Effective with adoption of the 2008 National Electrical Code, was the requirement for installation of Tamper Resistant Receptacles at ALL 120 volt receptacles.
The idea behind the requirement for this type of receptacle is the protection of children from shock. It is an attempt to eliminate one of the most common ways that children learn about electricity—by sticking some pointy metal object into the slot of a receptacle.
The reality is that a lot of things have to be in place to create a scenario where a kid would actually “electrocute” themselves. However kids more susceptible to injury from shock, or injury from burns will now be protected from injury with the installation of these receptacles.
When I first heard these were being proposed back around 2006, my first reaction was: “Everywhere?” Do they really need to be installed behind the refrigerator? Do they really need to be installed in the soffit for the ice melting tape? Do they really need to be installed at the HVAC receptacle up in the attic? Do they really need to be installed at the receptacle behind the wall mount television in the living room?
Do they really need to be installed anywhere that is not readily accessible to children?
Fortunately the State of Washington had the same questions and while it adopted the 2008 versions of the NEC, they have amended it to state that not all receptacles have to be Tamper Resistant type. (WAC 296-46B-406)
The code was amended to basically require them to be installed only where younger children are likely to have access to them. This only makes sense in my opinion. Since municipalities can make the codes more restrictive if they choose, some jurisdictions, like Seattle, are sticking with the un-amended NEC and you will see them just about everywhere in a newly constructed Seattle home or remodel--without exception. You will have to check with your own jurisdiction as to what is required in your area.
Rather than provide a list of all of the places they originally had to be installed, it is much easier to provide the list of the five exceptions to the requirement for installation.
This type of receptacle is not required (not the exact wording):
1. At receptacles located more than 66 inches above the finished floor.
2. At receptacles that are part of a luminaire (light fixture) or appliance.
3. At receptacles behind appliances, that in normal use, are not easily moved.
4. At non-grounded (two prong) type receptacle replacements.
5. At receptacles above countertops.
With the exception of #4 this means, basically, any place that is out of reach of a rug rat does not have to be Tamper Resistant. These exceptions actually bring the whole notion of Tamper Resistant Receptacles a little closer to common sense.
Well why not at #4, you might ask? In most cases, if there is no ground wire, the risk of shock by sticking something in the hot side of the receptacle goes WAY down. While I personally don’t agree with this exception it is nonetheless on the list. I know of lots of older homes with flexible metal covered wire (BX) that creates grounding to the metal boxes and thus to the receptacles attached to them whereby there would be just as much potential for shock as with modern wiring. But alas, they did not ask me when they were writing the exceptions and one has to wonder who they did ask.
In older types of receptacles if a child (or stupid adult) makes contact with the hot components of the receptacle AND is touching something grounded then there could indeed be a considerable experience with the flow of electricity. Being barefoot or on ones knees on a cement floor, or touching the ground screw of the cover plate---or worse yet a metal cover plate, could indeed result in a shock or even death.
As amended by the State of Washington, I think these Tamper Resistant Receptacles are a great idea. As an inspector they are so much easier to deal with than most of the aftermarket protective devices that one can put around or in the receptacle openings.
Of course the receptacle in the following picture, found in a child’s bedroom, is much closer to a “child POOF” receptacle than a “child proof” receptacle.
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board