Are You Plugged In?

On an inspection a couple of weeks ago, a house had been added to and the addition and upgrades were sensational.  In the older part of the house, though, the outlets had been painted so many times that some were simply not usable.  On others the holes were all visible but somewhat closed off so I could not insert my testing device to see how they were.

There are many problems with painting outlets:

  1. The holes close off and eventually, as I said above, they are unusable.  I have seen many outlets where the receptacle holes are painted so much they are barely visible.
  2. The paint sticks the cover plate to the wall and the receptacles to the cover plate.  If work needs to be done on that outlet, the cover plate needs to be cut from the wall, and the outlet fixture cut from the cover plate.  That can, and will, damage the wall, and that can, and will, often break the outlet.
  3. When plugs are pushed into the holes, paint can get pushed in at the same time.  Paint is not a very good conductor.  In fact, latex is a pretty good prevent-er of electrical connectivity!  The electricity cannot flow.  It has been impeded and resists flowing freely.

That is called "impedance" and causes "resistance."  Electricity moves throughout the house in an alternating fashion.  It comes and goes.  Anything that impedes that flow throughout the house, or any appliance or object that causes it to resist movement, can cause heat. 

It can also cause a voltage drop in an outlet, which means that appliances plugged into it are not being provided the amount of electricity they are designed to receive.  That can cause them to overheat as well.

Over time such latex build up can cause the insides of the receptacles can load up more and more with latex and create enough heat to cause the wiring insulation to burn away.  And that can cause a fire.

All in all, I don't like seeing painted outlets.  Once painted, people are tempted to paint them again, especially if the wall color changes.  I identify them on the report in the condition they are, and indicate that they are potential fire hazards.  In the report I say that ideally, all such outlets should be replaced.  Someone, after all, is buying that and inheriting the associated problems.  I think it is fair that the seller not turn over to a buyer what they don't want to have to correct themselves.  Some would call that the "Golden Rule."

That is what I did on the house above.

A few days later I received a call from the irate seller.  She has had her electrician look at the outlets and he told her that there is no problem because they are all grounded.  He said that her responsibility is to sell a house with properly-grounded outlets.

Me:  "But Ma'am, the grounding is not a problem and it is not what I identified."  And I went through my spiel.

Her:  My spiel made no dent!  "But the electrician says they are grounded and fine."

Me:  "Some of the outlets are not usable.  You certainly know that, you live there.  Doesn't he consider that to be a problem?"

Her:  "He didn't say it was.  He said that to replace them he might do damage to the wall and he does not do drywall repairs."

Me:  After my mind went !!!!! -- "But all of the problems I explained to you are left to the buyers.  They will have to do all those repairs and if I understand the addendum correctly they do not want to inherit all that.  Are you willing to sell to someone else a problem you don't want to have to fix yourself?  Would you want someone to knowingly sell you the problems on their house they don't want to fix themselves?"

The silence was golden.

Her:  "Well, my electrician says they are grounded and that's all I am responsible for.  And I trust HIS opinion."

She was pretending not to understand what she understood completely.  And trying to mask it with an angry attitude to boot.

Me:  "We are back to square one.  That is not the problem I identified.  You understand that is not the problem I identified.  You merely don't want to have to take care of the problem.  I think it is unkind of you to push off onto someone else a problem you created.  And some of what you are pushing off is dangerous.  And I trust MY opinion."

My recommendation:  Sometimes you simply can't plug into people.  Or they pretend that they haven't been plugged into!  When you see painted outlets, identify them to the sellers as the problems, and potential problems, they are.  And go from there...

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Comments

jay | Tue, 02/22/2011 - 00:19



So often I get into an older house and the receptacles have been painted so many times I can't insert my device to test them! Each time the room gets painted the receptacles need to be painted to match the new color! Problem...?

And removing them for replacement is almost always destructive!

Westchester Flooring (not verified) | Sat, 01/29/2011 - 11:51

Yes, I'm not a big fan of these. They seem to cause all sorts of issues and really look bad over time.

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Jay performs inspections Monday through Saturday, throughout Northern Virginia, from his office in Bristow to Leesburg and Centreville, to Great Falls and Vienna and everywhere in between!