You can expect a receptacle outlet to last about 50 years, but here are five factors that can shorten its life:
1) Frequent usage - Metal strips in the receptacle hold the prongs of an appliance cord under tension and securely in place. After repeatedly inserting and removing the cord, the receptacle loses its “grab” and will not make a good connection. If the cord is effortless to remove or it slides a little downward after insertion, as in the photo below, it’s time to replace the receptacle. Locations where this is mostly likely to occur first are kitchen counter receptacles and the receptacle you use regularly to plug in the vacuum cleaner.
2) High humidity - Humidity in an unconditioned room, such as a garage or porch, speeds up corrosion, which usually makes itself known by difficulty inserting a cord, along with bits of rust grit dropping out when you remove it. Receptacles in an outdoor location will have a shorter life and when the weather-protection cover is missing, like in the bottom quad-receptacle in the photo below, it will be shortened even further. Eventurally, severe corrosion will make impossible to plug in a cord at all.
3) Damage - If any part of the face of the receptacle is broken off or bent, it’s time to replace it.
4) Paint contamination - Painting right over the receptacle is a no-no, and will cause a poor electrical connection and possible arcing.
5) A short circuit - Any dark black marking at the receptacle and cover plate indicate that there was a short circuit and it should be replaced.
The building code now requires that receptacles be tamper-resistant (like in the photo at the top of this page, with “TR” embossed between the slots) and, even if there is no building inspector looking over your shoulder, it’s still a good idea for the safety of young children in the house. Also, receptacles in wet areas like the kitchen, bathrooms, garage, and exterior should be upgraded to GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) for shock protection when replacing old receptacles in those areas.
Go to our blog post What is the average lifespan of the parts of a house? for rating of other house components. To understand the basis, potential use, and limitations of lifespan ratings, see our blog post How accurate are the average life expectancy ratings of home components? Are they actually useful?
Also, see our blog posts How do the new tamper-resistant electric outlets work? and What are the most common problems/defects found with electric receptacle outlets during a home inspection?
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To learn more about electrical wiring, devices, and receptacles, see these other blog posts:
• What is the difference between what trips a GFCI (ground fault) receptacle and a circuit breaker?
• What is the code requirement for GFCI protection for receptacles near a wet bar sink?
• What is the requirement for a service receptacle outlet for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HACR) equipment?
• Why is an opening in the wall around the side of an electrical receptacle outlet a safety defect?
• When was GFCI-protection for kitchen dishwasher receptacle outlet first required?
• What is allowable voltage range at a wall receptacle outlet in a house?
• When should I replace electric receptacle outlets?
• Does an electric receptacle outlet in a storage shed require GFCI protection?
• What are "self-contained" electrical receptacle outlets and switches?
• What is the difference between an electrical receptacle, an outlet, and a plug?
• Does a washing machine receptacle outlet require GFCI protection?
• What is the building code requirement for receptacle outlets at stairs and stair landings?
• Can I remove a 240-volt range receptacle and hard-wire the range?
• What is a "backstab" receptacle outlet?
• Why are some electric receptacle outlets upside down (ground slot up) in a house?
• What is the height requirement for an electric receptacle outlet?
• Where are GFCI receptacle outlets required?
• When were GFCI receptacle outlets first required?
• Does a home inspector remove receptacle outlet cover plates?
• What is the minimum height for an exterior receptacle outlet?
• When was the current receptacle/outlet spacing of 12-feet first required?
• When was the three-slot (grounding) outlet/receptacle first required?
• Why does painting an electric receptacle (outlet) make it unsafe?
• Why are electrical outlets and plugs polarized?
• How many electrical receptacles (outlets) are required in a hallway?
• What problems does having too many electric receptacle outlets on a single circuit cause?
• Is a house required to have outdoor electric receptacle outlets?
• How I can tell if a receptacle outlet is tamper resistant?
• Why is there a GFCI breaker in the electric panel for the bathroom shower light and exhaust fan?
• What is a false ground, bootleg ground, or cheated ground receptacle?
• How can adding wood paneling or a wainscot create an electrical safety hazard?
• How can I figure out what a mystery wall switch does?
• How far apart should kitchen counter receptacles be spaced?
• How far above a kitchen countertop do electrical outlets have to be?
• What is reversed polarity at an outlet/receptacle? Why is it dangerous?
• How high above the floor do electric outlets/receptacles in a garage have to be?
• How far apart should electric receptacles be spaced in a bathroom?
• Is an ungrounded electric receptacle outlet dangerous?
• My bathroom electric receptacle/outlet is dead and there are no tripped breakers in the electric panel. What's wrong?
• Is there an adapter that can be placed on a two-slot receptacle to make it safe?
• Why is there no bathroom electric receptacle in this old house?
• How can I tell if the electric receptacle outlets are grounded?
• How far apart should the electrical receptacles be placed?
Visit our ELECTRICAL and LIFE EXPECTANCY pages for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.