Beware of Back Stabbing!
It seems like I’ve stumbled upon a problem in our area that is both wide spread and very common, but it’s also very serious. I’ve come across more than a dozen instances this year alone. I’ve found this problem in every type of property from rental homes and condos, to single family and commercial properties. The problem is completely preventable and should never happen.
The problem I’m talking about is improperly installed receptacles (plugs). Most of these were found in new homes. The method being used to install these plugs is called “back stabbing”. This simply refers to inserting the wire into a stab lock connection at the back of the electrical receptacle, instead of wrapping the wire around the set screws provided for proper installation.
In some scenarios and with certain types of receptacles this is an acceptable practice. But, when it comes to residential, 15 amp duplex receptacles, (the ones found in 99% of our homes) this should never be done. See the pictures below for an example of Backstabbing and a Properly Wired Receptacle.
Back Stabbed Receptacle:
Properly Wired Receptacle:
Over time and through repeated use or plugging and unplugging the wire is pushed on and pulled from the connections. This causes the connection to fail, and become loose, which in turn causes resistance which causes heat to build up on the wire, and can even cause fire!
I suggest checking at least one receptacle in each room of your house. You can exclude GFCI receptacles as they are designed to be installed using this method.
Normally I wouldn’t suggest that untrained people work on or with electricity, but this problem seems to be so wide spread that I think its justified. First, you should verify that the power is off at the plug you are working on. If you do not have a properly functioning voltage tester, you can simply plug a lamp into the plug and turn off your circuit breakers one at a time until the lamp goes off. Once you have verified that the power is off, remove the receptacle from the outlet box and check to see if the wires are “back stabbed” or if they are wrapped around the screws and that the screws are tight. See the pic below for an example of a properly wired receptacle. BTW, be sure to remember to turn the circuit breaker(s) back on when you’re done!
If you do not feel comfortable attempting this check yourself, most licensed electrical contracting companies offer a safety inspection. This should be something covered under that service. For more info on what is involved in a safety inspection you can go to our services page and read about the one we offer.