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Woah, Sparky! The Dangers of a Loose Electrical Outlet

Between 2010 and 2014, 420 people died in electrical fires.

Electrical malfunctions cause deaths, injuries, and incredible amounts of property damage each year.

While some causes are obvious at first glance, there are more insidious and hidden dangers that can lurk within the home. A loose electrical outlet can cause a fire to break out without you ever knowing there was a problem in the first place.

If you're looking to avoid a fiery near future then you're in the right place. We'll show you why loose outlets are such a danger and how you can help to prevent a fire from breaking out behind the wall.

How Do Loose Outlets Cause Fires?

When an outlet becomes "loose" we're talking about the wiring behind the panel.

What ends up happening is a high-energy discharge between two loose blades within the outlet itself. This is known as an arc fault and causes a massive release of heat in a short period of time.

When it catches just right the results are a house fire. Even worse, this kind of fire begins inside the wall itself where there's plenty of flammable material and the potential to spread substantially before you notice.

The temperatures of an arc fault can exceed 35,000°F. That's far above the flash point of most materials used in residential construction which means a fire can start in a fraction of a second.

How Do Electrical Sockets Get Loose?

For the most part, electrical sockets will loosen up over time as plugs go in and out of them.

While it won't always happen, being rough on your outlets will break things down faster. The structural material behind your wall is almost always drywall after all, and applying pressure to anything stuck in it will cause it to crumble and loosen over time.

Once sufficiently loosened, the outlet's wires will also begin to come off of the connectors. If the process gets far enough there becomes a serious risk of an arc fault happening which can cause a fire.

It's usually easy to tell if your outlet is loose: cords don't want to stay in it. In extreme cases, you may even be able to feel the outlet flex underneath your hand while you're trying to plug something in.

If that's the case then you should quit using the outlet immediately. Even if it's not a danger right now there's always the chance it can finally work loose the next time you go to use it.

There are also cases where the connectors inside the outlet itself have simply worn out. That causes a loose fit for anything that gets put in the outlet while posing the same fire risk.

How Can I Tell If an Outlet is Loose?

Troubleshooting for problems with outlets begins with you. While it's usually our first instinct to just try again when something happens, instead you should note what happens.

Fortunately, figuring out what's wrong is easy for the layman even if the fix needs a professional.

The most obvious signs are a loose hold on plugs and any movement from the outlet underneath the faceplate.

If that's the case then your problem is definitely a loose outlet. 

Preventing Disasters

A loose socket is an almost hidden danger. Most of the time you'll notice before things work loose but it doesn't always work out that way.

Instead, the most reliable protection against fires due to a loose electrical outlet is to have arc fault circuit interrupter(AFCI) installed on all of the circuits in your home. This will cause the circuit breaker to cut out if the AFCI detects an arc fault.

A good contractor will be able to install them for you if your electrical system doesn't currently have them.

It also helps to make sure you stay aware whenever you plug something in. Most dangerously loose sockets will drop anything you plug in like it's going out of style but sometimes there will be a little bit of play while the connectors inside are still good.

Regular inspection of your electrical system is a great idea and can help to prevent fires from loose sockets and other common electrical problems.

What to Do About a Loose Electrical Outlet

When you're working around the home, there are a lot of things you can do with minimal risk.

Unfortunately, anything which involves electricity tends to be dangerous. If you insist on doing it yourself take proper precautions to avoid any problems.

At the very least that means turning the full circuit off and using a voltage detector before you touch any wires which can potentially shock you.

Depending on the circumstances you can use an outlet shim to make the sockets quit moving or replace the entire outlet box. The former is relatively easy but take extreme care if you decide to wire in an entirely new outlet.

Contacting a professional is your best option. They'll be able to fix it quickly and safely and find any other problems which might be occurring behind the scenes.

Loose Outlets? No Worries

If you've just discovered that you've got a loose electrical outlet then there's no need to worry. Just cease using them for the time being and get in touch with an electrical contractor.

Since there's a minimum fee for calls you may want to have your entire system checked out as well. It can help a lot in the long run, whether it's runaway voltage costing you extra money or even a potential fire hazard.

We service the Rockwall, Texas area and the surrounding towns. If you're a local then you're in luck: contact us and get things fixed before they become a serious problem.


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