What are Tamper-Resistant Receptacles (Explained)

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wall outlet lg

If you’re replacing the electrical outlets in your home or installing new receptacles, you’ve probably stumbled upon the term tamper-resistant receptacle. But what exactly does that mean, and how are they different from regular open outlets?

Tamper-resistant receptacles are identical to regular receptacles, but internal shutters block the two slots unless you insert the two prongs of a plug simultaneously. Tamper-resistant outlets prevent children from electrocuting themselves by sticking an item into a single slot.

Tamper-resistant receptacles are incredibly similar to regular outlets, but their one slight difference makes them significantly safer around children and adults alike. Let’s take a closer look at tamper-resistant receptacles, explore how they work, and answer a few follow-up questions that many people have after learning about them.

If you have tamper-resistant outlets in your home, installing a plastic outlet cover is unnecessary. Plastic receptacle covers plug into the outlet faceplate to prevent children from sticking foreign objects into a standard wall outlet.

The internal spring-loaded shutters do not open unless both plug prongs are evenly inserted into the outlet. They obstruct the electrical current flow until an electrical plug is inserted.

Here are some statistics to consider that support the use of tamper-resistant outlets:

According to research conducted by Temple University, all 2- to 4-year-olds can remove one form of plastic outlet cap in ten seconds. This research concludes that there are 6 to 12 child fatalities each year due to this. (nfpa.org)

According to a ten-year study published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 2,400 children are injured from electrical shocks each year in the home due to inserting foreign objects into unguarded electrical outlets. (nachi.org)

What Exactly are Tamper-Resistant (TR) Receptacles?

The face of a standard wall outlet typically has two plugs where you can plug in any compatible electrical device. Each of these plugs typically has three holes, two small vertical slots across from each other, and a large hole centered below.

The small opening on the left is the neutral slot and is typically slightly taller than its counterpart on the right, the hot slot. The ground hole is the larger centered opening below the neutral and hot slots.

Regular receptacle outlets have nothing blocking the neutral and hot slots. It can be perilous because children often stick things into these holes and end up electrocuting or burning themselves.

Tamper-resistant receptacles work to overcome this safety issue by having a cover on the inside of the outlet that protects the neutral and hot slots. The only way to remove the cover is by plugging in a device and applying pressure with the two prongs in both slots simultaneously. The covers will retract and allow you to plug in just like a regular receptacle.

Tamper-resistant receptacles look and behave precisely like regular open outlets, but they have a crucial safety feature that saves lives.

How to Tell If an Outlet is Tamper-Resistant?

The benefits of tamper-resistant receptacles are apparent, but many people wonder if the outlets in their homes are tamper-resistant or not. The only difference between the two receptacles is the inner cover over the plug-in slots. 

Here are two great methods for determining if your outlets are tamper-resistant or not:

TR outlet 2 lg

Method 1: Look for TR on the Receptacle

The easiest way to identify a tamper-resistant receptacle is to look for a capital TR embossed on the receptacle. Notice the TR embossed on the receptacle in the photo above. The receptacle should have this identification.

Method 2: Look for the Outlet Slot Covers

The second easiest way to identify a tamper-resistant receptacle is to look for the inner slot covers. Sit so you’re about six inches away from the outlet at eye level and look into the two upper slots of the receptacle (the neutral and hot slots).

  1. If the two openings seem to extend far into the outlet and fall away into shadows, your outlet is likely a regular receptacle.
  1. If the two openings abruptly stop about ¼ of an inch in by a white cover, your outlet is likely tamper-resistant.
  1. If one of the openings abruptly stops at a white cover and the other seems to extend farther, your outlet is likely tamper-resistant. However, since only one of the slots has a cover, it is broken, and you should replace the receptacle.
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Method 3: Plug Something Into the Outlet

If you cannot determine if your plug is tamper-resistant or not by looking at the outlet, there is another way to tell the difference. Find an electrical device in your home that plugs into a wall outlet to test whether your plug has tamper protection or not.

Plug the electrical device into the outlet while paying particular attention to any resistance you feel when plugging it in. 

  1. If you plug the device in and there is zero resistance when you push the two prongs into the outlet, your outlet is likely a standard wall outlet.
  2. If you plug the device into the outlet and there is resistance, but it quickly releases and allows you to plug it in all the way, it’s likely a tamper-resistant outlet.

Where Should You Use Tamper-Resistant Receptacles?

The National Electric Code (NEC) now requires all outlets to be tamper-resistant. So any time you’re installing a new wall receptacle, ensure it is a tamper-resistant outlet. Not only does this keep your home up to electrical code, but it is also much safer.

You can leave existing regular outlets as-is, but you must use tamper-resistant receptacles once you need to replace them due to old age or any other reason. Even if they still work, it is best practice to go through your home and replace any regular open outlets with new tamper-resistant ones to prevent accidental electric shocks.

Tamper-resistant receptacles are miles safer than the old type, and they only cost a few cents more. There’s no reason to use old outlets over the safer version.

ungrounded outlet 2 lg

If your home has ungrounded 2-prong outlets like the one pictured above, they’re certainly not tamper-resistant. If you live in an old house and there have been no electrical renovations within the last ten years, you can be confident the outlets are not tamper-resistant.

How to Use a Tamper-Resistant Receptacle

You can use a tamper-resistant receptacle precisely like you would a regular outlet. When plugging in a device, you might feel a little bit of resistance, but if you keep pushing, the internal shutters will give way.

If you attempt to plug an electrical device into a tamper-resistant outlet and it is incredibly challenging, stop pushing. Pushing too hard can break the receptacle. If you cannot seem to get something to plug it, there are two possible problems: the prongs are not straight, or you’re not applying equal pressure to both prongs.

Use a pair of pliers or your hands to straighten the plug’s prongs if needed carefully. Then try again, ensuring you apply equal pressure to both prongs, so they enter the outlet simultaneously. Practice proper safety when plugging anything into a wall outlet, whether it’s a tamper-resistant receptacle or not.

Final Thoughts

Tamper-resistant receptacles are similar to regular outlets but have internal covers for the neutral and hot slots. The covers move out of the way when you plug in a device, but they stop children from sticking things into the outlet and electrocuting themselves.

A licensed electrician can help you replace standard receptacles with tamper-resistant ones. You can expect it will cost $30 to $50 per outlet for replacement.

Always use tamper-resistant receptacles over the older open kind to stay up to NEC code. They are much safer and only a little more than standard outlets, so there’s no reason not to use them.

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting professional home inspections since 2002. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Professional Inspector (CPI), Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
DISCLAIMER: The content published on HomeInspectionInsider.com is not professional advice. You should consult with a licensed professional and check local permit requirements before starting any project.
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