Electrical Outlets and Covers

by Marcus Pickett

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For some, dealing with electrical outlets is old hat, and the best choice for electrical outlet covers is already made. For a lot of people, however, it can be a daunting task. The apprehension is often due to the close proximity of all that electricity, and those holes that, at a young age, most of us learned to stay away from. Indeed, many people install electrical outlet covers for the benefit of their children, but there are other things to know about your electrical outlets and covers as well.

Types of Electrical Outlet Covers

  • Outlet Plugs: The cheapest and easiest covers to install, these plastic plugs are an effective placeholder. They're best for outlet plugs that you rarely, if ever, use: Frequent changing between outlet plugs and electrical cords is annoying and may cause you to misplace the plug, leaving behind a choking hazard for pets and small children.

  • Sliding Plate Covers: These outlet plates come with built-in sliding covers that will automatically cover the outlet when you're not using it. Difficult but not impossible (depending on age) for little children to figure out, this is the best solution for many people.

  • Outlet Covers: There are a handful of separate outlet covers you can buy and install designed for specific uses. Some are childproof. Some are decorative. Some guard against water from kitchen and bathroom sinks. Some double as power strips. Many are multipurpose.

Outdoor Electrical Outlet Covers
If indoor electrical outlet covers are a solid, responsible accessory, then outdoor electrical outlet covers are an absolute necessity. First, you need a weatherproof electrical outlet cover to guard against rust and, possibly, from electrical failure and/or electrocution. No risk of water and electricity mixing is too small to ignore. Some homeowners also like to install a locked outlet cover to prevent outsiders from leeching electricity from their property. (You'd be amazed by how often this is a problem.) You might also be surprised by the number of things that can go wrong from an exposed outlet. If little Billy from across the street has a thing for playing with your outdoor electrical outlet, you might need an outdoor electrical outlet cover to ensure his safety and indemnify yourself from liability.

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Electrical Outlet Replacement
While replacing an entire electrical outlet is more involved than replacing just the cover, once you know what to do, it's a fairly simple operation. The first and most important step is to turn off the power to that outlet. In many homes, the switches in the circuit breaker are labeled to show which room they connect to. In older homes, there might not be this kind of diagram; if that's the case, it could be in your best interest to make one yourself for future reference. Anyway, trial and error will work for the first time. It's good to have a partner to tell you which lights are going off.

Once you're absolutely sure the power is off, you can remove the cover and unscrew the mounting screws. Don't unscrew any of the wires yet, just the mountings! Now you can pull out the electrical outlet from the wall and compare it to the one you are going to replace it with. Note carefully which wire goes where, then place the wires on the new one as such. Put the new receptacle back into the wall; replace the mounting screws and the cover. you've now successfully replaced an electrical outlet! Now all you have to do is go and turn the power back on. It's a good idea to unplug any especially noisy devices before you do this, or you might get a jolt of a different variety.

Circuit Breakers
If the problem doesn't lie in the outlet, it might be a larger problem. When you check the breaker box, if a switch is already in an "off" position, that's probably where your "faulty" outlet lies. After unplugging all appliances, go back and turn the switch to "on". If it immediately goes back to "off", this problem most likely lies in wiring that most people can't fix themselves; an electrician should be called to get a professional opinion.

Marcus Pickett is a professional freelance writer for the home remodeling industry. He has published more than 600 articles on both regional and national topics within the home improvement industry.