Electrical-outlet safety tips for the holidays

  • Article by: ROSEMARY SADEZ FRIEDMANN , Scripps Howard News Service
  • Updated: November 23, 2013 - 2:00 PM

Lights, new games and kitchen gadgets can put a strain on outlets that aren’t up to snuff.

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When replacing a wall plate or outlet, you have a choice of newer options that include versions with USB ports for charging, such as this model from CurrentWerks.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, it’s a good idea to make sure electrical outlets are safe before plugging in all those lights, slow cookers and roasters.

Do you have any wall plates (those things that cover outlets) that need to be changed? If any plate has a crack in it, replace it. It is not just an eyesore, it is a fire hazard because the cracks become dust traps. Lint, dust and/or hair act like kindling when they accumulate. Experts say that, in addition to causing fires, the dust can actually cause explosions under the right conditions.

Video games that plug into the outlets create a good amount of heat, and if these games are plugged in next to other electronic equipment, the heat danger rises. Turning them off after use is a good idea.

Another fire hazard is any electrical outlet that has been painted over. Take time to scrape the paint completely off those outlets. Any plates that are over the outlets should be free of paint as well. Any wall plates that are unnaturally brown near the electrical part, like a burned look, probably mean a hot wire isn’t grounded. That outlet might need to be rewired or possible replaced completely. There are electrical outlets that have built-in testers and also built-in surge protection, so if you are replacing, you might as well get the outlets that have the tester and protector.

After whatever you have plugged in has been turned on for a while, check the plates to see if they feel extra-hot; particularly check the screws. If they’re really hot, the outlet could be worn out or it could have bad wiring that needs to be fixed. Another possible cause of hot outlets is running too much power through them. There are outlets that can handle larger loads, so when replacing outlets, be sure to get the larger-load type. Some new outlets include USB chargers, phone jacks or dimmer controls, so you can boost functionality when you replace the outlet.

If there is an outlet that you don’t use anymore, replace the plate with a blank faceplate. These devices are designed without any holes so that a dust-lint-hair problem won’t be an issue.

So be wise and take the time to check all the electrical outlets in your home before you start to plug in all those twinkling lights. For more information, you might want to check out www.cableorganizer.com/wallplates. And consult an electrician or the fire department if you have any related qualms or questions.

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