In some homes, the three-prong electrical outlets are installed upside-down. When you look at the outlet, the ground portion is on the top and the two slots are on the bottom.
Does this affect your electrical service, and how can you fix it?
Does this matter?
No, this does not matter much, though there are some trivial differences.
With electrical outlets, there is no top or bottom. It does not make much of a difference if they are installed in either direction. Unlike light switches, outlets work equally in either position. The only problem may be one of convention. Since outlets are typically installed with the ground holes on the bottom, it can be visually disturbing for some homeowners to keep seeing what they perceive as wrongly installed outlets.
Why was this done?
Currently, electrical code mandates nothing regarding the positioning of outlets within the electrical boxes. But some electricians will install the outlet with the ground facing upward and there are a few possible reasons for this action:
- It Is a Switch-Controlled Outlet: Your outlet might turn on or off by a wall switch. This is valuable when you have a floor lamp you want to turn on when you enter a room. Some electricians will turn the outlet upside-down as a quick visual cue to indicate a switch-controlled receptacle.
- It Promotes Better Electrical Safety: Some people believe that this upside-down configuration reduces the possibility of electrical shock. If a three-prong ground plug of this type comes partially out, a metallic object that accidentally hits it (falling downward) will contact the ground first. As long as the ground is not carrying a charge, it is inert and harmless; it is simply a dead wire. Only in the event of a problem will the electrical current revert to the ground, and this is typically a rare event.
- It Gives Plugs a Better Grip: This type of installation may hold better. Some electricians and homeowners have the belief that a three-prong plug installed in this fashion holds tighter into the outlet. This point has some validity. If a fully inserted plug is going to be dislodged by an object, this object will usually travel from the top-down. Having the ground on top makes it a bit more difficult for the plug to accidentally come dislodged. With the advent of TR (tamper resistant) outlets, this point may soon become moot, as TR outlets tend to provide a very strong grip on fully inserted plugs. Unfortunately, TR outlets have the opposite effect on partially inserted plugs, as the spring loaded internal doors tend to push plugs out.
How to Fix This (No Rewiring Required)
If you find your upside-down outlets to be visually disturbing or if you feel that one of the above reasons are good reasons, you will be gratified to learn that the fix easy and will cost you nothing. In most cases, you do not even have to re-wire anything. All you need are a flat head screwdriver and a Phillips head screwdriver.
- Breaker Off: Go to your electrical service panel and turn off the circuit breaker to the outlet.
- Test Outlet: With a voltage tester, check that the outlet has no power. It is always good practice to first test the tester itself on a known live outlet.
- Remove Face Plate: With your flat head screwdriver, turn out the screws holding the face plate in place. Be careful, as these plastic-coated screws tend to scratch. Turn these screws counter-clockwise.
- Loosen Outlet From Box: With your Phillips screwdriver, turn out the screws holding the outlet in place. Do not remove the wires. Carefully pull the outlet out of the box. Usually, outlets will extend a few inches from the box.
- Turn Outlet Around: Gently turn the outlet around 180 degrees so that it is now "right." Be very careful when you turn the wires, so that you do not dislodge any connections. If it is hard to turn the outlet and the wires are binding, you should completely disconnect the outlet, turn the outlet around, and then rewire it.
- Verify Connections: Because turning the outlet creates stress on the wire-to-outlet connections, verify that they are still solid. Fix any loose connections by tightening the wire nuts.
- Finish: Replace the outlet and the face plate.
- Test: Turn on the circuit breaker. Test the outlet with your voltage tester or with a lamp.