Homeowners Should Know This Before Using a 3-Prong Adapter
Since 1969, every major appliance must come with a three-pronged plug for electrical safety reasons. When this regulation was implemented, only half of the outlets in the country could accommodate this type of plug. Over the years, more devices now come with this setup, but older homes in Littleton, CO, and the surrounding counties may still have two-slot outlets. What should a person do in this situation?
A person might head to their local home improvement store to pick up a two-prong to the three-prong adapter. As they are sold in stores, they should be safe, right? These adapters, known as cheater plugs or pigtail adapters, allow a person to connect a three-pronged plug into a receptacle that only has two slots and is not grounded. While the adapter will do the job, it may not be safe to operate the appliance or device that is plugged in.
What Makes These Adapters Unsafe?
Older homes have two-prong non-grounded outlets. When looking at a modern plug, the owner will see a narrow slot that is hot next to a wide neutral slot. Underneath these two slots is the third opening. This round slot is the ground, which helps protect the user from electrical shock.
As the two-prong adapter lacks a ground wire, it cannot direct electricity away from the individual when there is a defect in the outlet, cord, or appliance. As the person plugs the device in, it could be electrocuted or an electrical fire might break out. The secondary way for electricity to return to the ground has been removed with the use of the adapter. How can a person know when it is safe to use this adapter?
Wiring and Amp Service
Unfortunately, many older homes that feature two-slot service have cloth-insulated wire. This wire cannot handle today’s technology. Using a high-amp device with a low-amp outlet can lead to the wires overheating. A person using the outlet may be shocked, or the overloaded outlet could lead to an electrical fire. How can a person know what the amp service to the home is? Do they need to call a nearby electrician professional?
Visit the breaker box or fuse panel in the home before making this call. Modern homes will have 100 amp clearly displayed on the main breaker or fuse. Older homes might have 30-amp service. In addition, each breaker or fuse may have a label identifying the amp service to the individual circuit.
A 20-amp circuit can be used to power many modern appliances. However, major appliances call for more power than this. Never use a cheater plug for these appliances, including dryers and refrigerators, as they need special, dedicated wiring.
A Grounded Electrical Box
Before using a two-prong to a three-prong adapter, determine if the electrical box is grounded. Center screws in older two-slot outlets are grounded. When purchasing a three-prong adapter, the buyer should look for a screw tab.
This tab is designed to contact directly to the grounded center screw. This allows the adapter to be used for brief periods safely. The person using the adapter must recognize, however, that they are more at risk of electrocution or electrical shock if the product is plugged in is damaged in any way.
To determine whether an electrical box is grounded, the homeowner must use a multimeter or receptacle tester. This device is very easy to read, but the person using it should read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure they know how to interpret the readings.
What a person should look for when using the device is whether the light corresponding to the ground wire lights up. If the lights don’t appear as expected after reading the manufacturer’s instructions, it might be time to call for electrical troubleshooting.
Another option involves using a circuit tester. One prong on this tester goes into the hot or shorter slot on the outlet. The second prong is then touched to the screw on the cover plate. If the tester lights up, the individual knows the box is grounded. When the tester doesn’t light up, the box is not grounded.
Outlets installed in concrete walls present a special concern. The outlet may give a false positive reading, leading the owner to believe it is properly grounded. In this situation, it is best to have an electrician examine the outlet to determine whether it is grounded.
The Hazards of Using Two-Prong to Three-Prong Adapters
Using a cheater plug may void the warranty on the device it is used with. In addition, a home insurance provider might deny a claim if the use of the adapter leads to an electrical fire or an injury. Keep this in mind before purchasing and using a pigtail adapter. It’s typically best to work with a licensed electrician and correct the issue rather than using a workaround.
Options Other Than Using Adapters
The best course of action is to have the existing outlet upgraded rather than using a two-prong to the three-prong adapter. This can be done in one of two ways. A licensed electrician might install a ground wire and a new three-prong outlet. The other option is to replace the two-slot outlet with a GFCI outlet. When the ground fault circuit interrupts the outlet and identifies a surge in the electricity, it stops the electrical current from flowing to outlets on that circuit.
Three-prong adapters have a place in this world. At MZ Electric we can help you find out if your home still uses the old two-prong style outlets, and if you should upgrade to the newer 3 prong outlets. Give us a call us today!