Safety is a top priority when it comes to your kids, and some days, it can feel like the whole world is one giant hazard. You see danger everywhere they crawl, and you might even long for the days when they were tiny, new, and immobile.
This stage of untamed curiosity will not last, so even though it might scare you, try to let yourself marvel at your child’s view of the world. Exploring and playing are essential to your child’s brain and body development. To them, everything is fresh and new, so give them a safe environment to explore.
Do I Need to Childproof My Outlets?
Outlets are often low to the ground, so they are easy for kids to access. However, the type of outlets in your home vary based upon the year it was built. Since 2008, the NEC (National Electrical Code) has required that new houses have tamper-resistant receptacles (TRRs).
A tamper-resistant receptacle is an electrical outlet with a spring-loaded shutter that covers the openings when they are not in use. If you apply even pressure to the openings with a plug, it opens. When you unplug your item, the shutters automatically close again.
As a protection measure for kids, TRRs work really well. If your child tries to stick something into one of the outlet openings, nothing will happen. You can not insert anything into the outlet if you apply uneven pressure, as a child would.
So, that means that if your home was built or renovated after 2008 and has TRRs that you don’t have to worry about your outlets, right?
No matter when your house was built, you need to protect your children from electrical outlets. However, the steps that you will need to take are dependent upon the type of outlets in your home. If you already have TRRs, we will share an outlet cover that is worth your consideration. If your house was built before 2008 and has not been renovated, it probably does not have TRRs, so you will need to take a few extra precautions.
The Danger of Unprotected Outlets: Shocks
There are tens of millions of children in America, and a little over two thousand of them suffer electrical shocks each year. While the threat of your child getting shocked is not astronomical, any chance is too high when it comes to your precious little ones.
Common causes of shocks are kids chewing through cords, sticking objects into outlets, and an electrical current coming in contact with water that they are sitting in. Sometimes shocks can be minor, other times they can leave burns. Severe shocks can damage your child’s heart and other internal organs. And, tragically, shocks cause a few child fatalities each year.
In the face of all of that, there is really no question about whether you should childproof your outlets. Instead, the question is how to childproof.
Many Electrical Accidents Are Preventable!
The Danger of Two-Prong Outlets: Electrical Malfunctions
You probably learned about the basics of electrical circuits when you were in school, but let’s revisit them quickly. To power, an appliance, electricity needs a closed path around which it can travel. A two-prong outlet has a “neutral” prong (on the left) and a “hot” prong (on the right). When your outlet is empty, the circuit is open, which means there’s no complete path for the electricity to travel.
When you plug in your coffee pot, the metal prongs at the end of the electrical cord connect the hot and neutral wires inside your outlet and close the circuit, giving the electricity a path to travel. As a result, your coffee pot gets power so that it can percolate.
If you are living in a home that was built in the 1960s or earlier, it probably has two-prong outlets unless you or previous homeowners have upgraded them. Houses built after the 1960s have three-prong outlets. The third, lower prong connects to the “ground” wire inside the outlet.
The purpose of a ground wire is to keep you safe if an appliance with a metal case has a loose wire. Remember, electricity flows in a circuit. If a hot wire inside your computer comes loose, the electricity will flow into the metal case and then into you or your child if you touch it.
If you have a grounded wire, the electricity will flow through it instead of through you. When the electricity is grounded, it trips the circuit breaker and cuts power to the outlet, eliminating the risk of shock. Outdated two-prong outlets do not have this protective feature.
Are the chances of your metal-cased appliances getting electrified very high? Not really, no. But the risk exists, which is why the NEC has required three-prong outlets in new builds for the past fifty years.
If your home has two-prong outlets, you’ve probably used “cheater plugs,” which are small converters that let you use a three-prong appliance in a two-prong outlet. Cheater plugs disable the ground prong, so they offer you no protection.
The safest thing you can do for you and your children is to hire a professional electrician to ground all of your outlets.
Childproofing Your Outlets
Once your outlets are grounded, you still need to keep your kids from sticking anything into them. Plastic outlet caps are a very budget-friendly solution, but they are not ideal. First, kids can pull them out pretty easily. Also, you have to remember to put them back into the outlet when you finish using it. And, most importantly, they present a choking risk to your children.
The best solution is to have an electrician install spring-loaded TRRs when he grounds your two-prong outlets. The NEC requires TRRs in new construction because they are the safest option currently on the market.
Even in homes with TRRs, your child is still at risk. Kids are often stronger than you think, so they can yank exposed cords right out of the wall, potentially damaging the cord and outlet in the process.
Box outlet covers attach to outlets to cover them up whether they are in use or not. When you have something plugged in, the box keeps your curious little one away from the plug. The box also blocks the holes when the outlet is not in use.
You should not assume that your child is fully protected when you have TRRs. The shutters inside TRRs can wear out over time, so adding an extra layer of protection with box outlet covers is smart. Again, the chance of your child getting a shock is low, but for most parents, even a small chance is too high.
A Plastic Plug Is Not Enough
In many homes, childproofing is a more in-depth process than sticking a piece of plastic into unused outlets. It is imperative that you ground all of your outlets, and not just for your children. Grounding keeps your entire family safe.
Once your home is up to date and has TRRs, you should take an extra step and add box covers to all of the outlets that your children can reach. If you need help childproofing your outlets, schedule an in-home consultation.