Loose electrical sockets

I just moved into a new house. Several of the outlets are loose. The plugs just kind of hang and threaten to fall out. Is there a way to fix this short of changing all the outlets?

Not really, but if an outlet is old enough to be loose, then you probably want to replace it anyway. Fortunately, new outlets are cheap (a couple of bucks, tops) and very easy to put in. It takes about five minutes. Just make sure to turn off the breaker to that outlet before doing anything with it, and make sure to check the amperage of the circuit that the outlet is on (it should be printed on the breaker) and get a replacement outlet that is rated for that amperage. There are tons of sites on the Internet with step by step instructions, just waiting to be Googled.

It depends on what the ‘socket’ here is. If it’s just the actual socket, then you have to figure out why it’s loose. It’s possible that someone did a shoddy install and just screwed into drywall without using drywall anchors. If that’s case, just putting in anchors will solve that problem. If by ‘socket’ you mean the actual workbox, then that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

What BTG said. You have to see if the gang boxes the socket plates screw into are set properly. My third bedroom has a blank plate next to the cable/phone/Ethernet plate. I yanked it off to see WTF it was, and itr was a fucking botched gang box install that the lazy jerkoffs just tossed a plate over. Hilarious part is, since it’s a crooked gang box, the plate’s screw wasn’t even in the box threads - it was held on by paint, which you know I sort of borke the seal to take it off. I’m still waiting for those idiots to come seal it up and remove it from my bedroom wall.

Homebuilders are the suck. It kills me how bad they are. They, on the other hand, blame developers and the consumer (a friend of mine is a builder).

The logic goes like this: “Most consumers don’t know quality, so if we charge for it they’ll just go somewhere cheaper.” Which is, sadly, true. There are so many little things to the quality or utility of a home that most consumers don’t look for or know to look for (and I don’t necessarily blame the consumer).
[li]Are toilets standard or chair height? Round or elongated bowl? What’s the trap size?
[/li][li]How thick is the hardwood? Was it site finished or prefinished?
[/li][li]Where does kitchen exhaust vent?
[/li][li]What’s the total incoming electrical service?
[/li][li]How big are the heat/cool units?
[/li][li]Where’s the sump pump?
[/li][li]What type of shingle and siding?
[/li][li]What type of joists/rafters?
[/li][li]Are there any airports, railroad tracks, or sources of bad smells within 5 miles? What about power lines?
[/li][li]Is Internet accessible from that location?
[/li][li]Is cell phone accessible from that location?
[/li][li]Are electrical lines run through conduit or just stuck on stud centers?
[/li][li]Where are air registers and thermostats located?
[/li][li]What type of carpet and padding are installed?
[/li][li]Are there gas hookups available?
Sorry, pet peeve.

sometimes, if you spread the prongs on the plug a bit, it will allow them to stick in better. other than that, nope, you need to replace the outlets. like others have said, it is very easy.

black goes to one of the gold screws, white to one of the silver, bare ground goes to green.

if you do decide to get new plugs, don’t get the el cheapo push-in kinds. get ones that uses a screw to engage the wire, either directly or by pulling two plates together. i prefer the ones with the plate because you don’t have to screw around with putting the little hook in the end of each wire.

i’d also recommend getting a small electrical tester. they are only a few dollars and can really come in handy for not eletricuting yourself.

So, what are the right answers? Some are obvious, some not so much.

Well, first off, I misread the OP and I guess he’s saying that plugs aren’t staying in the sockets – then yeah, as others said, replace the outlets.

As for my list of questions:

Are toilets standard or chair height? Round or elongated bowl? What’s the trap size?

What kind you get really depends on your situation. Standard vs. chair height – get chair height if you have elderly or others with limited capacity, or if you just want something easier to sit down in. But if you have kids, standard height is better. Elongated bowls are a lot more comfortable for men, particularly guys that aren’t 5’3 and 120 pounds. As for trap size, it’s not a huge deal, but if you get a place with smaller traps then you’re going to find the incident of clogs a little higher. Bigger is better.

