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Outlets, Outlets and more Outlets!!!!

Another exciting month has come and gone and even with the school boards holding rotating strikes we have still been able to visit and teach many students across Ontario. Our five presenters have been fortunate enough to visit schools in the following cities and towns: Arthur, Brampton, Brantford, Burlington, Elora, Georgetown, Jordan Station, Newmarket, Niagara Falls, Richmond Hill and Thornhill.


So let’s talk OUTLETS!!! According to the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) there are, on average 110 kids under 15 years old, per year that go to the emergency department in Ontario for treatment due to an electrical injury. From these 110 children, more than 50% are under age 5. This isn’t much of a surprise since most young children enjoy putting things into their mouths or trying to stick objects into outlets. However, it isn’t just children that are at risk, the ESA reports that 60% of Ontarians have been shocked at some point by an outlet, wire or switch. There have been several developments and additions to the electrical code for what outlets to put where in your house which hopefully will continue to lessen the amount of injuries we see. However, it can be quite overwhelming!!! Two pronged, three pronged, ground pin, GFCI, AFCI, tamper resistant, etc. the list goes on. Let me break it down for you:


Two Prong Outlet

These are common in older houses. They often do not have a grounding wire built-in to them and they aren’t compatible with most of our plugs. The pin on the right is “hot”, this is the pin that the plug uses to power the appliance. The pin on the left is “neutral”, electricity currents return through this pin. The combination of the “hot” and “neutral” pins complete the circuit, providing power. If you are replacing your old two-pronged outlets with a three pronged outlet you will need to make sure that it has a ground wire, if not that little round hole in the new outlet will be pretty much useless. In the case that receptacle is missing the ground wire, you should have a licenced electrician in to update your wiring to include this.


Three Prong Outlet

This outlet has a ground pin. The grounding pin is exclusively for safety. The grounding pin is connected to the grounding wire which basically acts as a “backup” path or an alternate route for electrical current to follow back to the ground in case there is a problem with the neutral wire.


Tamper Resistant Receptacles (TR or TRR)

When I was younger, adults put plugs into the outlets to stop children from injecting objects into the holes. However, these were fairly easy to take out and so not always effective. When TR outlets were first introduced they were recommended in high traffic areas less than 2 meters from the floor. It’s now required that all outlets in newly built dwellings be TR. The way that these outlets work is they have spring loaded shutters inside, so you are only able to insert a plug if you put two prongs in simultaneously. It you try and force a plug into the outlet one prong at a time you will be unsuccessful and likely left with a damaged plug with a bent prong. It can be an adjustment for some but they are a great safety feature. They are also available with GFCI and AFCI.


Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)

These outlets are required whenever they are within 1.5 meters of a water source, they should be used in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, etc. They are also required on all outdoor outlets as they are able to protect against weather elements. The GFCI works by cutting off the power in an outlet when the circuit is broken. So if you dropped your hair dryer in the sink the electricity from the hair dryer would go in the water and not back through the neutral pin. The GFCI would detect that the electricity is not coming back through the neutral pin and trigger the outlet to turn off, potentially saving your life. It’s important to test your GFCI regularly. This can be easily done by pushing the test button and making sure you hear a click. You could also plug in a night light or small lamp and hit the test button and the light should turn off.


Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI)

These are similar to the GFCIs but are used to protect against fires caused by an electrical arc behind the walls. Electrical arcs can occur when the wiring is old, damaged, or overloaded. Replacing standard outlets with AFCIs can prevent up to 50% of electrical fires. When the AFCI detects an electrical arc it triggers the outlet to turn off. These can be tested in the same way that you test your GFCIs.


With all outlets it’s important to routinely check them for damage. Make it a regular thing, replace your furnace filters = check your outlets. Be sure to check for cracked or damaged cover plates, chipped outlets and test your GFCIs and AFCIs. So, now you have it, all the information you need to make sure you are knowledgeable on the safety points of electrical outlets. So next time your out and about and electrical outlets become the topic of conversation you will be able to fully participate. Better still, you can make sure that all the outlets in your home are safe.