Hidden Dangers Of Cracked Outlets

Man about to plug in
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Using electrical outlets seems as ordinary and harmless as brushing your teeth or talking on the phone. And in most cases it is. So it's easy to forget that the electricity supplying an outlet is a potentially deadly force. The only buffer between you and that force is a little bit of plastic. Here's a look at the hazards you can be exposed to if some of those plastic parts are cracked or missing.

  

Cracked Faces

In the photo here you can clearly see that the bottom side of the outlet face has a crack in it. Eventually, this piece of plastic could fall out completely and expose the metal contact points inside the outlet. Cracked faces also can expose the user to loose terminals and loose connection points for the cords that plug into them. All of these hazards present a shock risk and a potential fire hazard.

Cracked Covers

The outlet cover plate is an important safety device because it covers everything in the electrical box, including the electrical terminals (screws) on the sides of the outlet and the bare ends of the circuit wires. Touching these can give you a powerful shock. Cover plates also help to stabilize the outlets. When a cover is cracked the outlet can move more than it should. This can lead to loose wires and premature wear on the outlet. 

Outlet Body

If the plastic body or backplate of the outlet is cracked, the wiring and inner contacts can be exposed within the electrical box and cause a short circuit.

If the box is metal, often the hot wire shorts out on the box and trips the breaker, rendering the circuit off. Although, this is after sparks have flown and there is a loud "pop" before the circuit trips. If you happen to be touching the box at the time, you'll get a shock, too. Loose wires in any type of box or anywhere in an electrical circuit presents a serious fire risk.

 

Loose Outlets

Whether due to cracks in the outlet face or simply wear and tear, outlets that don't hold cords securely are another common problem. What this means is that the electrical contacts within the outlet have lost their tension and fail to hold the prongs on the plug. When a cord is plugged into an outlet, it should hold the cord tightly without hanging or falling out of the outlet. A plug that has slipped partway out is really dangerous because the plug prongs are exposed while they are energized.  

Replace Damaged Outlets

If you have a bad outlet, don't hesitate to replace it with a new one. Wiring an outlet isn't all that hard to do yourself. You may also have a GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) outlet that needs replacing. GFCIs are also an easy replacement and are an important part of safety in your home.