* How thick is the hardwood? Was it site finished or prefinished?

Hardwood thickness determines how many times you can refinish a floor. Most floors are refinished every 5-10 years, and a 5/8" floor can handle 2-3 refinishes. So if you buy a new house with 5/8" flooring and plan on being there in 10-15 years, then plan on replacing flooring at some point. More likely, if you’re moving into a resale and it has 5/8" hardwood, check the condition and wonder how long until you have to replace it. 3/4" flooring can handle twice as many refinishes.

Where does kitchen exhaust vent?

Ideally you want your kitchen to have a hood, and that hood to exhaust outside. Many, many homes have stoves that are on an interior wall with no venting to the outside, which means if you’re cooking with a lot of smoke that your house is going to be completely filled with smoke. Even stoves on an exterior wall will often not have a vent there, even though it makes a huge difference in quality of life.

What’s the total incoming electrical service?

No ‘right’ answer, but older homes may have only 100A inputs which means if you move into that beautiful restored 1950s Cape Cod and plug in your servers and printers and home theater and install HVAC, you may find that your entire fuse box needs replacing along with a new feed from the electric company. Particularly if it’s a fuse box and not a breaker box – fuse boxes are old fashioned and sometimes have 10A circuits (IIRC – this is all from memory, feel free to Google for dissenting/more accurate opinions).

As a bonus, you might get SUPER lucky and find a home with some 20A circuits to home offices – awesome. And bigger homes should have multiple boxes, this makes working on electrical so much easier – this means have a central service + a breaker box for each floor, for example.

How big are the heat/cool units?

The correct answer is “big enough”. A lot of contractors skimp and put in units that are right at the hairy edge of cooling a home during summer. This sucks (and happened to me – my AC froze up during a hot Texas summer and that was just hell on earth for me). In addition, if you’re buying a home with a finished basement, make sure it has its own HVAC installed instead of ‘tapping’ off the main home. Don’t even get me started on finished basements…

Okay, one thing about finished basements – ask if it has been done to code and approved by an inspector. 90% of the time the answer is “no”, which means you may find huge swaths not done to code – no greenboard in the bathroom, improper ventilation for furnaces, illegal clearances around machinery, not enough outlets or at the wrong height, etc.

Something else I forgot – make sure all the bathrooms have fans, and not just most of them. Fans are important for removing moisture after a shower, and if you don’t have a fan and live in a humid environment then the moisture will just sit there for a very long time on your walls, promoting the growth of mildew.

In hot climates with cool evenings, a whole house fan is SO WORTH THE MONEY. Holy shit they rock.

Where’s the sump pump?

Just make sure you know where it is so that if things go wrong (like a flooded basement all of a sudden) you know what’s up.

What type of shingle and siding?

No right or wrong, but some stuff (vinyl siding) is of decidely cheaper quality than something like hardiplank or brick.

Make sure exterior column surrounds are made with actual wood and not MDF. Make sure porches and decks are level. Look for standing moisture in the yard, which is a sign of poor of drainage. Umm…yeah, all stuff that’s been a pain in my ass at some point.

What type of joists/rafters?

No right or wrong on these, but it’s good to know. I-Beams are nicer than 2x8s, and 2x8s are nicer than 2x6s. See if they’re 16" OC or 24" OC – 16" provides a more stable footing and less creaks/house shakes when walking.

  • Are there any airports, railroad tracks, or sources of bad smells within 5 miles? What about power lines?

You can actually be pretty far from an airport and be under its flightpath. In San Diego I was many miles from Pendleton but had to deal with the sound of artillery until 10PM every night. In Texas I lived a couple miles from the train tracks and it felt like the goddamned thing was going through my living room. Power lines – just look out for them. Be aware of zoning changes that might be showing up that might make your life hell.

On a similar note, if there’s an HOA, check its rules and fees. Some people hate HOAs, but I love them because I like to live in nice neighborhoods without chain link fences, dogs running free, and cars jacked up on cinder blocks in people’s front yards.

