• Tri-Value Consultants / SPREI

Electrical Receptacles - Outlets: The Good The Bad And The Ugly

Updated: Mar 2

By: Michael J. Scaduto


PLEASE NOTE - THIS SECTION OF MY BLOG IS A WORK IN PROGRESS.

ENJOY READING WHAT IS PRESENTLY COMPLETED


SOME BASIC GROUND RULES FOR MY READERS

When it comes to reading any of my blogs on electrical safety the following comments are to be clearly understood:


  • First, And foremost any and all electrical work must conform to the current electrical code for safety.

  • Second, Only a licensed electrician should make electrical improvements, upgrades, updates and repairs.

  • Next, Permits must be applied for from the local municipal jurisdiction for all electrical work.

  • Finally, All electrical work must be inspected and signed off by the local municipal electrical inspector.


Special comments:

Local municipal electrical jurisdiction requirements takes precedence over

any National Electrical Codes. The local municipal inspector determines if the NEC code or the municipal code applies to any electrical questions and issues.


In my discussions on electrical defects and electrical safety the technical term receptacle and the commonly used term outlet will be used interchangeably.


Please understand that I am not a licensed electrician, but rather a licensed home inspector. And since the electrical code changes and is updated every 3 years I, as well as all home inspectors, am not expected to be fluent in all of the electrical code updates and changes. That's why the final word on anything having to do with electricity is solely in the realm of a licensed electrician

Additionally, for anyone reading this who is a homebuyer understand that homeowners do not have to upgrade and update their homes to adhere to current electrical code requirements.

Curiosity

I have always had a keen sense of curiosity to most things in life, but especially with electricity. They say that curiosity killed the cat; hopefully my curiosity with electricity won't kill me.


The following discussions are some electrical areas that over the years have peaked my curiosity and interest and perhaps will be of some particular interest and of some enlightenment to you as well.

Enjoy.


UPSIDE DOWN OUTLETS:

I am often asked by my clients why are some outlets installed upside down?

First let me say that there is no right or wrong way on how an outlet is installed. The National Electric Code doesn't specify how an outlet should be oriented.

However, common sense and logic should dictate how to install an outlet.


When an outlet, as shown below, is typically installed with its hot and neutral slots in the upper portion of the outlet and the ground slot in the lower portion a potential hazard exists.

Visualize the following scenario. If for example, a lamp cord is partially pulled out of a wall outlet and the hot and neutral blades are exposed any metal object (such as a knife) that falls or is inserted into this area will become energized.

Now picture a child playing with a metal object that could be inserted into this open electrical gap.

Need I say more!


Therefore the "safer way" to install an outlet is upside down, as seen on the left, with the ground slot at the top and the hot and neutral slots at the bottom. This way if a metal object (like the coin in the top right picture) falls in or is inserted into an open outlet gap the ground pin (when present) will deflect the metal item from becoming energized.


But there is an exception with plugs for appliances, such as for washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioners, etc. These appliance cords have what is called "immediate-turn plugs".



In order to not have an electrical cord from looping improperly over itself the outlet should be installed with the ground slot at the bottom.


The following illustration and picture show what an immediate-turn plug looks like and what an unsafe, improper cord loop looks like.

The next question is - how should horizontally installed outlets be installed?

In this case the outlet should be installed with the ground slot to the left and the neutral slot to the right and the smaller hot slot at the bottom. The top slot is the Neutral - thereby avoiding a potential hazard.


Finally - you decide which is the safer way of installing an outlet - upside down or not. In my opinion, the last illustration says it all.



WEATHER PROOF IN-USE EXTERIOR RECEPTACLE OUTLET COVERS


Outdoor outlets not only should be GFCI protected, but also should have weather proof protective covers. These specialized exterior covers are called

"weather proof in-use covers", or commonly referred to as "bubble covers".

The following picture is an example of such a required weather proof in-use outlet cover (with a plugged in cord) and which have been required since 2011 on newly constructed dwellings.

