Since the first electrical outlets appeared in homes throughout the United States, home electrical wiring has come a long way. Back in the early 1900s, the inventors of modern-day electrical outlets could hardly have imagined that there would be so many electrical outlet types on the market today.
As a homeowner, it’s your job to maintain the integrity of both your electrical panel and all the electrical outlets on your property. Over time, it’s likely you’ll need to replace the outlets on your property at least once. This will save you from the risk of electrical fires as your existing wiring becomes more and more outdated.
(We’ve all seen an old house or two that still featured ungrounded, two-pronged outlets). This may also save you money in the long run, since electrical outlets have become more energy efficient over time.
How do you know if you have the proper outlets for the appliances that you use in your home every day? Keep reading to learn the various types of electrical outlets on the market today and where to use them on your property.
Residential Outlet Types
Many homeowners don’t realize that there are several types of electrical outlets appropriate for residential use. They differ based on their amps, voltage, and design, and determining the right electrical outlet to use will depend on these factors. These differences in design make some outlet types more ideal for specific locations and purposes within your home, while others are appropriate for more general use.
1. 15A Grounded Receptacle
When you picture electrical wall outlets in your mind, this is probably the type of outlet you imagine. Each receptacle features two vertical slots and a circular third slot below the two vertical slots. The rounded slot allows for a ground pin to be plugged in while your appliance or device is in use, providing safety for you and your belongings if a short circuit or other emergency occurs.
Any standard outlet found throughout your home will likely be this kind of electrical outlet. It is able to handle the demand of most household devices as well as small to mid-sized appliances.
The “15A” in the name of this type of receptacle refers to the amperage that the outlet and its circuit can handle. The standard circuits that these outlets tend to be connected with can usually handle up to 120 volts of electricity.
2. 20A Outlets
20A grounded receptacles are nearly identical to their 15A counterparts, with the exception of one key difference. Instead of having two identical vertical slots, one of the vertical slots on a 20A outlet has an additional small horizontal slot connected to it (imagine a letter “T” turned on its side). This additional slot allows the outlet to conduct more power than a 15A outlet, which makes this receptacle ideal for use with large appliances in your home. You’ll likely find these receptacles in laundry rooms, kitchens, and garages.
While some 20A outlets only work with 120 volts of electricity, some can handle up to 250 volts. The largest household appliances—air conditioners, air compressors, whole home humidifiers, and some washing machines and dryers—require this kind of circuit to work properly. Always consult with an electrician before trying to install this kind of outlet in your home.
3. AFCI Receptacles
The acronym in the name of this type of receptacle stands for arc fault circuit interrupter. AFCI outlets are also colloquially known as fire-resistant receptacles.
There are many potential causes for fires in residential areas:
- Overuse of space heaters
- Too many cords plugged in at the same time
- Damaged or loose wiring
- Electric power surges caused by storms or other environmental factors
- Foreign objects being inserted into outlets
- Arc faults
Arc faults occur when loose wires in your walls have inconsistent contact with each other; the electricity will arc between the wires and increase the risk of electrical fires occurring in your home. If an AFCI outlet senses that this is happening, it will stop the flow of electricity and prevent a fire from starting. Today, all wiring and electrical work is required to include protection against arc faults.
4. GFCI Receptacles
GFCI outlets, or ground fault circuit interrupter outlets, constantly monitor for the potential of electric shock and prevent it from happening. Electricity is always on the lookout for the quickest path to the ground. If your wiring is working improperly, the quickest path might be through your body. When this happens, a GFCI outlet will cut off the power supply in the outlet, rather than letting it run through your heart and into the ground.
5. Weather Resistant Receptacles
Weather-resistant outlets have moisture resistance, corrosion resistance, and weather-proof covers. They’re great for installation out of doors, where you can use them with grills, outdoor firepits, and gardening/landscaping tools. These receptacles come in both 15 amp and 20 amp options so that you can choose the one that best fits the circuit type in your home.
6. Switched Receptacles
Switched outlets are aptly named; they’re connected to a switch that controls the flow of electricity into the receptacle. These outlets are great for saving energy because you can turn off the power supply while leaving all the appliances and devices plugged in.
7. Tamper Resistant Receptacle
Scientific studies have shown that many toddlers are easily able to remove outlet covers from their outlets, posing both choking and electrical hazards to the child. Rather than rely on this potentially dangerous device, parents of small children should consider using tamper-resistant receptacles in their homes.
Tamper-resistant outlets are specially designed to only allow actual plugs to enter the slots. They are built with mechanisms on the inside that sense whether equal pressure is being exerted on both vertical slots. If the mechanism senses uneven pressure, it won’t allow anything to enter the slots.
8. Smart Outlets
If you want the convenience of having smart devices in your home without the price tag of purchasing all internet-compatible appliances, plug your appliances into a smart outlet (or smart plug) instead. These Wi-Fi-enabled receptacles connect to your smartphone or other handheld device and allow you to remotely control whichever appliances are plugged into the outlets. You can also connect your smart outlets with your digital assistant to allow for voice control of your appliances throughout your home.
9. USB Outlets
Take a look around the room you’re in right now, and you’ll probably see more than one device that charges based on USB technology. Smartphones, tablets, and other battery-operated devices all require a USB cable to charge.
While you can use a converter to plug a USB device into a regular receptacle, USB outlets are becoming more and more popular, eliminating the need for these converters.
USB outlets can be part of combination outlets; for example, a single receptacle might have 2 15A outlets and two USB ports. Receptacles can also be made exclusively of USB ports, with some even having up to four USB slots on a single receptacle! Some of the newest outlets on the market will even have USB-C ports in addition to traditional USB ports.
10. Rotating Outlets
Have you ever tried to plug in a hair dryer or laptop charger to the top plug in a receptacle, only to realize that it completely prevents you from using the other outlet? A rotating outlet can save you from having this frustrating experience ever again.
On rotating receptacles, the electrical outlets rotate 360 degrees. This allows you to plug in multiple bulky chargers at once, with plenty of room for them to sit properly on either side of the receptacle.
Commercial Receptacles: Heavy-Duty Outlets
These outlets function the same as the various kinds of receptacles for residential properties. The difference is that these ones are able to handle more power on a regular basis because they are made with higher-quality materials than the outlets created for general residential use. Sometimes these outlets are referred to as “heavy duty” or commercial grade.
If you have any areas of your home that consistently handle powerful appliances or require a lot of power on a long-term basis, you might consider installing heavy-duty outlets in just those areas of your home. In the new work-from-home era, you might consider using heavy-duty outlets if you have a lot of electronics or other machinery that you use for your work. These would also be good if you have any power-heavy hobbies, such as woodworking or the industrial arts.
Choose the Right Outlets for You
Now you know the major electrical outlet types on the market today. From general use to reducing electrical hazards, outlets today have a variety of functions and purposes. Consider your needs when looking for outlets, and use this information to help you make the right choice for your upcoming electrical project.
Regardless of how much research you do, you should still consult with an electrician whenever you’re planning to update the electrical in your home, even if you only plan to replace a plug or two. Are you in need of an experienced electrical partner to help you with your next renovation or remodeling project? Contact Electric City today for information on all our electrical services!