The bathroom. Nobody likes them, everybody has one. It’s at the top of every reno list and is often tackled by the DIYer. Because most of these spaces rarely change size, they often don’t change layouts either. Vanity goes in the same place, toilet and tub go in the same place. New paint, some fancy tile and new fixtures and you have that “spa” space you’ve been dreaming of. But what about that two-pronged plug with the big shiny wall plate sitting in the wall next to the sink? “Razors Only.” Looks kinda retro for sure, but razor only plugs do not work with modern plugs.
As a result, I find, more often than not, an adapter plugged in so that it will accept a modern three-pronged plug. Looks tacky, falls out and doesn’t actually run the devices very well. Hairdryers and straighteners trip the circuit regularly and rechargeable devices don’t charge properly because the plug is only live if the light is turned on. If nothing else, these things really kill the feng shui.
If you live in an older home, then there is a really good chance you have one of these in your bathroom. These devices were for, you guessed it, electric razors. They were designed to limit the amount of current draw to the device and to isolate the razor from the grounding system in the house by use of a 1:1 transformer. All this means is that the voltage stays the same, but the load current is very low. If the current draw gets to high, it simply burns out the transformer, preventing a shock (or worse). Old code also required these plugs to be wired in series with the light. That means that if the light is off, so is the plug.
Are Razor Only Plugs A Problem?
These plugs were never intended to run modern appliances. They don’t have the output necessary to operate these devices. as a result, they get very hot and could pose a fire risk. If you live in a home with aluminum wiring, the risk is even greater. Unfortunately, there is a heavy overlap in time where both aluminum wiring and these razor plugs were in use.
At best, these razor only plugs just cause nuisance trips (trip the breaker mid hair curl). While they are isolated from ground, they are not as safe (read:prevent shock) as a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) plug. And they are particularly useless if you have a rechargeable razor or electric toothbrush because the plug is only energized if the light is turned on, so those types of devices never charge. It also makes it impossible to use a nightlight in the bathroom for the same reason.
What Can You Do If You Have Razor Only Plugs?
Fortunately it isn’t very much work to change these plugs out. It does take a specific type of box ring (like an adapter), a specialized wall plate to cover the large box and fit around the new GFCI plug, and obviously the new GFCI plug. This is an absolute must. New code requires it and it just makes sense.
GFCI plugs are designed to detect the flow of current back to source through the neutral conductor. That just means it compares the IN to the OUT. If there is a ground fault condition, which means that there is current leaking to ground (very dangerous near water,ie. your sink), the plug will reset. It does this in as little as 25 milliseconds (0.025 seconds). These plugs detect leakage current in excess of 5mA. These are all good things considering it could only take as little as 30mA to cause your heart to fibrillate. Which is bad. Like really really bad.
Lastly, you need to change the wiring so that the plug is constantly hot and not switched. This usually requires a new wire between the switch box (where there is power) and the plug box. This then allows you to continue to switch the light properly and leaves the plug powered all the time.
When Should You Change Them?
Obviously the best time to do these changes are when you are renovating the bathroom, then any damage can be easily repaired. However, if that bathroom reno is a ways in the future (or has already been done), there is no need to worry. Give Kerr Electric a call and we can come and change it over for you with no fuss. While we are at it, we’ll check for aluminum wiring. It’s a great opportunity to check and see what is going on in your walls.
If you’d like to discuss more or have a wiring situation you would like a professional electrician to look at – give me a call at 306-551-5254!