Weather proof in-use outlet covers eliminate the safety hazard of cords plugged into outdoor outlets. These newer types of exterior water tight outlet covers allows them to stay covered with a cord plugged in, as seen in the previous picture.


A plugged in electrical cord with no weather proof in-use cover, as seen in the following picture, can be subject to the negative effects of moisture from rain or snow during inclement weather.

If your home presently has an older type of outlet cover (as seen above) and doesn't have these important exterior in-use outlet covers, consider having a licensed electrician add them for safety.


ELECTRICAL OUTLET MOUNTING BLOCKS


Mounting blocks are designed to provide a weather proof installation to prevent water from entering into an exterior outlet.

For that reason, all exterior outlets should be attached on properly installed mounting blocks. Such as shown in the following picture.

PUT PICTURE HERE


This is also valid for all exterior electrical components, such as light fixtures and electrical meters, as seen in the following 2 pictures.

PUT PICTURE OF A LIGHT FIXTURE ON A MOUNTING BLOCK

AND AN ELECTRIC METER ON A MOUNTING BLOCK

In addition, and in my professional opinion, not only electrical devices, but all wall penetrations should also be installed on professionally installed mounted blocks.

For example, wall penetrations for dryer vents and bathroom vents,etc., require mounting blocks.

PUT DRYER VENT AND BATHROOM VENTS HERE


Unfortunately during my home I frequently I find exterior wall mounted outlets, as seen in the following picture, not installed on mounting blocks and as expected loose in the siding.

Also because of the grooved, not smooth siding surface, in this particular picture, there is a greater potential for water entry into the electrical outlet and making contact with its wires.


PUT PICTURE OF OUTLET IN SIDING HERE


During my home inspections I sometimes find outlets not only poorly installed and without mounting blocks but also that project out from the siding, as shown in the next picture. Outlets not being flush to the siding have a potential for any number of potential impact contacts that could at minimum loosen them up or worse damage them, Again a licensed electrician should correct such installations.


PUT PICTURE HERE


Finally, even with mounting blocks some outlets can be improperly installed as witnessed in the following picture. The shown outlet is too close to grade.

At very minimum outlets should not be installed closer than 6 1/2 inches above grade. In my opinion even that is too low when you consider winter snow covering in New England. Even in a mild winter, snow cover often exceeds several inches above grade. The ramifications of outlets covered in snow have the potential for all of the negative consequences of water entry into them.


PUT PICTURE IN


The takeaway message to all of this is that all exterior wall penetrations, including electrical outlets, should be properly attached on mounting blocks.


Outlets With T Shaped Slots

PUT T- SHAPED SLOT OUTLET HERE


Have you ever been curious why some outlets have T-shaped slots and wondered what's the purpose of this odd looking slot?

I have, and I did some research to satisfy my curiosity. Here is what I found.


Outlets with a T-shaped slot in the left side neutral opening instead of a vertical slot are specially rated 20 amp outlets which can receive special plugs (with a sideways neutral plug) for electrical appliances drawing more than 15 amps. This prevents people tripping their circuit breakers by plugging them into 15 amp outlets by mistake.

A standard plug can still fit into this outlet because the T-shaped slot is designed to accept both kinds of neutral plugs.



A PRIMER ON ELECTRICAL RECEPTACLES

"EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT ELECTRICAL RECEPTACLE - OUTLETS BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK."


INTRO

Receptacles - outlets found in dwellings are both a safe and convenient way to power our lives, but also can be a potential life-safety hazard.

What I will try to convey to my readers in the following excerpts are the good, the bad and the ugly when dealing with electrical receptacles - outlets.

EXTERIOR

As is my practice, when I am inspecting properties, I'll start this electrical discourse on the exterior of the building.

  • Exterior Outlets

All exterior outlets must be GFCI protected.

At minimum there should be 1 GFCI outlet at the front of the building and 1 at the rear of the building.

