Identifying Poorly Located Outlets and Switches – Part One

There are many conditions you should look for when inspecting electrical outlets. A high-quality home inspector training program will teach you about how to identify these conditions for the safety of your clients. Outlets might be damaged, worn, loose, overheated or ungrounded. Some outlets have open neutral connections, open hot connections or reverse polarities. Sometimes the number of outlets is insufficient or they are simply inoperative. In addition to these defects, there are also poorly located outlets. These include those which are too close to bathtubs or showers, too far from basins, directly above electric baseboard heaters, on floors, countertops and near garage floors.

Electrical switches share common conditions to outlets. They can be damaged, loose, overheated, inoperative or obsolete. Location issues include furnace switches being too close the furnace itself, or light switches inappropriately positioned in bathrooms. In this article, our focus will be to identify some of the common conditions found specifically with poorly located outlets and switches.

Outlets Too Close to Bathtubs or Showers

Strategy: Most electrical authorities like to have outlets as far away from bathtubs or showers as they can. You should not be able to stand in the shower, and plug in a hair dryer, for example. Any outlet closer than 3 feet is potentially dangerous.

GFIs Help: Some authorities feel that adding a GFI to this receptacle improves the situation enough to leave it. Your responsibility is to point out the potential danger and let the client make their own decision.

Too Far from Basins

Strategy: Electrical authorities like receptacles in bathrooms to be close to the basin, but they shouldn’t be right over the basin since the cord may droop into the water.

Away from Tubs: Receptacles should be on either side of the basin. The authorities recognize that this is where people use hair dryers, curling irons, electric toothbrushes, electric shavers, and so on. This generally keeps them a reasonable distance from bathtubs and showers.

Outlets near basins outlets

Poorly located outlet directly above the faucet

Razor-Only Outlets: Many home inspectors recommend replacement of the isolating transformer-type outlets usually labeled razor only. These older receptacles are isolated from ground so you can’t get a shock. The downside is that they have limited voltage capabilities and many electrical appliances (e.g., hair dryers) won’t work properly. Replacement of these with a GFI receptacle makes good sense.

Outlets Above Electric Baseboard Heaters

Strategy: Outlets should not be installed above heaters, and heaters should not be installed under outlets. Cords plugged into these outlets will tend to drape over the heaters and may overheat. Where long baseboard heaters are used on walls, outlets should be located at either end.

Outlets should not be above electric baseboard heaters

Outlets in Floors or Counter Tops

Strategy: Electrical receptacles shouldn’t be flush-mounted on horizontal surfaces, because water may get into the receptacle. Where these cannot be avoided, they must have watertight covers. Even then, some authorities do not like them. Outlets should not be located in areas where water may collect, even if it’s only from washing the floor. Watch for these, and where practical, recommend moving the outlet or disconnecting it.

Outlets in floors or countertops     Outlet on floor

An unsafe situation can occur if water is spilled on the floor near this outlet

Outlets Within 18 inches of the Garage Floor

Strategy: Outlets should not be closer than 18 inches to the floor in garages, in new construction. Gasoline fumes may accumulate near floor level and the slight arcing involved when people plug in or unplug appliances might ignite the flammable vapors. Speak to your local authorities about their recommendations, and how they handle existing homes.

Garage outlets should be at least 18 inches off the floor

In Part Two of this post, we continue to look at more location tips for outlets and switches for maximum safety. See you at Part Two!

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