Is Internet accessible from that location?

I’ve lived in enough BFE locations that I’ve had iffy Internet, but this is becoming rarer. In California I was one house from the threshold for cable modem, and didn’t have DSL available.

Is cell phone accessible from that location?

This is a HUGE one that can sneak in and KICK YOUR ASS. I’ve had friends move into a new home and find that they can’t get cell phone signal at all due to the location (e.g. bottom of canyon or side of hill) and had to move as a result. Check your phone signal when looking at the home.

Are electrical lines run through conduit or just stuck on stud centers?

Almost no one uses conduit because it adds so much cost, but when it’s time to repair or add new service (particularly LVE like new phone or cable) you’ll thank your pagan gods you have it because you want have to deal with fish tape. Fancy new homes may have Cat-5 distributed everywhere with a central closet where you can plop a bridge. Unfortunately a lot of homes string Cat-5 for use as network or phone so you can’t have one of each at each jack.

Where are air registers and thermostats located?

This is a subtle one. Sometimes, due to the layout of a home, HVAC may not be able to go into the smartest places. There will be registers on a floor right in the path of traffic (a friend of mine has a register in front of her stove about a foot). This means you get air blowing on you when you don’t expect it, and possibly in non-ideal locations. If the registers are on a wall you may find that they’re easily obstructed by bookshelves or something similar. It’s amazing how such a small thing can affect an entire room’s layout.

Thermostat location matters because the thermostat doesn’t care how hot or cold a ROOM is, it cares about how hot or cold IT is. So if a thermostate is placed in a location with a lot of shade, it’s going to think it’s constantly 5-8 degrees cooler than it is. And if it’s in a location with direct sun all the time, it’s going to think it’s 10+ degrees warmer than it really is. This can throw things completely out of whack, since you’ll be telling the ‘hot’ one to get it down to 62 degrees (when you really want 72) and telling the ‘cold’ one to warm things up to 80 (when you really want 72).

What type of carpet and padding are installed?

Here’s my general advice, if you have the money – when moving into a resale, just replace the carpeting. God knows what kind of funk has accumulated from other families and pets, and if you’re feeling gung-ho you can do it yourself. Do it before the furniture goes in. Paint the walls too. And replace the drapes if there are any. Makes it feel basically like a new home since the accretions of families before is wiped away (hopefully).

Are there gas hookups available?

In this day and age, not so big a deal since natural gas is so expensive, but if you want to cook with gas or have a gas dryer then check that there’s gas feeding into the washer/dryer closet and that there’s gas available by the stove. Gas cooking is a must if you cook at all seriously.

Oh, see if the garage door opener works and is reliable. Some places may not even have one. Check that a remote is available. In a cool climate, buy some cheap polystyerene foam and put it on the interior of the garage door.

Plan on rekeying all the locks when you move in. Make sure there are deadbolts on everything that needs a deadbolt. If you have elderly or physically weak household members, look for ‘lever’ knobs instead of round knobs.

For a stair railing, lean against it and give it a push – would it support your weight if you stumbled into it in a drunken stupor? I’ve been in homes with railings where I felt like if I simply put my weight on it I’d go overboard like Guard in Watchtower 3 getting hit by a bullet to the head.

See if the house has been stocked with assloads of babylocks that will need to be removed (or added, depending on your situation).


-Look up in the attic and see what’s what. You can suss out the joists and shit - they should be 20-24" apart, no further. Check insulation - is there any?

-If you’re buying in the summer, remember to check out the furnace and heat, and vicey-versey if it’s winter with the AC. Re-salers will wait until the right season to sneak one by you.

