Q: My 3-year-old stuck something into an electrical outlet and it snapped off inside. How safe is it to pull out the object?
A: I can’t believe you haven’t childproofed your house. Besides protecting your child from chemicals in cabinets, getting into rooms they shouldn’t be in or falling down stairs, you must childproof your electrical outlets.
Outlets are installed at a height that, unfortunately, lures curious kids. In a study conducted way back in 1997, the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that in cases of household shock injuries, 86 percent of those involved children between the ages of 1 and 4.
To solve your problem, you must turn off the power to the outlet at the main panel. At that point, you can try to grab the object with needle-nosed pliers and pull the object out of the slot, but remember that outlets are plastic and can crack easily. If you can’t grab it, replace the outlet.
Replacing the outlet is simple. With the power turned off at the breaker, unscrew the outlet from the junction box and take note of where the wires are located. If your outlet is at the end of the run (the last outlet on the circuit), you will only have one black, white and ground wire each. If your outlet is in the middle of the run, you will see two of each.
Replacing the outlet is as simple as placing the same wires in the same locations. You will notice that the black hot wires are secured to the brass screw terminals, and the white neutral wires are attached to the silver screw terminals. The green or bare copper ground wire wraps around the grounding screw (wrap the wires clockwise).
After that, gently fold the wires back into the junction box so there are no sharp bends and then screw the outlet to the box. The final step is to screw on the outlet cover plate.
To childproof the outlet, you can buy plastic plugs that push into the outlet just as you would plug in a lamp.
There are also clever outlet covers that you can install (they replace the standard ones). These just screw onto the outlet, but they are great at frustrating children. These covers twist or slide to block the holes in the outlet’s face. Some people are averse to this style though because it is obvious that they look different from standard outlets.
For those people, an outlet is made that looks like a standard outlet, but it actually has little doors that prevent a child from sticking something in the hole. The little doors open only when two objects (like a standard plug) are pushed simultaneously into the outlet. There are plenty of styles around to choose from. The important thing is to get it done.
Mike Klimek is a licensed contractor and owner of Las Vegas Handyman. Questions may be sent by email to email@example.com. Or, mail to 4710 W. Dewey Drive, No. 100, Las Vegas, NV 89118. His web address is www.handymanoflasvegas.com.