The maximum height above grade for outlets is 6 feet 6 inches

An exception to that rule would be for outlets used for ice dam heat cables

DO ICE HEAT CABLE OUTLETS


  • Weather proof in-use outlet covers

As noted in the previous segment these covers are a needed improvement over the older types of exterior outlet covers. If your exterior outlets do not presently have weather proof in-use outlet covers give some thought to having them installed by a licensed electrician.


  • Outlet mounting blocks

These devices allow outlets to be mounted nice and tight to the wall siding thereby keeping them weather tight from the intrusion of water.

In my opinion, all exterior electrical components, such as light fixtures, and electric meters, as well as all wall penetrations such as dryer vents, heat vents and bathroom vents, etc., should be installed on mounting blocks.

GARAGE

  • All garage interior outlets must be GFCI protected. The following illustration demonstrates these locations.

PUT ILLUSTRATION OF GARAGE INTERIOR WITH ALL OF THE GFCI LOCATIONS


  • A garage outlet cannot be lower than 18 inches above the garage floor.

The reason is because of the potential for the accumulation of combustible heavy vapor buildup at the floor level which could ignite from a spark,...

PUT ILLUSTRATION OF CAR TIRE TO THE GARAGE LOW OUTLET


FYI:

Garage Door Optical Sensor

For safety the location of the electrical optical sensor cannot be higher than 6 inches above the garage floor and not lower than 4 inches.

And it cannot be more than 6 inches in or out away from the interior/exterior garage door wall.........

PUT ILLUSTRATION OF GARAGE DOOR COMING DOWN ON THE BIKE


Door opener height

The door opener switch cannot be lower than 5 feet for child safety. This prevents a child from reaching up an activating the door to open or close.


BASEMENT

  • All basement (finished and unfinished) areas must be GFCI protected

  • A sump pump must be GFCI protected

  • ........Outlets cannot be mounted directly on foundation walls. They must be mounted on running boards


......?????GROUNDING define it.....

- missing jumper - spliced ground rod - corrosion - disconnected - wrong side of the meter - on gas pipes -

PUT PICTURES


ATTIC

Although there is no code requirement for an outlet in an unfinished attic there is a code requirement for a light. Many of the attic - upper crawlspaces that I inspect do not have lights. For safety if your attic does not have proper illumination have a licensed electrician provide adequate lighting for your safety


ADD ----ALSO READ MY BLOG ON KNOB AND TUBE WIRING IN ATTICS


And if there is mechanical equipment located in the attic, such as a HVAC system, which requires an outlet, the outlet should be GFCI protected.


LIVING AREAS

The following are various electrical defects/deficiencies found in the living areas of homes that I have inspected.


The 2 most common mis-wired outlets that I find during my inspections are ungrounded outlets and hot-neutral outlets.


Ungrounded outlets

are outlets.........

PUT UNGROUNDED OUTLET HERE WITH TESTER


Hot-neutral reversed polarity outlets

are outlets that have their hot and neutral wires reversed

PUT HOT NEUTRAL OUTLET HERE WITH TESTER


2 Slot Outlets

PUT 2 SLOT OUTLET HERE

Technically referred to as two prong outlets, but typically called 2 slot outlets.

These outlets are not grounded and as such are a potential hazard!

Prior to 1962 outlets were not grounded. They just had a hot and neutral slot for a hot and neutral wire, but no slot for a ground wire. In 1962 that all changed and outlets were manufactured with 3 slots which now included a slot for a ground wire. In my opinion if your home has any of these 50 plus year old outlets - have them replaced by a licensed electrician.


Sometimes older 2 slot outlets are replaced with GFCI outlets.

The reasoning behind this is that if there are any changes in the electrical current with a GFCI outlet the power is immediately shut off if the electrical current is traveling down an unintended path. ....check out.......such as water



put picture and comments of gfci outlet replacing a 2 slot/ungrounded outlet


And when it comes to 2 slot outlets don't make the foolish mistake of using "cheater plugs" like the one in the next picture to make your 3 prong plug appliance fit into an ungrounded 2 slot outlet.

