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Why is an opening in the wall around the side of an electrical receptacle outlet a safety defect?
Sunday, June 17, 2018
The combination of an outlet box and cover plate is intended to create a closed volume that keeps any short circuits, arcing and sparking within the box, and separated from flammable materials nearby in the wall, thereby avoiding a house fire. The National Electrical Code specifies that “plaster, drywall, or plasterboard surfaces that are broken or incomplete around boxes employing a flush-type cover or faceplate shall be repaired so that there will be no gaps or open spaces greater than 3 mm (1/8 inch) at the edge of the box” (NEC 314.21).
A second NEC code requirement is that “receptacle faceplates (cover plates) shall be installed so as to completely cover the opening and seat against the mounting surface” (NEC 406.6). An oversized faceplate can be used to cover any defects in the wall finish around a box, but not to cover an excessive gap around the box.
The receptacle outlet box should also not be mounted more than 1/4” back from wall surface for non-combustible surface, such as drywall (NEC314.20). A box in a wall of flammable material, such as wood, must be flush. Where a box extends forward of the wall surface for the use of a surface plate, a gap around the box is not an issue unless the wall has a fire rating.
Home inspectors don’t usually remove receptacle cover plates to check for an excessive gap between the box and adjacent drywall. But when there is a gap visible around the cover plate, which itself extends past the edge of the box, then there is definitely an opening around the box which needs to be repaired.
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