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February 2014 Tackling Trouble Areas

Updating Wall Plates And Receptacles

The installation and condition of wall outlets can affect the safety and overall perception of a facility.

January 31, 2014
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With all of the possible structural and electrical problems in a commercial facility, wall outlets and receptacles are often overlooked as a cause for concern.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

The installation, condition and look of your outlets can make or break the safety and overall perception of your facility.

Listed here are outlet concerns that facility managers and maintenance professionals should take into consideration.

Crack Kills

Cracked outlet plates are bound to become a dust trap and create a fire — or even explosion — hazard.

This also goes for gaps created by undersized wall plates.

Gaps 4.5 millimeters and over may increase the chances of a short circuit.

Lint, dust and hair act as kindling when they accumulate, and electrical outlets are prime accumulation spots.

Under certain conditions, even an explosion is possible.

It’s hard to overstate the danger that dust and other detritus can cause when too much accumulates near bundles of electrical wires and connection points.

So what can you do to save yourself from a future crisis?

Two things: First, always make sure your wall plates are in good repair with no cracks whatsoever; second, replace your standard receptacles with GFCI or AFCI receptacles.

Installation Frustration

Very few project managers or building managers are strangers to having bad work done, even if only just once.

Always thoroughly inspect any work done by a contractor (electrical or otherwise) for safety and proper execution.

Here are two things to look for to make sure the slack is picked up before things get out of hand.

Painted over light switches or outlet plates: Electrical outlets should never be painted, under any circumstances.

If you decide to paint the wall plate, it’s always best to paint it before installing it or remove it and paint separately.

If for some reason you can’t do either of these things, make sure the receptacles are taped off.

Over time paint can be pushed into the outlet and, much like dust, cause a fire/explosion hazard.

Clearly burned out outlet: If your outlets ever appear burnt out or charred, you might have a hot wire that isn't grounded.

In cases like this you should replace the wall plate and the outlet immediately.

An AFCI or GFCI outlet would be best, as they have built-in testers that will detect problems and cut power before things get too heated.


If you find scorching or soot around the outlet connection slots, it's most likely caused by excessive wear rather than bad electrical wiring.

If you find the plate is warm and the screws holding the plate to the wall are hot to the touch, this is a sure sign of overheating.

You're probably running too much power through the outlet, and it'd be a good idea to install outlets that are able to handle a larger load.

More Services

Nowadays, there are receptacles available that provide much more than just electricity.

Depending on where it’s going to be installed, you might find it more convenient for your employees, visitors and patrons to have one of the many available connections on the market.

USB and network outlets in the lobby would surely make waiting and working sufferable.

Additionally, the styles and colors available are almost limitless.

Antique, steel, brass, nickel, nylon, plastic, matte, gloss and oversize dimensions are all available to fit nearly any application.

If you're installing a plate in outdoor areas, get something waterproof that can stand up to the elements and lower the risk of electrocution.

Unneeded Connections

If you have decided you no longer need an outlet or switch, you can seal off the gap with a blank faceplate.

Generally, blank faceplates are designed in a neutral color, which helps to easily match with the surrounding room without drawing attention to it.

Also, like most other wall plates, they are paintable and available in a wide variety of colors and finishes.

Sale Preparation, Guest Accommodation And Inspection

Anyone who comes into your facility is subconsciously, or consciously, looking at the upkeep as a reflection on those in charge of it.

This has the potential to weaken your negotiating power or even stain your reputation a bit.

As we all know, even the subtlest discrepancies can sour one's opinion.

If you’re giving a guest tour and they notice your outlets are filthy, burnt out or cracked, they might assume you cut corners in all areas of business.

This especially goes for those in the electrical industry.

Like the old saying goes, “never trust a barber with a bad haircut.”

If you’re showing the facility for sale, potential buyers could be extremely turned off.

They may wonder what horrors could be behind the wall if something so easy to maintain could be neglected to that degree.

If you’re under inspection, any of the unsafe conditions mentioned earlier will cause a major loss or failure.

It simply isn’t worth it for something so simple.


Paul Stennett is a product specialist at, an industry-leading online retailer of electrical, cable and wire management and telecom/datacom/networking products. He may be reached online at

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