PUT 3 PRONG ADAPTER PLUG PICTURE HERE


Back Stabbing

Back stabbing is a term used when an electrician or a "handyman" has wired an electrical outlet or a switch by using the quick unsafe method of pushing in the hot and neutral wires into open slots at the back of an outlet, rather than properly wrapping the wires tightly under the terminal screws in the outlet. Basically it is a shortcut to securing the wires in an outlet. It was a common practice in the 1970's and the 1980's, but now very few (if any) competent licensed electricians do that.

This is a dangerous practice and over time those wires can loosen up.

Loose wires can heat up and melt the wiring and can result in a fire.

There is no way to tell if an outlet has been back stabbed without removing the outlet from the wall. The following illustration gives an example of the right and wrong way to install the outlet wires.

PUT PICTURE HERE


Loose Outlets



Recessed Outlets

Outlets that are recessed in walls....


PUT PICTURE HERE


Protruding Outlets And Protruding Outlet Boxes

Outlets and outlet boxes that stick out of walls.......


PUT PICTURE HERE


Outlets That Have Open Wall Gaps

The combination of an outlet box and cover plate is intended to create a closed space that keeps short circuits, arcing and sparking within the box and separates it from flammable materials nearby in the wall, thereby avoiding a house fire.

The National Electric Code specifies that plaster or drywall that is damaged or incomplete around outlet boxes and outlet cover plates shall be repaired so that no gap greater than an 1/8th of an inch exist at the edge of the box. And that cover plates be installed so that the box be completely covered.

The NEC also states that an outlet box in a drywall can be recessed no greater than a 1/4 of an inch, but must be flush with walls such as wood.

In simple terms electrical outlets (as well as wall switches) should have no open gaps or open spaces, such as seen in the following picture.


PUT PICTURE HERE


Damaged Outlets

PUT PICTURE HERE


Missing Outlet Cover Plates

PUT PICTURE HERE


Damaged Cover Plates

PUT PICTURE HERE


Hanging Outlets

PUT PICTURE HERE


Outlets Installed In Baseboards

PUT PICTURE HERE


Insufficient Outlets

Not having sufficient outlets is a typical malaise of older homes.

Way back then in the good olden days you were lucky to have 1 outlet with 1 light fixture per room. We certainly have come a long way since those golden days of yore. The next picture is an example of such paucity of outlets that I often find in older homes that have not been updated to current standards.

PUT PICTURE IN HERE NEED A PICTURE



THE PLACEMENT OF WALL OUTLETS

Since 1956 the National Electric Code has some very specific rules regarding the placement of wall outlets. Here they are.

  • Wall outlets shall be spaced no farther than 12 feet apart. The idea is that you should not have to extend a cord for a light, appliance, computer or any other electrical device more than 6 feet measured horizontally along the floor line in either direction.

  • This 6 foot rule is based on the length of a cord for a lamp, appliance, etc.

  • The 6 foot rule doesn't prevent more outlets from being installed.

  • Most walls 2 feet or longer will require an outlet.

  • An outlet is required within 6 feet of a door.

  • An outlet is required with 6 feet of a corner of a wall.

  • A hallway will only need an outlet if it is 10 feet or longer.

  • The standard height of wall outlets is between 12 and 16 inches high.

In rare instances outlets are installed in baseboards and floors, but only with proper boxes and covers.

  • Generally speaking countertop outlets are installed 4 inches above them.

Read other areas of this blog for specific outlet requirements in the kitchen bathrooms, garage, exterior, etc.

Also read this blog for specific placement of wall switches,

During my inspections I frequently find outlets that do not meet the NEC regulations and here they are

I NEED TO FIND SOME PICTURES FOR THIS LOCATION


Ceiling Mounted Outlets

do picture with rob from newsletter



Surface Mounted Outlets On Countertops

PUT PICTURE HERE


Surface Mounted Outlets On Floors

PUT PICTURE HERE



Hot Outlets/Cover Plates


Sparking Outlets

When there is a sparking outlet or one that is making noises ---add more