-Garage: a 20’-wide garage will juuuust fit two cars if you’re careful and into hooks and overhead ceiling shelves (awesome, BTW). Home these days have 20x20 at best, it seems, for 2-car. 20 feet is good enough depth, though, even if you put up a garage workbech, like I am about to do (Home Depot is running a sale). If you dig on the concept of the Garage Beer Fridge, check the outlets. You can convert 'em and actually older fridges don’t even need the larger amp outlet, but ya know. And see if the garage door is insulated or just one of them windowed aluminum shitpans which do nothing.

-Look at the yard and see if you can either get them to spill or if there are signs of trees that wereonce there but are now gone, or places where grass may have been.; “Mature landscape” often means “big roots fucking up the property line walls or foundation and/or surprise PVC sprinkler system piping every goddamned where underground.” Likewise with any backyard lighting where wires were run underground.Are there trees that never stop molting right next to the pool? You’re pool filter/pumpo will wear itself out in half the usual time if it keeps getting clogged with leaves. Check the neighbors for big trees/stumps, too, near the walls. These are the things that get people to move on.

-Check neighbors, one of the biggest reasons people move is asshole neighbors. My friends moved to Phoenix, got a “steal” on a house to find out one of their neighbors was some fruity lady who was a, get this, foster home for dogs. Big dogs, little dogs, all fo them nervous and barky because they were protecting their new erstwhile home and vying for dominance and sniffing each other’s butts and humping stray cats. And it’s Phoenix, so the back yard fucking stunk in the summer. Lady didn’t care one bit, even when my friends called the cops and she got cited repeatedly. I want to fucking SHOOT the dipshits that moved into the end of my nice Court, the white trash doof and his stupid little mini motorcycle EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE up and down the street all Sunday, with a big shit-eating grin on his face. But, I’ll take that being two houses down from the mailbox, no stupid fireplug stealing my curbspace, on a blind-end court off another blind-end street, so no yahoos barrelling through my hood to get to Del Taco or what the fuck ever. And no school zones to get to the main drag, either, nor is my house between a school and a fucking pizza joint or 7-11, so all the dummies can wander by and key my truck and take a dump on my front yard or whatever it is kids do for kicks these days. Fuckers. And do your next-door neighbors have kids? That’s one thing, but if you see those stupid-ass trampoline nettings or a big old treehouse, just go ahead and assume the little bastards are watching your every move for laffs. And if its kids+pool, be prepared for many a weekend morning HAHAHAHAHAAHHEYCHANCENOMORGANNOARIELSPLASHBONKWAAAAHAARFARFFART

Haha! We have one of those. You capture the insistent, enraging noise perfectly. One more E and it would have been too much.

sorry, i’m gonna have to disagree with a few of those…

100A is almost certainly fine if you have gas appliances. unless you are running a server farm in your basement, the big hitters for electrical are going to be water heater, A/C & heat and refrigerator.

from what i understand, most contractors actually oversize heating and cooling equipment, sometimes drastically. the theory is that a customer will demand a replacement of an undersized unit but won’t know if a unit is oversized. the problem with an oversized unit is that it will short cycle, reducing efficiency and the life of the unit. in the case of A/C, it can also seriously reduce the amount of dehumidification that the unit provides.

conduit is for protecting exposed wires. it would be a huge waste of money to run all wiring in conduit, just for the possibility that you might want to run more later. also, unless you run oversized conduit, it would be almost impossible to run wire through it after installation anyway. i agree that a conduit to each low voltage jack is a good idea for future expansion.

pretty much agree with the other stuff.

Using your hands, either squish the prongs on the plugs together just a bit or, alternatively, pry them apart very slightly. You shouldn’t have to squish/spread very much at all.

Most homes that I’ve seen that are 100A tend to be very old and often don’t have AC or, for that matter, grounded outlets. So what happens is that people come in and go “How cute, we can fix it up on our own, no problem!”. They then install real appliances and an AC unit and suddenly the lights are dimming every time the fridge kicks on.

They remodel, add an extension after cutting down a 50 year old tree, and put in a home theater for Dad. He starts watching Armageddon or what the fuck ever the kids are watching these days to show off their 18" subs and and every time something asplodes on screen, the lights dim.

