While replacing electrical outlets is not a part of routine home maintenance, most homeowners will have to replace an outlet at some point. A correctly installed outlet that's rarely used can last for decades without any problems, and most people won't even think about replacing it unless it develops problems. However, there are a few circumstances in which you do need to replace them.

When You Need an Upgrade

Sometimes you do need to upgrade an outlet for convenience or safety. For example, outlets in very old homes may have been installed prior to the existence of polarized or 3-prong plugs. The outlets may be perfectly functional and safe, but they aren't convenient if the homeowner can't plug in a dehumidifier with a 3-prong plug or a vacuum cleaner with a polarized plug where they need to.

Likewise, GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets are much safer than regular outlets because they will stop the flow of electricity when they detect an interruption, whether it's due to contact with water, a problem with the wiring or a faulty appliance. Your municipality's building code may or may not require them in bathrooms or kitchens. However, even if GFCIs are mandated for new construction only, proactively replacing non-GFCI outlets can make your home much safer.

When an Outlet Is Worn Out

Rarely used outlets can function well for years, but heavily used outlets will wear out sooner. The more times an appliance is plugged in and unplugged, the faster the contacts loosen. If you have ever plugged an appliance in and it felt like the outlet wasn't gripping the prongs, it's because the tension on the contacts wore out. Devices that draw a lot of power and are plugged in and unplugged frequently, such as hair dryers and vacuum cleaners, can wear the contacts out faster. Partially exposed prongs are a safety hazard, so these outlets should be replaced as soon as something doesn't feel right. Loose receptacles aren't the only signs of worn out outlets – if a plugged-in light flickers or a GFCI outlet trips more often then usual, it can indicate that the contacts are getting looser. This can be due to metal fatigue or just plain wear and tear.

Unless your building code states differently, there is no hard and fast rule for how often electrical outlets should be replaced. However, the plugs in your home deliver the live current to your appliances and therefore do quite a bit of dangerous work, so they need to be up to the job. If you have concerns about your outlets, especially if you have an older home, have a qualified electrician examine them. He or she can not only make sure they are safe, replace them when needed and make sure that all outlets meet the current codes to make your home as safe as possible.

For an electrician, contact a company such as Genesis Electrical Service Inc.