You probably do not pay attention to the outlets in your house. It is hardly surprising, after all, power outlets are a rather minor part of your overall house. But, by ignoring your power outlets, you are also ignoring the multiple problems that can affect any outlet. These are not the types of problems you can afford to ignore; outlet problems (such as dust buildup, outlet overloading, etc.) can cause electrical fires. Below is a list of some of the more common outlet problems that can occur, if you encounter any of these issues, then immediately stop using the outlet, and call a licenced electrician to come fix the outlet. It is important that you never try to fix an outlet yourself (it is both dangerous and illegal in all Australian states). It can be a hassle to call an electrician, but thankfully, getting outlets fixed is both a relatively cheap and quick process.
You are probably thinking to yourself “my outlets are fine, I do not need them replaced.” For many that will be true, but there are a lot of problems that can plague outlets, and many people will not notice is something is wrong with their outlets until something bad happens.
If the plate on your outlet was not installed properly (or it has loosened over time), then sizeable gaps will have formed between the outlet and the plate. Now, you probably do not think much of this, but gaps in your outlet plate can be an issue. Outlet plates are meant to protect the sensitive wiring that feeds the outlet. When gaps form between the outlet plate and the outlet, this allows dust, hair, lint, etc., to get into the inner part of the outlet. A little bit of dust and debris not anything to worry about, but when enough of it has accumulated it can be a serious fire hazard. The same goes for when an outlet plate is seriously cracked, dust and debris will get into the cracks and begin accumulating. If you see that some outlets in your house have cracks or gaps in them, it may be worth calling an electrician and getting the outlets replaced, since you do not how much dust has built up in the outlet over the years. It is a hassle, but getting outlets replaced is relatively cheap and quick, and it will prevent any house fires.
Overheating is another common outlet issue that can be missed easily if you are not diligently checking your outlets. Have you noticed that your outlets are discoloured, or that there is a faint burning smell near the outlet? Well, that means your outlets are overheating. There are a couple of potential reasons why your outlets might be overheating. Dust and debris may be building up in the outlet causing the heat levels to rise. Another possible culprit is faulty or damaged wiring. If the energized wire in an outlet is not properly installed, it can cause arcing, which then burns the outlet causing the smell and discolouration. Also, it is possible that the outlet is just old and worn out. Over time the connectors in an outlet “loosen” due to age and use, this means that things plugged into the outlet are not held as tightly as they should be, which makes arcing more likely. A good rule of thumb, is that if you have jiggle a plug in order to get it to work properly, then the outlet is on its last legs and needs to be replaced.
Outlets can become “overloaded” when too many things are plugged into them or a powerful appliance is plugged into an outlet that cannot handle it. Normally, when an outlet is overloaded, the circuit breaker trips and that is the end of it. But, in some cases an overloaded outlet can lead to an electrical fire breaking out. Fires originating from overloaded outlets usually originate around the Christmas season, when people have decorations and tree lights plugged into their outlets on top of their usual appliances and electronics. It can be tempting to overload outlets, especially because many houses do not have enough outlets, so it can be very tempting to pull out the extension cords and power bars to get as much use out of each outlet as possible. So how can you avoid overloading your outlets? Well, for starters, power heavy appliances like refrigerators, dishwashers, dryers, hair dryers, air conditioners, etc., should always be plugged into their own outlets, with no other appliances. If possible, you may even want to put power heavy appliances on their own circuit. Try to avoid using “multi-outlets” or other devices that let you plug in more appliances into a single outlet. Finally, always keep an eye on the wattage of an appliance before plugging it into an outlet; if the wattage is too high, do not try plugging it into your outlet. If you find that you have to overload your outlets because you do not have enough outlets in your house, call an electrician and see how much it will cost to get some more outlets installed around your house.
GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets are a special kind of outlet designed to prevent people from getting shocked. A GFCI outlet detects electrical problems and will quickly shut off the power going to the outlet when a problem is detected. So, if the outlet suddenly stops working, do not worry, it is just the GFCI working as designed. Simply press the reset button, and the outlet should start working again. If you notice that you are constantly having to press the reset button, then that means there is a bigger issue with the wiring, that an electrician will need to fix.
These are just some of the more common outlet problems that can spring up at any time. When it comes to outlets and electrical wiring, it is always better to be safe than sorry. So, if you notice anything strange coming from an outlet, call an electrician right away.