If you’ve ever dreamed about sparks flying in your life, chances are you weren’t talking about your electricity socket. Unfortunately, it’s these kinds of sparks that may mean trouble, and unless you’re an electrician, it’s probably not something to deal with on your own. At Angi, formerly known as Angie’s List, we can help you figure out just how serious the problem might be by referring you to an emergency electrician.
How Concerned Should You Be About Sparking?
If you see sparks in your outlet, chances are one of three things are going on; normal sparking, a short circuit, or a problem with an older outlet. Normal sparking doesn’t constitute an emergency. If you plug in an appliance and there is a brief flash, but it doesn’t happen often, you likely don’t need to do much more than make a mental note. If the same outlet keeps sparking you might need to call an electrician after all.
Aside from simple maintenance testing of a GFCI outlet, taking care of potentially damaged outlets should be left to professionals. If sparking happens often, your outlets may be outdated, or may have come in contact with too much moisture. or they may be short circuiting due to excess heat. In any of these instances, a professional electrician in your area will be the best person to identify exactly what needs to be done.
A GFCI Outlet Can Help Protect You Against Sparking and Get Your Home Up to Code
Outlets with little buttons are GFCI outlets, and they have an extra layer of safety built-in, versus outlets without those buttons . GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. The buttons are usually labeled as reset and test, and they are found on the face of the outlet. There are many instances where GFCI outlets are required in order to properly follow The National Electrical Code. One main determining factor of this requirement is if the outlet is within six feet of a water source. This means that these outlets are required in bathrooms, in kitchens within six feet of the sink, wet bar or other water source. Unfinished basements must have GFCI outlets, and any finished basement that has a water source. If there are no sinks or other water sources, you may have standard outlets in the basement.
Other places that need to have GFCI outlets include laundry rooms, outdoor spaces, and crawl spaces. The possibility that your electricity socket does not have a GFCI outlet, even if it needs one, is likely higher than you think. Older homes especially are likely to be behind, and the most recent updates to the code came as recently as 2005, so if you haven’t checked your outlets recently, you might need an update. Even if you haven’t had any notable incidents, you still may need to contact an electrician in your area if you don’t have a GFCI outlet everywhere you need one.
- Temporary – these are mostly used for construction projects when access to an outlet is only needed for a short time. These should not take the place of a permanent GFCI.
- Receptacle – These are the most common, and look like a regular outlet. It might be wired to just one outlet, or it can be wired to deliver protection to multiple outlets in the vicinity, including standard ones.
- Circuit Breaker – This offers protection to an entire circuit, so it is designed not only to keep people safe, but can also protect your home from damage caused by a short circuit.
Keeping Your Outlets in Good Shape
The key to making sure your GFCI outlet works properly is to understand what the test and reset buttons are for and test them regularly, usually about once a month. Testing your outlets for safety is simple, and can help assure that they don’t cause electrocution or a short circuit in your home.
To do the test you need a small appliance, lamp, or electric clock that uses a relatively low amount of power. Plug the chosen device into the outlet and make sure it is on. Press the test button. If all is well, you’ll hear a click, and your device should turn off, and the reset button on the outlet should release. If the appliance stays on, something is wrong, and it is necessary to call an emergency electrician.