What You Need to Know About Reverse Polarity Outlets

person putting plug into outlet

Amateur electricians and DIYers who had their hands in your Indianapolis home’s wiring before you bought it can put everything at risk. A common DIY wiring mistake causes reverse polarity in the outlet. What is a reverse polarity outlet, how do you identify them, and how unsafe are they?

What Is Reversed Polarity?

Reverse polarity outlets are wired backward; that is, the hot wire is wired to the neutral side and vice versa. Each outlet receptacle in your home has its own hot and neutral wire, so each outlet can be reversed independently of the others.

This might not seem like a big deal – the outlet’s still powering anything plugged into it, right? Yes, but that simply makes them harder to detect, and if uncorrected, they can be unsafe.

How Reversed Polarity in Outlets Is Dangerous

In short, reverse polarity outlets can cause shocks and fires. To understand how this danger exists, let’s first look at how a properly wired outlet functions.

How it’s supposed to work:

A correctly polarized outlet is wired so that the small opening connects to the hot wire and the larger opening connects to the neutral wire. The circuit is open on the hot wire side with a switch that prevents power from flowing to the device when it’s off. The circuit only completes when something is plugged in and turned on. When the device, such as a lamp, isn’t turned on, the circuit isn’t closed, and the lamp has no power to it until the switch is flipped.

In a reverse polarity outlet, however, the hot wire is connected on the closed side of the circuit, allowing power to flow into the device even when it’s turned off!

Touching metal on something plugged into a reversed polarity outlet could lead to an electric shock, with your body acting as a ground for the electricity. Think of the warning not to stick metal utensils into a toaster while it’s on. Except now, the toaster (or another device) is always “on,” even if it doesn’t look like it.

Devices plugged into a reversed polarity outlet may also be damaged or short-circuit, presenting a fire risk.

How to Tell If the Polarity In an Outlet Is Reversed

Checking polarity in electrical outlets is often part of a pre-purchase home inspection. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to tell if an outlet has reversed polarity without testing, though a shock from a plugged-in but switched-off device is a good clue.

If you want to check your own outlets, you can purchase an outlet tester at a local hardware store or online. The tester will have leads or prongs you can insert into your outlet to test the polarity. A professional home electrical inspection can also catch issues of reversed polarity, among other problems.

How to Fix a Reverse Polarity Outlet

If you identify a problem, the best way to fix a reverse polarity outlet is to call a professional for outlet rewiring. Amateur electrical work is the most likely cause of the mix-up. That’s why it’s best to trust expert knowledge to ensure all wiring and polarity issues throughout your home are cleared up.

Our Electrical Pros Can Identify and Fix Reverse Polarity Outlets

In Indianapolis and surrounding communities such as Westfield, Greenwood, Avon, and Zionsville, we can promptly identify and fix your reverse polarity outlets – and address many more electrical concerns.

Enjoy peace of mind knowing your home’s electrical system is safe. Call the licensed and insured experts at Mister Sparky of Indianapolis at (317) 342-0959 or book online today.