Meanwhile, Mom runs the hair drier while junior is playing X-Box on his HDTV and Dad’s computer is running like 75 torrents of japanese schoolgirls shitting on glass tables or what the fuck ever kids watch these days for their prurient interests, and bam, that little fuse box that they never thought about upgrading starts smoke and scream. Something pops and Dad goes out back and says “What the FUCK are these weird round doo-hickeys?! Where’s the switch I flip?!”

Point being that a home with a 100A feed is very often an older one that’s about to get some shit added to it.

from what i understand, most contractors actually oversize heating and cooling equipment, sometimes drastically. the theory is that a customer will demand a replacement of an undersized unit but won’t know if a unit is oversized. the problem with an oversized unit is that it will short cycle, reducing efficiency and the life of the unit. in the case of A/C, it can also seriously reduce the amount of dehumidification that the unit provides.

This is possible, but I think it depends on the developer. Short cycling is another good example, a lot of people don’t realize that having too much cooling is a bad thing. It’s much better to take a few hours to cool down to 76 and have it hold there than it is to get it down to 44 degrees in 30 seconds and have it kick back off.

conduit is for protecting exposed wires.

For YOU maybe =)

it would be a huge waste of money to run all wiring in conduit, just for the possibility that you might want to run more later. also, unless you run oversized conduit, it would be almost impossible to run wire through it after installation anyway. i agree that a conduit to each low voltage jack is a good idea for future expansion.

Sorry, I meant conduit for LVE, I said “electrical” and meant to be specific about LVE. Conduit for regular electrical wouldn’t help that much because it’s not like you’re going to run two separate circuits to the same box, and if you run conduit everywhere but the walls, you still have to deal with fishing.

So…anyone know about whole house fans? I’m having a bitch of a time finding one that I’m confident in for my home. It seems like it breaks down into:
[li]Cheap, loud, high CFM, direct drive, up to 30", no joist cutting, shitty insulation
[/li][li]Cheap, loud, REAL high CFM, belt drive, up to 36", joist cutting, shitty insulaltion
[/li][li]Expensive, quiet, low CFM, insulated
There doesn’t seem to be ‘Expensive, high CFM, insulated’. The companies that make the expensive, low-CFM stuff defend it by saying “But really, whether you cycle the air in your house in 5 minutes vs. 20 minutes isn’t a big deal, and you’d rather do it SLOWER so that you can cool your house, not just the air”. Which makes sense, but it also makes sense in the way a guy with a short dick will [insert something funny that BillD would say].

…and make sure it’s not in the outlet while you’re donig this.

Man, there’s an epidemic of these things out there. This guy at the end of my street got this mini-bike of some sort a couple of months ago. He races up and down my street for hours at a time. Sounds like a combo dirt-bike and nails on a blackboard. From 4-7pm today he was ripping back and forth pretty much non-stop.

Are these things even street legal? I hate to call the cops, but some nights he’s out there at 10pm. So far, he’s only been doing this during the winter (which shows how mild our winter has been), so the noise hasn’t been so bad that I’ve been tempted to string fishing line between a couple of trees. But with good weather coming on and the windows now being opened, this is going to drive me nuts.

I’d really agree with the 100amp service=BAD comments from BtG. Unless you’re incredibly easy-going with power usage, it ain’t going to be good enough today. The only person on the planet I know who still has 100A is my mother-in-law. And she has all gas appliances, including a drier, barely watches TV, and never has more than three or four lights on in the whole house at once. Electrical service is the very first thing I would upgrade if I were moving into a house.

One warning about electrical work in older homes. I’ve found that it’s best to shut off the main when doing any sort of work installing lights, fans, etc. Just hitting what you think is the right breaker might not turn everything off in the area in which you’re working. Some rooms are on two breakers. My living room, for instance, which is pretty big, is half on one and half on another. Means a lot of resetting of clocks when you’re done, but better safe than sorry.

