Here Are the Dangers of Overloading an Electrical Outlet?

An electrical outlet might be one of the more recognizable fixtures inside a home, apartment, or office. People use them so often and, sometimes, without any problems for so long that they don’t think about any safety issues. That can be an unfortunate and possibly tragic mistake because wall outlets running live electricity could become a fire hazard. The risks may increase quite a bit when someone overloads the outlet, raising the risks of serious problems.

Electrical Outlets Have Their Limits

When you plug something into an electrical outlet, electricity transfers through the cord into whatever device requires the power. Most outlets come with two different three-pronged outlets, allowing someone to plug two things into the same source. Powering a television and charging a laptop from the same outlet isn’t all that uncommon. However, the average person might not realize there’s only so much wattage and current that an electrical socket can handle. So, they don’t think twice about plugging one or more extension cords into the two outlets and overloading a circuit that has a limited amount of available watts and amps.

Extension Cord Dangers

When a particular outlet has only one or two sockets, someone might plug in an extension cord or an adapter that makes it possible to plug several electrical items into the same unit. Plugging a three-socket adapter into the outlet now takes a unit intended for two and expands it. Plugging in an adapter and a three-socket extension cord and using all six available ports runs the risk of overloading the unit dramatically.

Overloading Generates Heat

Plugging too many cords into the same outlet and drawing more electricity than the unit can handle leads to overheating. When the heat rises beyond what the wiring can handle, the insulation surrounding the wire may melt. When that occurs, the potential exists for a fire to break out. The fire might happen inside the wall, leaving anyone occupying the interior unaware of the problem until it is too late.

Noticeable Problems and Signs of Danger

Two other noticeable signs of an overheated outlet are the smell of burning plastic and the sight and scent of smoke. The plastic material that comprises the outlet socket reacts to excess heat in a not-so-surprising way: it melts. Smoke might emanate from the socket, and melting, smoking plastic has a distinct odor. Unfortunately, it might take some time before this occurs, and the possibility exists that no one is in the room when the overheating occurs. If no one knows about the problem, they can’t respond to it. Worse, someone could be inside the room and not react, not realizing how dangerous the situation is.

Hopefully, anyone who sees an overloaded outlet starting to spark would understand things are going wrong. A sparking outlet is a sign of a dangerous situation.

Visual Signs of Problems

The ports in a socket may reveal signs of overheating. A white or cream-colored outlet may display socket ports/holes that are black or brownish. The discoloration likely reflects an outlet that overheated and started burning. Continuing to plug cords into a clearly damaged outlet might be a terrible idea. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how bad melting and discolored sockets are. They may assume that nothing will happen since a fire never broke out, so things aren’t so bad. Those assumptions may lead to tragedy.

Also, the damage might not be visible on the socket. The immediate wiring connected to the socket could suffer from overheating. Unfortunately, the covering placed over the socket makes it impossible to see the wiring and notice if there are any overheating-related problems. A professional electrician can remove the outlet covers to determine if anything is wrong.

A Failsafe and a Warning

Electrical sockets connected to a circuit breaker come with a possible failsafe that may prevent a fire. When an outlet experiences an electrical overload, the circuit breaker may “trip,” meaning it shuts off the power. The reason the circuit breaker cuts off the power is to prevent a fire. No more electricity typically means the wires could cool down, averting a fire.

If a circuit breaker continues to trip, consider this a warning that there is a problem. You may be overloading the outlets. Some might assume things are “okay” because the circuit breaker tripped. Making assumptions about the problem could be highly regrettable. Perhaps a tripped circuit breaker means it is time for an electrical inspection. Maybe there’s an issue that requires correcting for safety purposes.

Also, if an outlet lacks a connection to the circuit breaker, the breaker can’t trip if the outlet suffers from overheating. Knowing whether all sockets connect to the circuit breaker properly may be worth investigating.

Older Outlets and Dangers

Older homes might have older and outdated wiring and sockets. A house built in the 1940s and purchased and occupied by someone since the 1990s might have older double-pronged outlets instead of grounded triple-pronged ones. The third prong is the ground. These old sockets came into existence decades before many modern electronic devices and appliances. Because they are not grounded, they run a higher risk of overloading, and it could be wise to upgrade these outlets without delay.

Overheating Extension Cords

It is not a good idea to plug one extension cord into another. Extension cords also have their limits, and by connecting two of them, you might create an overload that results in overheating. Once again, overheating cords and wires may result in a fire.

Using a power strip/surge protector could be helpful since their design enables you to connect numerous cords. Power strips also come with an on/off switch, allowing someone to cut the power off easily if anything goes wrong. That said, power strips might suffer from overloading; some are designed only to handle low-capacity devices. Plugging in high-capacity electronics and appliances could lead to overheating and a fire.

Adding New Outlets to the Home

Investing in home improvements and upgrades may increase safety and prevent fires. If there are not enough outlets in a room, it may be best to call an electrician to add additional ones. Instead of overloading an outlet, the option exists to plug electronics and appliances into several dedicated outlets.

Adding new outlets to a room does not eliminate the need to check for any problems. Also, adding new outlets and then overloading them might contribute to dangers rather than detract from them.

And never forget about manually engaging the circuit breaker: flipping a switch and manually cutting off power might prevent a fire. However, someone must know about a problem to act. Now that you know about the dangers, check your home to see if you might be guilty of overloading.

Richmond locals can call Davis & Green Services for their electrical needs. Our team handles repairs, inspections, and even requests to rewire an entire home. Our company also handles heating and cooling repairs, maintenance and installations, as well as plumbing issues, such as drain repair and water heater maintenance for commercial and residential properties. Call Davis & Green Services at your convenience to discuss setting up an appointment.

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