It may seem like a scene out of a horror movie, but it’s not an uncommon sight: bugs crawling out of an electrical outlet.
This can happen even in homes that are generally clean and sealed off from the outdoors. Many bugs need only the tiniest of cracks to get in your home, and if they establish a nest or find some hidden source of food and water, they can multiply just about anywhere -- including in your outlets and around your wiring.
Critters are Coming
There are a variety of insects that have a particular affinity for electrical hardware, though some of those relationships are still somewhat mysterious. Fire ants, for example, are notorious for gathering in electrical boxes and traffic signal switches, prompting Texas to establish “Fire Ant Awareness Week” to educate the public about this widespread scourge. The Texas Department of Transportation funded research to help find solutions to the problem, but it’s still unknown exactly why these ant species are so attracted to electricity.
What electricians do understand, however, is the destructive power of these insects. Not only can ants chew through wiring sheaths, they instinctively release alarm pheromones when they’re electrocuted. The pheromones summon additional ants who may also become electrocuted, and the area can quickly become so overwhelmed with dead ants that they cause a short circuit.
Other bugs, like cockroaches and bedbugs, are drawn to outlets and electronics because they like spaces that are tight, dark and warm. But in addition to being disgusting, they also leave behind waste, tracked-in residue and carcasses, all of which can contribute to corrosion of electrical contacts and circuit boards.
Evicting the Invaders
If you discover an insect infestation in one or more of your outlets, you may want to call an electrician, but not until after you’ve called a pest control specialist. It’s important to always deal with the bugs first and to do so under the expertise of a professional, especially if there’s an infestation within your walls. Using chemicals to kill unseen insects could pose an even bigger problem down the line if their carcasses start attracting a new type of pest.
With the insect situation under control, you should definitely call an electrician for service if you’re having any problems with the outlets or switches in the affected area, or if you notice strange burning odors. It’s possible that the bugs have caused hidden damage that could pose a risk of short circuiting or fire.
If you don’t need emergency service, you can take some additional steps to seal up the gaps that let the bugs into your home in the first place. Draft-eliminating switch plate gaskets are a simple stick-on solution that you can pick up at most hardware stores, but spray foam insulation offers a longer-lasting fix.
Before using spray foam to seal an outlet or switch, start by shutting off power to the receptacle at the circuit box. Remove the switch plate, then carefully spray foam insulation into the cracks between the junction box and the wall. The foam will expand, so you should start slow and use the smallest amount possible.
Your licensed, local electrician can propose other solutions to seal off your outlets, so if you find that you need an expert opinion, reach out to your local Mister Sparky today!