Electrical outlets are a necessity in the modern home. They are what help us conduct our daily lives. However, in our house, we are stuck in the 1950s. Therefore, since we moved into our current home, we have been slowly rewiring rooms and outlets to suit our needs. Before getting started, we consider five main categories to improve the functionality and safety of our home.
Why do we want to improve safety and functionality? Well beyond the obvious, when our house was built, ungrounded electrical outlets and cloth-wrapped conductors were all the rage. Need electricity? Here, use this basic two-prong outlet and don’t mind the occasional jolt. But not to worry, that’s just your appliance telling you it’s time to call your neighborhood repairman to fix those electrical outlets.
Knowing that my wife, and later my daughter, were not huge fans of involuntary electrocution it was clear that upgrading and repairing the electrical outlets and entire electrical system in our home was a priority. We purchased the house knowing that most of the electrical outlets were ungrounded and would not accept a 3-prong plug. “That’s ok, we’ll make do.” Well, here is a short list of items we quickly discovered we would not be using immediately: refrigerator, television, microwave, and (perhaps most importantly in a fixer-upper) extension cords. Suddenly, outlets were moved to the top of the list; not because of electrical fire or shock concerns, but because we wanted to microwave some kettle corn and watch Netflix.
Before replacing any electrical outlets, I addressed 5 thoughts:
1. Where do I use water?
In our house that would be kitchen and bathroom sinks, cooking areas, and the washing machine. Electricity and water don’t mix and these areas require a special outlet called a Ground Fault Interrupt (GFI). A GFI compares the current going into the outlet to the current leaving the outlet. Any significant difference between the two and the outlet immediately trips, making GFI installation a common solution to ungrounded outlets.
2. Do I like to explain things?
Obviously for me, the answer is yes. That’s why I’m confident in having upside-down outlets. In this configuration, they pose less of a shock risk. How? When pulled partially out of the wall and allowed to hang, the ground prong is most exposed while the hot and neutral prongs are still mostly pushed in.
3. Do I trust my family?
My daughter absolutely LOVES harassing our outlets. Tamper-resistant outlets provide an additional safeguard against probing fingers, etc. We installed outlets with small internal shields that require significant force to overcome. Other designs have a face-plate that is rotated 45* off center when not in use. For homes with children of small visitors, it’s a wise investment of roughly a dollar extra per outlet.
4. Does this outlet express me?
Mine do; they’re all beige and plain. I gleefully removed the lion-themed, flower wallpaper-covered, and nicotine stained covers in favor of easy-clean, unbreakable covers. They match modern paints better and messes wipe right off.
5. Am I OK with good-enough?
Even with new GFI outlets, knowing that ungrounded conductors rested just beyond messed with me; I lost sleep. For me, this necessitated grounding each and every outlet I replaced at roughly 10x the cost of a “good enough” method.
In under an hour or two, you can upgrade grounded electrical outlets for $5-$10 or install a GFI for $20-$40. Installing a grounded wire takes several hours, additional materials, and may require hiring a professional, so know what you’re getting into before you start.
What are your best tips on things you should consider before replacing electrical outlets?