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brianz72 10-01-2012 01:05 PM

Outlet safety retrofit - guidance appreciated
Hi all,

I am an electrically illiterate homeowner. My home was built in 2004. I am looking for some guidance on how to make a dual outlet safe, especially since a couple years ago an electrician found some melted wires behind a different outlet.

I am using this dual outlet to run 3-4 heaters in two snake cages. Each snake cage has 1-2 heaters running, hooked up to a thermostat and basic Belkin power strips. The wattage load across the entire dual outlet is probably around 300W. I am also running low wattage full spectrum lights from these power strips. The thermostats are on/off, not proportional, and they cycle on/off every 15 minutes or so.

I just want to make sure the outlet is as safe as I can make it - from surges, spikes, heat buildup, arcing, etc. I have heard about AFCI and/or GFCI retrofitting but I don't know if that makes sense. Maybe there are ideas.

Any suggestions? Sometimes I've had genius electricians, other times a new 20 year old kid just learning, so I don't want to gamble... I'd rather learn here and know what makes sense.

Thanks so much for your help.

AllanJ 10-01-2012 01:18 PM

The probable reason the other receptacles melted was due to a loose connection behind them. Melting could occur with only a few hundred watts.

Normally you can plug a power strip (or extension cord) into a receptacle and continuously draw 80% of the rating (12 amps for one cord and plug in common 15 amp receptacles) also subject to the circuit rating and the appliance cord rating.

Ground fault interrupters are not absolutely needed but will greatly reduce the chance of electrocution from a defect in the equipment or mishandling of plugs and cords.

mpoulton 10-01-2012 01:35 PM

I don't see any compelling need to do anything. You're using a normal receptacle for a load that's only about 1/5th of it's maximum capacity. GFCI could be good if there's a significant ground fault hazard with any of this equipment, but it doesn't seem likely. It's good for aquariums, but there isn't much water around reptile cages.

Since an electrician found melted wires behind a different receptacle, I would guess these receptacles are probably "back-stabbed" - the wires are inserted into self-gripping connector holes in the back. This is very fast to install, but tends to fail. Replacing your receptacles with higher quality ones using screw terminals may help avoid problems.

joed 10-01-2012 02:18 PM

Remove the receptacle and inspect the connections. If they are using the push in holes then move the wires or change the receptacles so that the screw terminals are used. Back stab or push in connections are a very common cause of melted receptacles.

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