They seem so innocuous. Lining the walls of your home, blending into the rooms like pieces of the furniture. The only time you notice them is when you must plug in or unplug an appliance. Electrical outlets seem like such a low maintenance aspect of your home. Dust them occasionally when cleaning the floors and you are good to go.
Let’s try an experiment. BING the the term, “Electrical Outlet” and look under the NEWS headings. Astonishing, the amount of news stories appearing that deal with fires and fatalities determined to be caused by electrical outlets.
The Fire Department of New York released a report on 1/9/17 stating that: “The Highest Cause of Fire Deaths in 2016 was “electrical”. Per the department's statistics, 14 of the 48 fire-related deaths in New York City last year were due to electrical issues. Overworked, under-maintained sockets or power cords were to blame for the fatalities.***
So, how do you keep from having your home become a statistic? There are some simple steps to maintaining the outlets in your home and keeping your family safe:
1 PAINT – Paint is a conductor, therefore painting an outlet can cause a fire, very easily from a single a spark! Paint may enter the receptacles and cause improper current transfer, improper grounding, or shock. It also happens to be a violation of the National Electric Code (NEC). (internal parts of electrical equipment, including busbars, wiring terminals, insulators, and other surfaces, shall not be damaged or contaminated by foreign materials such as paint, plaster, cleaners, abrasives, or corrosive residues. There shall be no damaged parts that may adversely affect safe operation or mechanical strength of the equipment such as parts that are broken; bent; cut; or deteriorated by corrosion, chemical action, or overheating.)
2. CLEAN AND TIGHT - Lint, dust, and hair can act as kindling when they accumulate around the outlet behind the plate, increasing the chances of a short circuit. Always replace cracked wall plates and make sure they fit properly around the socket. You do not want small fibers to get inside and act as a conductor.
3. BROWN OR BURNT IS BAD – Buzzing, charred, and discolored outlets or light switches are a very bad sign of a potentially dangerous situation. The outlet or switch should be replaced right away, but the problem is not always in the outlet or switch. In some cases, faulty wiring in the circuit, usually near the outlet or switch, or a loose connection on the switch is the cause and causes a short. This causes the outlet to arc and make a small, short-lived mini fire that causes the outlet's surface to char or discolor from heat buildup. That mini fire can spread inside the walls and take down your house.
4. HOT IS NOT GOOD – If you touch the wall surrounding the electrical outlet and feel heat radiating, there is a possibility that the receptacle, (socket) has a loose connection and is arcing (sparking), either inside or a loose wire outside that is causing the heat. Not enough to blow the fuse but will just keep building heat until there is a fire.
My suggestion is that a few times each year, during spring and fall cleaning, when you are tending to floorboards and dusting, take a moment to check out each of your electrical outlets and the surrounding wall space, simply to make sure everything is safe, functioning properly and to have peace of mind.
It could be that the receptacle, (socket) has a loose connection and is arcing (sparking), either inside or a loose wire outside that is causing the heat. Not enough to blow these but will just keep building heat until there is a fire.