Outlet Maul: When It's Time To Upgrade

Posted: September 6, 2019

The world is an imperfect place, and time is a thief. It sounds depressing, but eventually just about everything will wear out, break, or become obsolete. And while certain things like fashion trends are cyclical, you can safely bet your kid’s college fund that a two-pronged outlet is something that will never come back into style.

When it comes to our homes, we regularly redecorate, repaint, rearrange furniture, and modernize our kitchens and bathrooms. However, what is probably the most used component of our daily lives, is almost always the last to get an update. In fact, in most homes, the electrical outlets are as new as the most recent renovation (or in worst cases), as old the home itself. Is this an issue? It can be.

There are two main reasons to upgrade your outlets, the first being safety. Faulty or outdated outlets are among the five most common causes of electrical fires. With that in mind, on the scale of problems, having an old outlet gets elevated from eyesore to potential hazard. The second reason to upgrade is for advanced functionality. And with today’s expansion of smart homes and growing list of gadgets that need to be plugged in and regularly recharged, new outlets move from “nice to have” to “need to have.”

So, how do you know if your outlet is outdated? A quick eyeball check will tell you a lot. If you live in an old building and have an outlet with only two prongs, that’s a clear sign. Similarly, if your bathroom and kitchen outlets don’t have a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), that’s also a giveaway that you need an upgrade there as well. But bear in mind, even a GFCI outlet will eventually need an upgrade. According to Georgia-based electrical supply company HomElectrical, GFCI outlets will last about 15 to 25 years. Fortunately, these come with test buttons. If they pass the test, you’re good. If not, get a new one immediately.

 

DON’T MESS AROUND WITH THESE DANGER SIGNS


There are other clear giveaways that will let you know if it’s time to have an outlet replaced. Electricians Going Green lists four.

 

A Cracked Outlet Cover


Sure, a cracked outlet cover is ugly. But it’s also a gateway for dust, dirt, and other debris to invade your wiring system. Plus, if the cover is old enough to be cracked, chances are the outlet that it’s protecting is as old or older.



The Outlet is Warm to the Touch


A warm, (or worse) hot outlets is a clear sign of a serious problem in the wall. Touch your outlets. If they’re hot, call an emergency electrician immediately.



Flickering Lights


If a lamp plugged into an outlet flickers, it can be one of two things. Either the wiring in the lamp is faulty, or the outlet is failing. Take that flickering lamp to a trusted outlet in your home. If it performs well, chances are you need to replace that original outlet.



Sparking Outlet


A spark outside of the outlet is the clearest sign that the outlet is faulty and in imminent danger of starting a fire. Don’t mess around with this. Time will not be your friend here. Shut off the circuit breaker to that outlet immediately, then call and emergency electrician right away.



YOU CAN’T SPELL ‘FUNCTIONALITY’ WITHOUT ‘FUN’


The future isn’t just here. It’s been here for a while. So why is your outlet still in the 20th century? Here’s a list of high-end, medium-end, and simple solutions that can streamline your life, save on energy, and even free up some counter space.

 

A Smart Home Outlet


This will allow you to control and schedule electronic devices using your smartphone from any location, or in your home simply by talking to your Google Assistant, Alexa, or whatever hub you use to power your smart home. Some can also save on electricity costs by eliminating wasteful standby time. Note: many experienced DIYers have had success in installing these life-changing home components, the process is complicated. Best to call an electrician who can tell you which device works with your existing wiring and install it for you.



Wi-Fi Enabled Smart Plugs


A Smart plug instantly transforms a standard outlet into one that can be used to control devices remotely. Amazon, Belkin, Google, Samsung, and more all have options for any budget that can quickly turn your house into a smarter home.



USB Wall Outlets


Are you tired of fighting for outlet space to plug in your phone, laptop, or tablet chargers? Are you equally tired of the clutter these device chargers cause on your countertops? Why not install a USB electrical outlet? USB wall outlets like the ones made by Legrand, are a simple upgrade to any standard outlet that puts the charger in your wall and frees up your receptacles for other appliances.

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