Tamper Resistant Outlets are Now Required
Since 2008, all new and renovated homes are required to have tamper resistant outlets. These look exactly the same as regular outlets, but have a spring loaded plate inside them which only opens if pressure is put on both sides. So, you can insert a plug with no problem, but your child can't stick in a nail file. The NEC requires the outlets even if the current owner or tenant does not have children. The only exception is outlets more than 5'5 off the ground, outlets built into light fixtures or lumieres, and outlets specifically for major appliances, such as your fridge. The last are generally behind the appliance and out of reach.
The sockets only cover the line and load contacts (the top two) and not the ground (because not all appliances have a ground plug). They do not require any noticeable additional force, although they can be a bit less forgiving of bent or damaged plugs than regular outlets. As a note, if you have tamper resistant outlets and it requires a lot of force or wriggling to insert a plug, the outlets are probably damaged, worn, or defective and you should talk to an electrician about replacing them.
You can tell whether a socket is tamper resistant by looking at the slots. You should be able to see the plastic. They also have the letters "TR" engraved between the two vertical slots. Check all of the outlets in your house. It's possible a previous owner replaced only the outlets in the bedrooms, or the ones not far above floor level. The code requires that all outlets less than 5.5 feet from the floor are tamper resistant, including GCFI outlets - those are the ones with the little lights you almost certainly have in your kitchen and bathroom.
If you do not have tamper resistant sockets, then an outlet cover is a good interim measure. However, new parents should consider installing them throughout the house, not just in the nursery or other areas where the child may be playing. Even if you don't have a baby or young child, you should consider tamper resistant sockets anyway. At the very least, any socket that needs to be replaced should be replaced with a tamper resistant outlet.
Many parents rely on outlet covers to childproof outlets. However, they can have their own issues. The plastic plugs that are most common can be a choking hazard, and some have cute and colorful designs that actively invite a child to play with them. Caregivers may also forget to replace the plug after using the outlet. Attached plug covers, while handy if you have curious pets, are generally not that hard for children to open. That said, these outlet covers can be handy when traveling, as not all hotel rooms are going to have child proof outlets. If you do choose to use them, make sure they are the kind that are flat, which are harder for babies and small children to remove. Also never leave the caps lying around where a baby can play with them.
Sliding outlet covers, which replace the existing outlet plate, are another option, but older children rapidly work out how to operate them. You should also consider getting a cover for outlets where something (such as your internet router or TV) is plugged in permanently, as babies have been known to unplug things. Avoid screw on covers, which can be a pain to deal with and present a fire hazard. As they are inconvenient, they are also more likely to be left off.
In order to keep your child from plugging appliances in, if you cannot move the cord out of their reach, then you can add a lock to the cable which requires a key to remove. This is a pain, however, and it is often easier to make sure they cannot access the cord or the equipment. Keep all appliances and power cords out of their reach, and avoid leaving any electronics, including your phone, turned on and plugged in where a child can get to them. Babies will sometimes put devices in their mouths.
Let it to the Professionals
You should not attempt to install tamper resistant outlets yourself. Many DIY sites will claim that this is a DIY project, and it is true that simply replacing an outlet does not require a permit (unless you are adding a new outlet). However, unless you are experienced with electrical work, there is a high risk that you will wire the outlet incorrectly and potentially start a fire. Hiring an electrician may seem like a lot for a single outlet, but if you are upgrading all of your outlets it becomes a cost effective solution. Because of improvements in code requirements and technology, it is worth considering upgrading all outlets, including any that are already tamper resistant. As mentioned above, you should replace a tamper resistant outlet if it is requiring a lot of force or hassle to use. It is worth paying a little more for higher quality tamper proof outlets that are less likely to be defective. Bear in mind that new outlets are often a little stiffer.
It might seem unnecessary to have tamper resistant outlets if you don't have children. However, when its time to sell your home, it will look better to the prospective buyer to see that your outlets are up to code. It could be a selling point if the new owner does have children or is planning on starting a family in the near future.
If you are interested in replacing all of your existing outlets with tamper proof receptacles, then contact Grace Mountain Electric today to get a quote. Replacing is a good idea if you are planning on starting a family, intend to sell, or if the outlets in your house are known to be older.