When parts of your electrical outlets break or are exposed to other stresses, they can be very hazardous. Outlets are actually very simple, but a broken component can expose the walls – and people- to live current and cause damage, fire or serious injury. Here are some ordinary things that can damage your outlets and create hazardous situations.
The plastic in the plates and receptacles will degrade faster when it's exposed to constant humidity, the chemicals in aerosol sprays or ultra-violet rays from direct sunlight. Poor quality plastic is more likely to break or degrade over time and can become more fragile, so it will break sooner and under less stress. If any part of it cracks when you plug something in, it's a sign the plastic is deteriorating. This can increase the risk of electric shock.
It's probably impossible to avoid using all aerosol sprays or to keep UV rays from reaching an outlet. However, outlets that are subject to these conditions will probably show signs of damage before other outlets in your home will. Plastics have improved significantly in the last few decades, but if your outlets were installed in the mid-1990s or earlier, the plastic components might be getting brittle.
Don't ever paint a receptacle or plate either – not only is applying wet paint to a live outlet extremely dangerous, but the chemicals in paint can also affect the integrity of the plastic. In fact, some building codes prohibit the painting of electrical outlets and require painted pieces to be replaced. In addition to possible chemical reactions, flecks of dried paint could get lodged inside the slots, make insertion difficult and loosen or interfere with the contacts. If you are concerned about the plate matching the wall, replacing it with a colored plate is a much safer option.
Forceful Plugging and Unplugging
Always be gentle when plugging something in. Hold the plug, or the cord just below the plug, and never pull the cord up from an angle. This can damage both the receptacle and the plate, not to mention the prongs themselves.
There are also many metal parts under the plastic plate, including live wires that are connected to metal contacts on the receptacle. All metal is susceptible to metal fatigue, but poor quality metal even more so. While most receptacles will loosen with time and use, it generally takes years unless the outlets are abused. However, the rougher you are on the outlets, the more likely the parts are to loosen or experience metal fatigue.
When the components conduct live A/C current, the parts need to fit together tightly and to the proper specifications. In fact, if you have to use force to plug something in, if you feel the receptacle sink, or if it's difficult to unplug something, you are probably moving the components around and helping them loosen up. Loose live electrical wires are very dangerous, and if one comes off of a contact, the current could start a fire. If a plug just starts to feel loose or jiggly, it's probably time to replace it.
The plastic plates, outlets, receptacles and metal boxes are some of the least expensive components of your home's wiring, and an outlet can usually be made safer for just a few dollars' worth of supplies. Testing, inspecting and replacing outlets are some of the most common residential electrical services, and for good reason – the danger from a damaged outlet is too great for something that can be fixed so cheaply. If any of your outlets are questionable or showing signs of wear, have an electrician, like Action Electric, examine them and repair or replace them to keep them safe.