What is Backstabbing a Receptacle or Switch and why is it important to hire an electrician that does not use this method of wiring?

Have you ever experienced a burning smell or the smell of plastic melting coming from an outlet (also known as a receptacle) in your home or business?

This is a cause for concern because electric and fire can be related and don’t mix well.

If you are curious what may be causing this smell, read on to find out about a method of wiring that could have been used to wire your home or commercial building.


In the 1970s and 1980s it was a common practice for electricians to “backstab” receptacles and switches.

While this practice is avoided by some electricians, including Lapp Electric, it is not against code and still used today.

Backstabbing is considered industry standard when wiring new homes or buildings.

What is Backstabbing?

Backstabbed Receptacle that has melted

Backstabbing a receptacle is essentially a shortcut to secure the wires onto the receptacle.

Instead of anchoring the wires to the screws, they are pushed (or stabbed) into the small holes on the back of the receptacle.

Over time as you are plugging and unplugging items from your receptacles, these wires become loose. Once the wires are loose, they start to melt the back of the receptacle. This could cause an electrical fire.  

Backstabbed receptacles after they have been removed.

The picture to the left is a backstabbed receptacle that we recently encountered.

There is discoloring on the back of the receptacle which is from the receptacle melting.

Unfortunately, with this receptacle, the electrician did not have a choice but to backstab it because there were no screws along the side to secure the wiring to.

The picture on the on the right is the same receptacle once it was removed from the wiring.

In this picture you can see a little more clearly the melted plastic.

If Backstabbing is so dangerous, why is it still done?

Saves Time

Backstabbing is a short cut, and it can save a lot of time and money.

Electricians wiring new homes or commercial facilities can save a few minutes on each device (outlets, receptacles and switches) they backstab. If this doesn’t seem like much, start counting the number of devices in your home or office and you will see how over time it can add up.

Switches can also be backstabbed but they are less likely to have issues because they are not pushed and pulled on in the same way that receptacles are.

Not Against Code

Backstabbing is also an accepted wiring method according the the National Electrical Code.

A facility that is wired in this manor will pass inspection.

Backstabbed Devices Usually Work for a Short Time

Finally, a receptacle that is backstabbed typically works for a year or two. The industry standard warranty on parts and labor for new homes and commercial facilities is usually one year.

So, the electrician who wired your home or commercial facility is not going to be responsible if and when you start having problems with backstabbed receptacles.

What Can I Do?

You may be wondering what you can do to ensure that you do not have an electrical fire due to a backstabbed outlet, receptacle or switch.

If you are currently in a home or commercial building and do not know how the electrician wired the devices, consider having a qualified electrician assess your devices. This would involve taking a look at a few devices to see if they are backstabbed. Chances are if a few devices are backstabbed, the entire building has backstabbed devices.

If you live in Central PA, we welcome the opportunity to do an assessment for you and provide you with a quote for a re-device if the devices are backstabbed.

A re-device involves either installing new devices in your home or commercial facility or taking the wires out of the backstabbed device and putting them on the screws as long as the backstabbed device is not showing signs of melting.

If you are building a new home or commercial building or considering a building project, discuss with the builder and electrician that you do not want the devices backstabbed. While this may mean a higher priced project initially, in the long run, it is cheaper and provides more assurance to you as the owner.