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Do You Need to Replace Your Power Outlets?
Whether your house is old, brand-new, or somewhere in between, its electrical system needs to be safe. A big part of that is power outlets that work and prevent shocks and fires.
So, do you need to replace the receptacles around your house? You might!
Here are the highlights to keep in mind:
- Grounded outlets are safer than ungrounded
- Three-slot receptacles are the current standard
- If you only have two-slot outlets in your house, they aren’t grounded
- Upgrading to TRRs with GFCI and AFCI protection is your safest bet
Electrical work done correctly isn’t cheap, but it’s worth every penny. A professional electrician will get your outlets updated and make sure your house is safe.
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