Should I Upgrade My Outlets?

Wednesday February 10, 2021

 

If your electrical outlets are old, warped, damaged, or malfunctioning, it may be time to replace them. Old outlets wear out over time, diminishing their effectiveness or even putting you in danger. 

For something we use every day, most of us probably don’t understand outlets very well. Normally, that doesn’t seem like a big deal… but it can become a big deal if something’s wrong.

If you don’t understand how outlets work, it’s harder to know when they aren’t working properly… and when they need to be replaced. 
Here’s what you should know about your home’s outlets.

How do electrical outlets work?

Electrical outlets connect to your electrical supply via a branch circuit. Home circuits have either two or three sockets for inserting electrical cords. The two higher sockets are the “hot” and “neutral” sockets, while the lower socket is the “ground.” The hot socket connects to a black “hot” wire. The hot wire carries voltage from the panel to the outlet. The neutral socket connects to a white “neutral” wire. The neutral wire carries the leftover electrical voltage to the panel, completing the circuit. The ground socket connects to a grounding wire, which protects against short-circuiting.

The wires connect into the outlets by wrapping around screws connected to metal terminals. The hot wire charges the outlet’s hot terminal with voltage. The neutral wire connects to the neutral terminal and carries voltage back through the circuit. When you plug an appliance, you’re adding that appliance into the branch circuit by connecting it to these terminals.

Voltage from the hot wire flows through the electrical cord and into the appliance, supplying it with power. Any leftover voltage exits the appliance via the neutral plug and returns to the panel via the neutral wire. 

How do they wear out?

Outlets naturally start to wear down over time as a result of natural use. As you plug and unplug different devices, metal plugs are grinding up against metal terminals over and over. Eventually, all that pushing and shoving loosens the connections between the wires and the terminal screws just a little. When connections start to loosen, voltage can’t arc from wire to terminal to appliance as easily. This can lead to all sorts of different problems. 

First, the more electrical resistance there is in the outlet, the more heat builds up inside of the outlet. This heat can warp the plastic of the outlet, damage its internal components, or even ignite nearby objects. Electrical resistance also makes it more difficult for voltage to flow through the circuit properly, which could make the outlet less effective. Eventually, the outlet may not be able to handle as much voltage as it should. Excess voltage could trip circuit breakers, crack or further damage outlet components, or even generate sparks.

When should I upgrade my outlets?

There are four main cases when we highly recommend you replace your existing electrical outlets. They are:

1. Your outlet is warped, damaged, or faulty

If you’ve started to notice any of the symptoms outlined above, replace your outlet immediately. Warping, cracking, discoloration, or (yikes!) sparking are all signs that the internal components of your outlet are breaking down. The easiest and most effective way to fix those problems is to replace the outlet. Contemporary fixtures last much longer than their older counterparts.

2. Your outlet is old or inadequate for your voltage needs

Even if your outlets aren’t obviously damaged, you should consider replacing them if they’re getting old. Older outlets may not be rated for the amount of voltage contemporary use requires. If you demand too much voltage, you could wear them down faster.  

3. Your outlets aren’t grounded

Make sure each of your outlets has three sockets, including the ground socket. Every outlet in your home should include a ground socket. In fact, the National Electrical Code has required all outlets installed in new construction to be grounded for quite some time. Existing ungrounded outlets aren’t illegal… but they aren’t necessarily safe either. 

4. The outlets in your kitchen and bathroom aren’t GFCI outlets

Finally, you should make sure all of the outlets in your kitchen and bathrooms are GFCI outlets. A GFCI (or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlet senses when the voltage-current running through it is behaving irregularly and temporarily breaks its connection with the hot wire. This enables it to prevent electric shock if an appliance suddenly contacts water while you’re using it. 

GFCI outlets are three-pronged and have “test” and “reset” buttons built into their framings. “Testing” the GFCI outlet breaks its connection, cutting it off from power. “Resetting” it restores that connection, allowing voltage to flow into the outlet again. GFCI outlets are very important for proper electrical safety in your kitchen and bathroom. If you don’t have them installed already, we highly recommend investing in them.

How can I upgrade them?

Whether you have questions, or have an emergency electrical problem you need help with ASAP, we’re here to help. 

Our licensed technicians can replace and upgrade your outlets to make sure your electricity works safely and effectively. We’ve got everything you need to make your home safe.