Just plug it in—if you can - Macleans.ca
 

Just plug it in—if you can

The new outlets required by law are so safe even adults have a hard time using them


 

PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDREW TOLSON

Toronto-area electrician Tony Krakovich likes it when his clients are happy. So he was dismayed to receive a phone call last month from a couple who, despite their best efforts, were unable to plug a light into the outlets he’d installed.

The pair had gone to check on the progress of their 6,000-sq.-foot home, which was a few months from completion. “They said, ‘You put in damaged [outlets],’ ” he recalls. They thought they’d have problems with every plug in the house. Well, his clients may be right. The outlets aren’t damaged; as Krakovich explained, they’re simply the new, tamper-resistant variety that must be installed in all new dwellings. And he concedes that they’re “very hard to use.”

Tamper-resistant outlets, currently being rolled out across the country (Quebec will be the last province to adopt the change this fall), are meant to be a little tricky. The change, mandated by the 2009 Canadian Electrical (CE) Code, is in response to concerns about children sticking everything from pins and keys to their fingers into outlets: in a six-year period, 365 kids were treated in hospital for electrical injuries, 37 per cent of whom required medical follow-up. As such, the new outlets come equipped with spring-loaded shutters, which won’t open unless two prongs are inserted simultaneously. The problem, however, is that adults are having a tough time using them, too—evidence, perhaps, of yet another childproofing measure making life more difficult for the rest of us.

As Krakovich sees it, the new rules are “a bit too much.” While requiring the new outlets in bedrooms and other places accessible to small kids makes sense, he questions whether it’s worth the hassle in kitchens, say, where many outlets are out of reach, or hidden behind large appliances. And as Toronto-area contractor Kevin Hernden points out, tamper-resistant outlets originated in Europe, where the voltage is two times more powerful (220 volts—enough to “knock you right out,” he says). On this side of the pond, the zap kids get from sticking something into an outlet is generally mild—and instructive. “Once your child has gotten an electrical bite,” he says, “they never do it again.”

The new outlets also cost more. Though they’ve come down in price in the last year, at $2 a pop they’re still more than double the cost of conventional outlets—a significant difference to contractors, who are often buying thousands at a time, says Frank Sardoletti Jr., who owns Hudco Electrical Supply in Barrie, Ont. Anticipating the difference in price, he says some contractors “were smart,” and obtained permits for new subdivisions before the change was implemented.

Since the regulation came into effect, Stephen Brown, director of energy for the Canadian Standards Association, which compiles the CE Code, says he hasn’t heard any complaints about usability. “The instructions are pretty simple,” he says, “so I don’t know what the difficulty could be.” At the same time, he says most people understand that the danger of electrical injury is “very real,” and the new outlets are “there for a purpose.”

But as Krakovich sees it, “You can’t protect against everything.” The sentiment, it seems, is being echoed by homeowners, some of whom are so fed up with the tamper-resistant outlets that they’ve requested to have them removed after their property passes inspection. (Citing possible legal ramifications, Krakovich says he refuses to switch them out.) And here’s the rub: despite the inconvenience the new outlets are causing, they’re not childproof. According to Colleen Driscoll, executive director of the International Association for Child Safety, they’re an improvement, but they don’t prevent kids from plugging in dangerous appliances, or sticking in two objects simultaneously. Says Driscoll, “We sometimes underestimate kids in terms of how quickly they can learn.” Apparently, the same can’t always be said of their parents.


 

Just plug it in—if you can

  1. My wife and I just built a house and while the plugs are mildly annoying I don't see how they would be hard for an adult to use. I do wonder though how the spring loaded shutters in these plugs are going to stand up over the years.

    • While I would classify plugging in my cell phone charger, the floor lights, etc… as annoying, I think these shutters truly cause problems when an appliance has a slightly imperfect plug. My hair dryer has one side slightly longer than the other – no matter how hard I pushed I have been unable to plug it in. It got to the point that I searched what was wrong with my power outlets and found this article, which at least allowed me to recognize the problem but doesn’t do anything to help solve it (I can’t seem to find an angle that pushes both shutters simultaneously to get that plug in).

      If your main few moving plugs (e.g chargers especially) aren’t perfectly even, these outlets cause serious problems. Once I get that dryer in, it isn’t coming out until it breaks or I move!

  2. As a baby safety professional, I find there is a discrepancy between the article and the photo. Since the article is about tamper proof outlets you would expect the photo would be showing one. Having installed thousands, I am pretty sure the photo, in fact , portrays a sliding cover outlet plate. When it comes to child safety these are the safer product because the plate incorporates a spring loaded shutter door which blocks access to poking anything in both openings of the socket. The white door covers the black hole openings which is often what attracts a child to notice an outlet in the first place. Children can not put anything into a hole because they are covered. Parents have easy access because they can learn how to slide the spring (tight enough to be a challenge for children) loaded shutter to the side and hold in place to do the second step action of pushing the plug into the socket. Two coordinated actions is difficult for little people until they develop more motor skills. From what the article describes how people are finding the tamper proof outlets hard to use, the sliding plate covers are not only safer but easier to use for the adults in the home. Additionally these plates are a green product, helping insulate your home to block the air which filters through the holes of outlets…..so they are safer, easier and pay for themselves.

    • I have to clear up a few things here regarding the article and the responses. First off, I am an electrical contractor. The point Nancy makes about sliding covers being 'green' is a little misleading as they do nothing to block drafts coming into your home through poorly insulated walls. The "holes of outlets" are not a direct conduit to the outside of your house, but simply a means of continuity for the electrical supply. As for the article, Krakovich says the receptacles are "a bit to much in kitchens and behind appliances". According to the current CEC, kitchen counter receptacles and dedicated appliance receptacles that are not normally accesible do not require the tamper-proof receptacles, but I would recommend installing them anyway, as the cost for installation in a new home is minimal. As for durability, In my opinion,they won't hold up to much use, maybe 3-6 years for an often used outlet.

  3. is it normal for electrical adapters (typically cellphone chargers) and heavy-duty cords to pull loose from these outlets? some two-prong mini-appliance fit just fine, but heavier stuff keeps falling out. also, I've got one grounded plug that no matter what I do, I just can't plug it in two of three receptacles. these manufacturing defects? should i callback the electrician?

  4. I am just so frustrated. I've spent $340,000 on a new addition and renovation and I can plug in a personal computer into any of my outlets (except one). My parents are disabled, and I'm 50 plus. I didn't know about these "new" outlets, otherwise I would have stipulated that they must be functional — who is responsible for these appallingly designed outlets, that must now be ripped out and done over ——— likely at my bloody expense! All I want is a functional house, is that too much to ask!

  5. Sorry, I just proofread my comment above, and I meant to type that I cannnnnnnot plug in a personal computer (or any other device, light, appliance, you name it) into any outlet in my new addition. That is CAN NOT plug into anything. Surely with a population that in the majority is about to become very aged in Canada, NOT imposing barriers is more important than imposing them? Please, how do you disable these ridiculous protections???????????!!!!!!!!!

    • LIterally just spent 45 minutes trying to get a mixer plugged in. Walked the mixer to every outlet in the kitchen. This is beyond annoying.

  6. Some child proof outlets particularly the one mentioned here have a little notch in the sliding cover plates. That is to prevent something like a small screwdriver being pushed into the outlet (it catches on the notch). However so do most electrical plus from appliances or extension cords. The outlet is as it is intended, but the electrical plug industry hasn’t caught up or doesn’t even know of the problem. Sharp edge electrical prongs just won’t go in. File them round or find one that will work.