Why does painting an electric receptacle (outlet) make it unsafe?
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
The electric receptacle shown above was in a home where all the receptacles had been painted over several times. This one was the worst—with the bottom half of the outlet completely closed over with paint—but most of the others in the home were nearly as bad.
Here’s what we found when testing the receptacles:
- It was impossible to insert in a 3-prong plug into a few receptacles.
- Some receptacles would only accept the the 3-prong plug halfway and not make an electrical connection. Pieces of paint were pushed into the receptacle in the process of inserting the plug.
- Other receptacles would accept the 3-prong plug but had an unreliable connection, requiring jiggling the plug and holding it in one position to have the hot, neutral, and ground all connected at once.
Here’s another example below, and it is also an older two-slot ungrounded receptacle.
Any time there is a loose connection at a receptacle, there is the potential for arcing sparks that will start a house fire. Also, the National Electric Code (NEC) prohibits the painting of electrical equipment and, yes, a receptacle is electrical equipment. Here’s the citation from the code:
110.12(C) Integrity of Electrical Equipment and Connections. Internal parts of electrical equipment, including busbars, wiring terminals, insulators, and other surfaces, shall not be damaged or contaminated by foreign materials such as paint, plaster, cleaners, abrasives, or corrosive residues. There shall be no damaged parts that may adversely affect safe operation or mechanical strength of the equipment such as parts that are broken; bent; cut; or deteriorated by corrosion, chemical action, or overheating.
We have not yet seen paint contamination of the new tamper resistant receptacles. Theoretically, the shutters that cover the hot and neutral slots would keep paint out of two of these slots of the receptacle (not the ground slot), but it would also gunk-up the mechanism and make a safety device that is already difficult for some people to use even more so.
So don’t do it. We call out paint contamination of receptacles as a defect in a home inspection report, along with most other home inspectors.
Also, see our blog post Why is spray paint on the bus bars of an electric panel a safety defect?
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