Electrical safety advances by making outlets a little better. TR stands for tamper resistant, and WR stands for weather resistant. Do I need these outlets on my home? Are there any issues to be aware of?
One aspect of my home inspections, which is hard to get across to sellers, is the idea of reporting on safety. This last week a seller was in the home making repairs as I was doing my inspection. He wanted a clean report. I can understand that feeling; however, there is never a clean report. Builders do not build to the desires of a home inspector, but they do strive to meet current standards and best practices. Part of those standards deal with safety. As our knowledge increases, we can make homes safer. Older homes undergoing renovation are frequently subject to making those updates, so you may want to be aware of new products and practices. Since the electrical system poses a concern, the fixtures on that system have been improving. We now have GFCI outlets, AFCI breakers, and other safety features, but I realized that I have not mentioned two new outlet types on this blog: tamper resistant (TR) and weather resistant (WR).
These outlets have been around, but builders have been installing them on new homes fairly recently. If you do have an older home, you are not required to upgrade to these outlets, unless you are doing a major remodel. To check if you have these outlets on your home is
simple. Tamper resistant outlets are placed inside the home, and if you glance quickly at one, you may not notice anything different. The outlet will be marked with a TR, or it will have the phrase tamper resistant printed in small lettering across the top. Top of the plug that is, since the coverplate can be removed. Weather resistant outlets are for the outside of your home, and they are easier to spot in a glance. They have a plastic cover, usually clear, over the outlet.
So why do I need a TR or WR outlet? Because the home inspector says so! Alright, poor joke, but that is how some sellers feel. I and other inspectors place this on our report, so our client understands what improvements can be made to the home. Like many children, my one year old is fascinated by electrical outlets. Why is mama and papa sticking things into them? And why can’t I? Tamper resistant (TR) outlets give parents a bit of calm, since the children cannot stick that item into the socket. These outlets have spring loaded covers on the inside which stop the curious child. You may have those plastic tabs, which go into the outlet, and they may be enough for you. My daughter will unplug the lamp or vacuum cleaner, and then she has an open outlet to explore. With a TR outlet, the protection is built-in. With a WR outlet, we have another defense from the rain or other weather/water conditions. On a house the other day, I found damage due to rain getting into the electrical system. Power went down in several rooms. A little extra security for you when you properly protect an outlet from water, so you will not have to replace an outlet.
Do I have these outlets in my home? No, my home was built in the early sixties when these outlets were not around. Would I consider installing them in my home, even if I am not doing a major remodel? Yes. I have been working on too many other projects lately, but I do have this on my list of improvements to be made. I think that maybe this should be sooner rather than later. To switch out an outlets is simple enough. Turn off the power to the area where you are working. Coverplates for plugs usually have one screw in the middle. Once you take that off, you have two screws holding in the plug. There are three wires: white; black, and copper. These are held on by a screw or they are pushed into the socket. Your new outlet should have similar markings, so match up the markings.Put everything back into place, and you are done. You will want to leave your GFCI outlets in place. That reminds me. Someone knowing that home inspectors look for GFCI outlets in the kitchen placed a GFCI sticker on the outlet for the refrigerator. Fortunately, the unit was not GFCI. Refrigerators should not be on a GFCI outlet. If the unit trips, your food can spoil. I think the seller was looking for a clean report with that one.
How do I install these outlets? Are there any issues with them? The outlets are installed like any other outlet. There is no special step outside of normal setup. You will find instructions in the package of the outlet. Turn off the power to the outlet. Remove the coverplate. Remove the two screws holding the outlet to the box in the wall. This allows you to pull the outlet out of the wall. Your new outlet will have an indicator where the wires should attach, so read the instructions for where wires go. Then reverse the process to complete the installation. One consistent complaint with the TR outlets is that you cannot push a plug into the unit. I have experienced this as well. After pushing my tester (or you can use a plug) into the outlet a few times, I have found it easier. Not always, so a new outlet may be needed.
Here is an example of the plug, that does not have the TR stamped on the outside, but on a tab that is covered by the plate.