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FAQ: Child Safety Outlets

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Have you recently bought a new house and wondered why you’re having such a hard time jamming a plug into your outlets?

You’re not alone.

There’s a simple reason for it, and that reason has everything to do with codes.

For the last several years, we’ve been required to install child safety plugs in all our homes.

True, we only sell homes to the 55 and older community, however, we follow the same codes. I guess if you’re feeling mischievous and childish, you might try sticking some foil in your outlet, but you’re going to have a harder time causing a spark now days.

The Trick to Child Safety Outlets

Government sucks the fun out of being a kid

What could be more simple than plugging your appliance into your wall and enjoying the modern miracle of electricity? Unfortunately, the enemy of convenience, regulation, strikes again.

I remember the days when as an inventive youth of six or seven years old, I made a belt that could extend the range of our wall outlet. It was simple. I looped a few bare wire around my waist, taking care to securely tighten all the screws on the outlet to the wire.

The plan went swimmingly, at least it did until I was ready to energize my powerbelt. The first wire fed into the hall outlet without any problem or sign of problem. Then came the second wire. That bottom hole was the easiest to feed a wire into. Again, no problem. I was excited. The fruits of my invention were about to pay off. Then I stuck the third wire into the outlet.

There was an electrical payoff, but not the one I was expecting. Sparks shot into my face as electricity passed through my middle and sent me sprawling backwards.

When I had sense enough to realize that this electricity thing needed more than theory and imagination to work right, I unfastened my copper belt from my pant loops and examined the damage. I was fine, but the power outlet on the wall was black.

With a little more hesitancy this time, I tried wiping the plastic cover-plate clean. Most of the black came off, enough that my parents would hopefully not notice. I then disposed of my invention and fetched a vacuum cleaner. A quick test proved that the outlet was destroyed. No power to the vacuum.

This prompted another wave of cleaning the outlet. I wanted as little evidence pointing to the root cause of its problem.

I don’t remember getting in trouble, so I must have been successful. However, a few days later, I did notice that the outlet was working again. No harm, no foul, and I breathed easy.

Without doubt, my parents just flipped a breaker and all was fixed, but that was my first and foremost blunder with electricity.

In junior high, I saw a lot of kids kicking gum wrappers into school outlets for a similar effect. I don’t know if kids ever got hurt playing with outlets like this. I’m sure some must have, which is why we now have child safety outlets.

Safety at the cost of convenience

Inside of every child safety outlet are a couple of plastic flags. These barn doors swing inward when you try to insert a plug. They are designed to only give way if you have a good solid plug. The prongs of the plug need to be flat and equal in length. Only then will the flags give way to accept the plug.

The problems arise when either the prongs are not of equal length or shape. These outlets are designed to let only the correct type of plug in. But like any plastic piece, they have some bend in them and if flexed improperly, they will not function right.

Many of the newest outlets also seem to have some additional resistance for the first few times you use them. It’s almost like the plastic occasionally gets jammed and won’t accept anything. Usually, this is cured by inserting the plug several times until it the flags have worn themselves into working order, some even find that additional cussing helps, and maybe it does. I’ll let you experiment with that as your conscience dictates.

The more a plug is used, the less problems it generally has. They’ll still not be the easiest to use, but they should at least function.

While I may sound cynical, I truly have no real objection to these child safety outlets. If I had the choice, I might not put them in my home, but if they really do save young lives, then I’m all for them. If they prove to be nothing more than a hindrance to mischievous teenagers or curious kids like I was, then they’re probably still worth the annoyance. Whatever your thoughts are concerning them, at least you know why they’re so much harder to use now than you may be used to.


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