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Can My Electrical Outlets Fail?

Most people take it for granted that their outlet will always be available and working well. Yet, electrical outlets do go bad, mainly due to regular wear. In some cases, they may simply fail to work. In more dangerous instances, they can become a fire hazard if not attended to promptly. Fortunately, most outlets give homeowners signs that they need attention and replacement by a qualified electrician.

How Long Do Most Electrical Outlets Last?

Standard three-prong outlets last an average of 15 years, but many can last indefinitely if they are rarely used. On the other hand, some outlets may only last a few years if they experience daily use. Ground Force Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlets last 15 to 25 years. Inspecting your electrical outlets annually if your home or wiring is 15 years or older can help find problems before they become serious.

What is a GFCI Outlet?

GFCI outlets have special reset buttons between the two receptacles. They are designed to cut power to the outlet and everything beyond this point in your circuit if they notice a surge of excess energy. This action prevents a ground fault when electricity flows outside its intended circuit. GCFIs have been instrumental in preventing electrocution and are required in any outlet within six feet of a water source.

Factors Involved in Bad Electrical Outlets

The way you use your outlets contributes to the rate of wear. For example, using a power strip gives you the ability to plug multiple devices into the same outlet. But when you use multiple ones simultaneously, this can cause an overload that wears down the outlet.

An overloaded system can cause a circuit breaker to trip. While this indicates that the circuit breaker is protecting your home, if an appliance keeps tripping a circuit breaker, it indicates that sufficient voltage isn’t getting to the outlet. You may need to update your wiring, redistribute the circuits or upgrade the circuit breaker.

Sometimes, an electrician will improperly use wire nuts by using them to connect wires instead of covering them. This usage can cause inner wiring to develop problems and prevent your outlets from working as they should.

Other reasons that electrical outlets can fail include:

  • Wiring forced into a connector instead of through screw terminals
  • Using an outlet not rated for the power of a device
  • Plugging and unplugging devices frequently
  • Using a non-GFCI outlet in a wet area
  • Using an ungrounded outlet or an outlet without surge protection
  • Using power during thunderstorms without a lightning rod

Signs of Bad Electrical Outlets

Signs of faulty electrical outlets can run the gamut from minor to severe. Here are some common signs that you should replace electrical outlets:

Plugs That Are Loose or Fall Out

You plug an appliance in the outlet, move the cord slightly, and it falls out. This is an annoyance, but it also indicates an outlet that has worn out from overuse. Some loose outlets may also have aged, weak and unreliable wire connections and can eventually pose a fire hazard if you continue using them.

You Still Have Two-prong Outlets

If you have two-prong outlets in your home, chances are it was built before the 1960s. The National Electric Code doesn’t require you to replace them as long as they continue to work properly. However, they’re not as safe as three-prong plugs because they are not grounded. [Company_name] recommends you replace these outlets because they pose a greater risk of electrical shock. Two-pronged outlets are less useful, too, as you won’t be able to plug in appliances with three prongs. Please note that two-prong to three-prong adapters don’t actually provide a ground and are less safe than a true, grounded outlet. They can also fry your electronics.

Tripped GCFI

Occasionally tripped circuit breakers aren’t a problem, but if it happens repeatedly, you have a possible issue. As long as you can push “reset” and regain power, you are likely fine. The issue is more serious if you have a GCFI outlet that won’t work after you try a reset. Don’t attempt to diagnose the problem on your own, as it requires an electrician’s experience.

Warm or Sparking Outlets

Outlets that feel warm to the touch or spark are dangerous, as they indicate wiring that is worn or damaged. Hot outlets and switches are common causes of electrical fires. When you notice this problem, shut off the circuit breaker to the outlet and unplug any appliances. Do not use the outlet until a qualified electrician examines it.

Burn Marks or a Melted Outlet Plate

Similarly, any blemishes on the outlets, the plates or walls surrounding them also cause for concern. Don’t use these outlets because they could be a fire hazard. Replace the outlet as soon as possible.

Cracks and Chips

These blemishes are concerning because they allow dust and debris to accumulate inside the outlet. The dirt can act as kindling when a plug is inserted, potentially causing an electric arc. Avoid using them until they are placed.

Smoke or Burning Smells

Shut off power to an outlet immediately if you see smoke or sparks or have a burning smell near the outlets after you plug in something. These signs indicate a serious issue with the outlet and require an electrician’s attention to find and fix the source of the problem.

Flickering Power

This sign is most noticeable with lamps, but flickering can also happen with devices and appliances. When flickering occurs, the outlet may no longer be able to meet demand. Allowing this problem to continue can result in short-circuiting or damage to the item plugged into the affected outlet.

Are There Other Reasons to Replace Electrical Outlets?

Even if you don’t have signs of bad outlets in your home or business, you may have other reasons that require replacing upgraded outlets. Improved technology can make new outlets significantly safer than those installed in the past, especially if you have an older home. Consider recessed outlets, which protect plugs from hanging out from the wall into your living space, or pop-up outlets that keep electrical cords from causing a safety risk or dangling from a high-use counter workspace.

Consider installing specialized USB outlets to save space and accommodate more of your family’s devices and electronics without using multiple power strips. Smart outlets provide an advanced way to use and monitor your electrical usage, as you can turn individual outlets on and off remotely.

Find Quality Electrical Services in Weatherford, TX

If you have problems with outlets or other electrical issues in North Texas, Lightfoot Mechanical has experienced technicians who can diagnose and quickly solve the problem. We are the area’s premier home services company, providing customers in Weatherford and adjacent communities with reliable plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical services. We also offer 24/7 service for emergencies. Contact our office for questions or to set up a consultation with us.

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Gary Lightfoot

With over 30 years of experience in the industry, Gary Lightfoot took over his family business and continues to run it with the values and standards set 35 years ago

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