The Critical Eye!
Tamper Resistant Outlets
Tamper Resistant Receptacle outlets are now the norm on new construction in Utah, but most homeowners have no clue about these new receptacles. You would think that in the baby birthing capitol of America that there would be more awareness, but I guess it is up to us Home Inspectors to help spread the awareness.
TAMPER RESISTANT RECEPTACLES - These outlets are designed so that if a child attempts to stick a screwdriver, fork, or other sharp metal item into just one side of an outlet, that entry is prevented and electrocution is avoided. Mothers should be the most aware of these new outlets since they are the most safety conscious in the household and worried Mothers have been the primary purchasers of plastic caps and shuttered safety wall plates for years. As safety prevention devices, it is unfortunate that the plastic caps are easily removed and the shuttered wall plates are now deemed a safety hazard and prohibited for use. The shuttered wall plates add thickness between the plug and the outlets securing prongs and they can allow overheating and fire to result from their use. The Underwriters Laboratory (UL) has withdrawn their approval of shuttered wall plates and their use should be stopped immediately to help prevent house fires.
The newer tamper resistant receptacle outlets are really nifty and well designed. If you insert a typical electrical plug the two blades apply pressure inside the outlet at the same time and the safety shield is allowed to be depressed. If only one blade is attempted, then the block plate stays in position and you cannot easily access the live power. I do not know what the force rating is, but I stood in my local home center with my modified 1-blade tester and I could not get any of them to allow access.
LONGEVITY - I have no idea what the projected lifespan is for outlets that receive constant repetitive use. It will be interesting to see how they fail in 2, 5, 10, or 20 years. Obviously we will have to be looking out for this type of failure in the years to come.
REPLACEMENT/RETROFIT - The Tamper Resistant outlets have both side and rear connection for the wires. This makes for straight forward trade-outs.
HOW TO IDENTIFY - Tamper Resistant outlets feature “TR” stamped on the faces of the receptacle outlets. This means that you do not have to remove the cover and outlet to tell if it is a tamper resistant outlet.
LEVITON LIVE-CHAT - I went to Leviton online and asked my questions directly...
You are now talking to Chris
Welcome to Leviton Live Chat.
Chris: Hello, welcome to Leviton Live Chat.
You said: Do all Leviton Tamper Resistant Receptacle outlets have the “TR” marking? As a home inspector, I want to be sure how to identify them without having to remove the cover plate and the outlet.
Chris: All Leviton Tamper Resistant receptacles are marked with "TR".
You said: I just spent about a half hour looking through your website and opening up all of the images for Tamper Resistant receptacles and could find no TR markings on the some of the faces, but I did clearly see them in a 2010 YouTube video that Leviton produced. Are you saying that ALL Leviton Tamper Resistant outlets have the TR marking on the face?
Chris: If you select the additional views you can clearly see the "TR” in between the receptacle opening.
You said: Cool, In my future reports I just wanted to make sure that I wasn't making a fool of myself by stating they weren't Tamper Resistant when actually they are. Correct identification is critical in my job. I think I will make a one pronged tester and see if the feature works on each accessible receptacle. Thanks for your help with this!
Chris: You are very welcome!
EXCEPTION - There always seems to be exceptions. I was surprised to see the exception to Chris’ emphatic statement, “All Leviton Tamper Resistant receptacles are marked with "TR".” While in the home center I found all Tamper Resistant outlets were marked with the TP except for the new half outlet half USB charger. I do not what other tamper resistant outlets are unmarked. The blocking plate is not as clearly visible as the normal TR receptacles, but when I tried my 1-blade tester it was blocked out.
OTHER IDENTIFICATION METHOD - You can look inside the slot openings and see the blocking plate. It was quite visible on the majority of the Leviton units, but I am not sure if it is as visible on other brands (Please send me your feedback on visual identification).
TESTING DEVICE - Since there are no one blade testers on the market specifically designed for testing Tamper Resistant Receptacles, I decided to make my own. The key feature was to not get electrocuted while testing the Tamper Resistant outlets. Why? I value my life! I opted to not use a screwdriver, coat hangar, or any other solid metal device. Instead, I took an old worn out cheapo 3-prong tester and popped it apart. I then stripped out the wires, resisters, and lights and only put back in the hot blade. This allows me the easy ability to try and insert it into either the hot or neutral slots one at a time If it inserts, then the tamper resistant feature is NOT working.
HAZARD - There is a huge risk to children with electrical outlets. This means that when there is an electrocution that would have been prevented by Tamper Resistant outlets, and we did not make the identification, then we are in the liability loop. I know that I can still vividly remember the incredible blue flame that left me seeing a huge yellow spot for several minutes after the flash I created in third grade.
NEC 2011 - Note the exceptions...
The exceptions were NOT part of the original 2008 NEC verbiage. It makes perfect sense that outlets out of the reach of children are allowed to be typical, and more inexpensive, non-tamper resistant outlets.
According to the NEMA document NEC-2011-Adoption-UpdateFINAL.docx.pdf , published on August 31, 2011 it states that Utah is one of the 10 states that adopted this requirement in full or part... “To date, 10 states have adopted the 2011 Code, either statewide or within certain local jurisdictions, including Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Vermont. The Code review and adoption process is progressing in Arkansas, Idaho, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and South Carolina.” From everything I can find I see no exceptions in Utah to this portion of the 2011 National Electrical Code (Let me know if you know something different), and this means that we should be seeing them on all new construction. So howzabout all of my Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, and California inspectors, is this on your radar? Are they requiring Tamper Resistant Receptacles in your inspection areas? It is probably best to check with your local AHJ’s (Authorities Having Jurisdiction) to see if they are now required or soon to be required so that you are not caught off guard like I was. I started seeing the TR on new home receptacles and did not give it any thought. I figured it was a new brand name, and not a designation/rating marking.
TAMPER RESISTANT TEST - Okay, so now that I have shared with you about these outlets, here is a visual test. I will share a picture of a Tamper Resistant Receptacle and a normal receptacle. One is beige and one is white. Let’s see if you can figure out which one is which.
Pretty easy test, wasn’t it. So now that you have been made aware of the feature, the markings, and how to test and identify, you can go forth and conquer.
VERTICAL SLOTS - You may also be unaware of the difference between 15 amp receptacle outlets and 20 am receptacle outlets. Look at the neutral blade on the two outlets above and see the horizontal portion of the neutral slot. This is only on the 20 amp models. Two vertical slots are 15 amp models.
2-PRONG - I could find no 2-prong replacement receptacles with the tamper resistant feature. I could only find regular rounded models and they were priced at $2.19 each.
3-PRONG - If you want the .59 cent models, then you are stuck using non-tamper resistant models. The cheapest Tamper Resistant models were $2.49.
GFCI - These also come in Tamper Resistant and non versions in both 15 and 20 amp models. The TR GFCI’s start at about $15.79.
VIDEO LINK - I found a cool video link on fellow Utah Inspector Dennis Thomas’ code forum...
IN SUMMARY - I am really glad that this is a requirement on new homes. A part of me wishes that every old outlet in every beat up starter homes was also required to retrofit so that all those new young mothers out there living in older housing stock can benefit from the protection of the newer Tamper Resistant Receptacles. I know the mandate is unrealistic, but most young mothers cannot afford to go out and spend $2.49 per outlet plus installation to add the safety retrofit to their older homes. So this means that we will continue to see those irritating plastic plugs on older housing stock for years to come.