Article
You can call me a crazy old coot. That's okay… my kids do. But when I say that water and electricity mix, I mean it. Often with either explosive or shocking results. Oil and water? Yes, they like to keep separated. But H2O and moving electrons love to party. And they're always looking for a chance to hook up and dance.

Water and Electricity Do Mix … Really Good

Steve Maurer, IME
You can call me a crazy old coot. That's okay… my kids do. But when I say that water and electricity mix, I mean it. Often with either explosive or shocking results.

Oil and water? Yes, they like to keep separated. But H2O and moving electrons love to party. And they're always looking for a chance to hook up and dance.

You need to work harder than a chaperone at a high school prom to keep them apart at times. Now, when you're in the dry areas of offices, most warehouses, and homes, it's not that big a deal.

Of course, if there's a sink or other splashing water source, you'll need a GFCI receptacle or breaker installed.

Personally, I prefer breakers because there's less thinking involved. Since you need to protect everything downstream from the first receptacle, you need to know which one really is the first.

Breakers cover every one of them in the circuit.

Don't make me think. At least not all the time.

Speaking of covers…

Recognizing the importance of the NEMA rating system
The venerable National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) came up with a comprehensive rating system for electrical product use. Part of the reason for the NEMA rating guide is the inherent ambiguity of idiomatic nomenclature.

Say that three times fast, if you can!

In other words, not everyone calls things by the same name … and that can make a huge difference. Specificity sparks sameness.

Basically, the terms people use may not always be accurate. Or they be unique to their locale. Kind of like calling something a bolt when it's really a screw. In electrical terms, waterproof, sealed, dust tight and designations like that may be misconstrued.

It's important for maintenance crews to understand the difference as well. When replacing electrical devices, like covers and boxes, they should ensure their choices are right for the situation as well.

When it comes to selecting cover plates, you need to consider at least two factors: location… and environment. They sound similar, but are significantly different. Location refers to where it's at, either indoors or outdoors.

Environment speaks more to the surrounding area and its applicable atmosphere, potential hazards, and workplace conditions.

So … when was the last time you check the rating on that cover plate you're about to install? Is it rated for the place you're going to stick it?

Ratings for electrical covers
Most of the time, NEMA ratings are checked for enclosures. And for most, the integrated cover will match. If fact, it's part of the rating specifications.

Many cover plates also have NEMA ratings. So take into account the environment you're installing them in and check the ratings to see if they're acceptable for that use. Even for receptacle covers, NEMA ratings make a difference.

For example, in situations where harsh washdown chemicals are present, particularly corrosives, you want to use a NEMA 3X, 3RX, or 3SX. The NEMA 3 rating means it's more protective against the ingress of water due to dripping and light splashing water than a 2X cover.

However, if there is heavy washdown where water may hose-directed at the cover, consider using a NEMA 4 receptacle or switch cover. They are constructed with more robust gasketing and a latching cover.
Photo courtesy of Hubbell Wiring Systems
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