As soon as you fall in love with that floor plan or those stainless steel appliances, you might be tempted to side-step the home inspection and assume that all is well with your potential dream home. However, after moving in, you might be surprised to find issues with your electrical system—issues that can be dangerous if they are left unchecked. Here are two signs your home outlets were installed incorrectly, and how to keep your family safe in your new place:
1: Loose Outlet Boxes
Do any of your electrical outlets move slightly when you plug or unplug your home appliances? If your outlet doesn't sit straight, won't sit flush with the wall, or wiggles side to side when you plug things in, you might have a loose outlet box. Although that movement might seem like a simple cosmetic issue or something to keep tabs on, loose boxes can spell trouble in the long run.
When electricity is run through your home, the lines that power your outlets are run through junction boxes, which are nailed or screwed to the studs inside of your wall. Unfortunately, if these boxes aren't mounted properly, they can get knocked free. For example, some contractors make the mistake of assuming boxes can be mounted to drywall, or installed with one nail instead of two. If these boxes come loose, they hang inside the wall, which creates friction on the wires entering through the back of the box. Also, since loose boxes move every time they are used, the constant strain can knock additional wires free, which can damage the functionality of the outlet and increase your risk of electrical shock.
If you notice loose outlets in your home, stop using them immediately and contact a professional electrician. Because outlet receptacles need to be properly mounted to the studs inside of your wall, electrical contractors usually need to turn off your power, remove sections of drywall, re-mount the box, and rewire the outlet. Never attempt to nail, screw, or tape an outlet in place. Even if you don't end up electrocuting yourself, an improper repair might not stop the outlet from moving, or correct any damage the wiring has already sustained.
2: Warm Outlets
Have you ever plugged something in, only to notice that the outlet is warm to the touch? Although you may have written off this occurrence as something normal that you may not have noticed before, outlets aren't supposed to get hot. In fact, if your electrical outlets are wired properly and carrying the proper loads, those outlets should be about the same temperature as the room they are situated in, which is why you should take notice if they seem toasty. Warm electrical outlets usually signal one of two things: either the main wire powering the outlet isn't sufficient, or there is a break in the line.
Your electrical outlets are only designed to carry a certain load. For example, electric code states that electricity usage from an outlet should never surpass 80% of the rated circuit. Unfortunately, if you daisy-chain together extension cords or use a single outlet to power a large power strip, you can pull too much power, which can heat up the outlet or spark a fire. However, if you don't have a lot of things plugged in and your outlet is still warm to the touch, it might be a sign that the wires that fuel the outlet are old, outdated, or too small for modern needs.
Outlets can also become damaged and overheat if there is a break in the protective insulation that surrounds the individual wires. This issue, which is referred to as an arc fault, can send molten metal spewing from damaged wires and heat the area to a staggering 15,000 degrees Fahrenheit. For example, if the previous homeowner decided to install a decorative faceplate around the outlet and used the wrong size of screw, that screw could have pierced one of the internal wires, causing heat to escape from the wire and into the surrounding junction box.
If you suspect that you have an arc fault or that your wiring needs to be updated, contact a professional electrician from a company like McDonald Electric. An electrician can check for illegal junctions, old knob-and-tube wiring, and even install a special device that can protect your home against arc faults.
By knowing the signs of improper electrical outlets, you might be able to fend off a disaster and protect your investment.