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Q. What are polarized electrical outlets?

A. The different sized slots were developed to allow outlets to be polarized as a safety enhancement. The larger slot connects the common wire in the outlet to the common wire in a device. The smaller slot connects the "hot" wires. By forcing the smaller blade of the plug to always connect the hot wires, the outlet is polarized. Devices, such as a table lamp, are designed to minimize the risk of electric shock by keeping the hot wire as short as possible by wiring directly to the switch. The rest of the internal wiring connects to the neutral wire. While this system does not eliminate the possibility of electrocution, fire and electrical faults, it reduces the risk by limiting the path of live current.


Q. What does the ground do?

A. Another improvement in safety came with the addition of a ground wire to the outlet. This serves as an alternative return path for electricity and is referred to as the equipment ground. Ordinarily current flows from the hot wire and returns via the common wire to ground. However, if the hot wire comes in contact with a metal part of a device, the outer cabinet housing of a washing machine for instance, current could flow through you to ground. The ground wire in a device connects to the housing and provides a return path. The current could still travel through you, but the ground wire probably has lower resistance and so chooses that path over through you.


Q. What is a GFCI outlet?

A. GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet is a device that adds a greater level of safety by reducing the risk of electric shock. Most building codes now require that a GFCI outlet be used in wet locations such as bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms.


Q. I lost power in my bathroom outlet, and all breakers are on.  What can I do?

A. Typically when a house is wired and has two bathrooms, the master bath has a GFCI outlet that protects both bathrooms. The kitchen has one that protects the other plugs close to the sink and there is typically one in the garage that protects the outlets there and perhaps the outside plugs as well. Often times the GFCI outlet will go bad or is faulty, affecting the other plugs downstream as it were.


Q. What Causes an Outlet to Spark?

A. Sometimes, when you plug an electrical appliance into an outlet, you may notice a small blue spark. In most situations, this is a normal event as the electrons begin to flow into the appliance's power cord. At other times, however, a spark from an electrical outlet could start a fire or severely damage the plug. It is important for homeowners to understand why an electrical outlet may spark or short out without warning.


Q. What is an Electrical Outlet?

A. An electrical outlet is an opening or series of openings connected to a wired power source meant to power electrical equipment and components. The electrical outlet is one of the most commonly used items in a home or building. Electrical outlet provides power to an electronic component by using a wire to take power to the outlet. The plug of the component then transfers power to the device requiring it. Another wire then takes the electricity back to its original location. For simplification, in a home environment, this is the electrical panel. Due to this round-trip routing, it is often called an electrical circuit.