BTW, what is a whole-house fan? Does it provide something like the filtering effect you would get from running just the blower 24-7 on a forced-air furnace?

In California, they’re illegal.

These mini-motorcycles or “pocket bikes” are not manufactured with a conforming 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN), indicating the manufacturers intended they be operated on private property (with owner’s permission) and not for use on a highway.

Since they are not manufactured with a 17-digit VIN, they cannot be registered as a legal motor vehicle or as an off-highway vehicle, which makes them illegal for use on the highways or as an off-highway vehicle.

Where can I legally ride my pocket bike?

The pocket bikes were manufactured for paved closed circuit racing courses. They may only be operated on private property with the owner’s permission.


well, now you know two.

come on, four lights? like i said, if you have gas appliances, you can run pretty much everything else on 100A. if you have a fuse box or knob-and-tube or poorly installed romex, then ya, it needs to be replaced.

i think the problem you are experiencing is overloaded circuits. many older homes have almost the whole house wired on 2 or 3 circuits, which can cause overloads. (before i re-wired, you couldn’t use a hairdryer in the bathroom if any other light in the house was on, including the one in the bathroom). but this doesn’t have anythig to do with the service entrance.

while i agree with you that 100A service and outdated wiring often go hand-in-hand, the problems you are describing are with the wiring, not the service. my lights don’t dim when i fire up my circular saw, and they certainly don’t dim when my fridge or A/C kicks on.

and if you are plugging something like A/C into an ungrounded outlet (which is almost certainly knob-and-tube), then ya, you are definitely looking for trouble. =)

i don’t know much about whole house fans, but you might want to check here:


the breaktime people will answer DIY questions, if they aren’t dumb. the JLC people don’t like DIYs, though, so i’d just do a search there.

if you see any articles you like in the JLC research section, let me know and i can email them to you.

A whole house fan is a single, huge fan that drives anywhere from 1000CFM up to 11000CFM (that’s eleven thousand). It’s designed to cycle the air in your entire home in a matter of minutes. Prior to the advent of ubiquitous central air, it was how homes in milder climates (California) kept cool during warmer summer months.

The gist is that you live in a warmer climate where it might be 85 during the day, but at night it drops into the 50s. But your home will retain that heat well into the night, taxing an AC unit unnecessarily and keeping you sweaty when you don’t need to.

So enter the WHF – you find a suitable location in the attic, cut out a 30x30" square, mount the fan with louvers, and install a pull chain. Or, if you’re fancy, you wall switch, possibly with a timer. You kick it on, and it feels like a goddamned hurricane is blowing through your hard with the windows open. Stuff literally flies up into the ceiling.

So at sun down, when the outside has dropped to 68 degrees from 85 in a matter of a couple hours, you open a few windows, kick on the fan, and your house will be at 68 in minutes.

That’s the theory, and it does work. Retrofitting one is rare, although California utilitiy companies actually offered (and may still do) rebates on them. They can drop your cooling bills by 30% and so are very cost effective.

The caveats:
[li]Larger ones can be very noisy. Some people like the white noise, other people do not.[/li][li]Larger ones (> 30") require cutting a joist to install.[/li][li]Larger ones have fairly large power draw (400+W)[/li][li]Insulation issues in cooler climates during the winter. Since you end up with a big hole in the ceiling, possibly covered by louvers or a screen, warm air can rise into your attic and condense and freeze during the winter. For a typical fan install you need to get some kind of insulating mat to cover the opening during winter.[/li][li]With the popularity of McMansions, whole house fans can’t handle the square footage of many modern homes. Most start to peter out at around 2500 sq. ft. The realistic repercussion is that it simply takes more time to cycle the air.[/li][/ul]

We have a whole house fan in Denver - great climate for them. Temperatures usually swing 20-30 degrees every day. Ours is old and damn noisy, but in the hallway right outside the 3 bedrooms so it does a great job for cooling down quickly after sunset.

We added central AC a few years ago too, but still use the fan for quicker & cheaper cooling on the really hot evenings.