Shopping at our local Lowe’s, you would probably be surprised to learn that tamper-resistant electrical outlets were now part of the National Electrical Code. You’d probably be even more surprised to learn that the code changed to adopt these…back in 2008. Why would you be surprised? Because tamper-resistant (TR) outlets must be searched out—they are not the “standard” for purchase.
What, you may ask, is a tamper-resistant electrical outlet? They were developed in response to the nearly 2,400 children who experience severe shocks or burns every year when they stick objects into electrical outlets. And yes, there are a few fatalities amongst those numbers. A TR outlet has spring-loaded INTERNAL gates or shutters that prevent insertion of foreign objects into the outlet. These shutters are effective because both of them must be pressed simultaneously for them to relinquish access. If you have a child who has already learned to remove those plug-in protective caps, you know why an internal shutter would be a Good Thing. My fourteen-month-old granddaughter has certainly learned this skill.
When you attempt to plug in some device or another to a TR outlet, you will meet considerable resistance. This is one way of identifying them. A visual inspection reveals a kind of cloudiness where you would ordinarily just see a black hole. This opaqueness will not be in evidence over the grounding plug (the one that looks kind of circular), as it is not capable of harming a child (no live electric current is generated).
|Tamper resistant outlet with useless plug at bottom.|
The National Electrical Code of 2008 requires TR outlets in all new construction and renovations. It is important to note that not all provisions of the code have been mandated. And like many things, enforcement of this code is dependent upon local building inspection departments, electricians AND homeowners who may or may not pull a permit for upgrades. And of course, if a homeowner is completely unaware, or doesn’t have young children, he or she may not be invested in paying extra for a feature perceived as unnecessary.
The portion of the code which IS mandated is for new construction and for hospitals and other institutions that serve pre-school age children. All else is dependent upon individual state adoption. If you live in a state that prides itself on reduced regulations, than more than likely your home doesn't reflect the new code unless it was built after 2009.
If you’re thinking these things may cost an arm and a leg, I can happily report that this is not the case. The difference in cost between a TR outlet and an old school outlet is about $0.50. Given an average of 75 outlets in the typical American home, you would be looking at an increased cost of about $40. This is what I like to call Cheap Insurance. Especially in a lawsuit-happy country.
Now some folks may object to this code, saying that these burns and fatalities are the result of poor parenting and parents should be more responsible in teaching their children not to poke things in electric outlets. What most of us accept is that kids are curious (as they should be!) and it only takes a moment when dad or mom is taking care of some other necessary task (like supper) for disaster to occur. Knowing my own track record… I just got lucky. Lord knows I accomplished plenty of other harms to myself at that age. That and I’m old enough to come from a time when the code didn’t require an electrical outlet every six feet on each wall, so I had fewer OPPORTUNITIES to do myself harm. How many of you have caught your child moments away from disaster? Now you know a solution to at least this one potential disaster. Please share this information with your friends, and help save some other families some agony.
A nice fact sheet on the code from the National Fire Protection Association here.