Complete Guide: Electrical Outlet Types

Electrical Outlet Types

Don’t Let Your Electrical Outlets Be A Headache.A photo showing one of the many electrical outlet types.

If your home is of an age where there are problematic electrical outlets, then it’s time to investigate the different electrical outlets available before you have any replacement.

The electrical outlet types typically found are the “two-pronged” outlet if you have an older property. These are outdated and could be a danger since they do not have the third or “ground” hole, and don’t have the necessary grounding connection within the home’s electrical system. The problem with these electrical outlet types is most household appliance plugs have three prongs, not two, so what is the solution?

You could get an adapter plug that will fit into the two-pronged outlet and allow you to connect a three-pronged appliance, but it will not give you any level of protection from electrical shocks. A ground wire is essential to keep you safe.

If your home has outdated or faulty outlets, and you are considering upgrading them because you are having problems, what electrical outlet types can you install?

The most common electrical outlet types available are:

• 120-volt – 15 amp outlets.
These are the most commonly used outlets for a residential setting. They are easy to spot, having two identical outlets, with three-pronged holes. They can come in various colors to match a home’s decor and rated for 15 amps. You will find them in bedrooms, living rooms, dens, and dining rooms. Usually, the two vertical slots are at the top on the outlet, with the third one, the arch-like grounding hole at the bottom.

Occasionally, you will see the outlet in the reverse position, with the two vertical slots at the bottom. This is one way to signify that this outlet is controlled by a wall switch, and not live all the time as with the regular outlet. Most times, they are used for lamps that need to be switched on upon entering a room.

• 240-volt outlets.
These are not like any standard electrical outlet type but are meant for a specific use, such as heavy-duty power tools, clothes dryers, and cooking ranges. They are designed to be a single outlet with a dedicated circuit in the home’s breaker panel. Because of their increased power load, they have a much larger amperage, 30amp, or 40 amp breakers are installed to handle the load.

When comparing a 240-volt outlet to a 120-volt outlet, the first visible difference is the shape. A 240-volt outlet is more significant, generally round, and has three or four holes depending on the age.

The design of the outlet means that the appliance plug must match exactly, avoiding the risk of plugging an inappropriate appliance, and causing injury or worse, causing a fire. In recent years all 240-volt outlets have changed from the three-pronged type to a four-pronged outlet. The additional prong gives a ground wire providing extra safety against electric shocks.

Having your appliances rewired to accommodate four wired plugs should solve any problems. Rewiring work like this should be done by a qualified electrician to ensure the correct installation.

• 20 amp outlets.
Most electrical outlet types found in the home are rated at 15 amps, but some appliances need more power, which is where the 20 amp outlets and circuits come in handy. With 20 amp outlets that support 25 percent more load, they can deliver the much-needed power supply without tripping circuit breakers.

These outlets are usually found in garages, laundry rooms, and kitchens where most of the power-hungry appliances are located. To recognize a 20 amp outlet, look for a small notch added to the left-hand side prong.

If there is a need to replace a standard 15 amp outlet with a 20 amp outlet, it cannot be a simple exchange because 20 amp circuits require wire that is thicker than 15 amp circuits allowing it to carry more current.

• GFCI outlets.
GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets can be found anywhere in a home where there is a chance of water being present. The bathroom and the kitchen are the two most likely places to find these electrical outlet types. They are designed to instantly shut off the power to the outlet if a short circuit or ground fault is detected.

For example, a faulty hairdryer is being used in the bathroom, and there is water on the floor. A short circuit in the hairdryer could result in the current passing through the body to the wet floor electrocute the person using the dryer. The GFCI outlet will shut off the power before any current can leave the hairdryer.

• Switched outlets.
Ever wanted an outlet where the power can be turned on and off, instead of at the appliance?

With a switched outlet, which has one outlet and a switch, it is possible. An appliance can be plugged in permanently, but with the switch’s flick, it can be turned on or off at any time.A photo from Mister Sparky Electrician Houston showing one of the electrical outlet types.

• USB outlets.
Mobile devices need charging all the time, so rather than plugging a USB adapter into an outlet, USB outlets combine the best of both worlds. The best choice is one with two regular outlets, but also has a couple of USB ports built-in for charging any mobile device.

• AFCI outlets.
An AFCI outlet looks the same as a GFCI outlet, but it is an arc fault circuit interrupter. Arcs can occur when the electricity jumps across two wires, potentially causing a fire. Older houses can have AFCI outlets installed at the first outlet on every circuit, protecting all outlets on the same circuit.

• Smart outlets.
These electrical outlet types are just like regular outlets but can be controlled by a smartphone.

An appliance, such as a lamp, can be turned on or off from anywhere using a smartphone, but they do require some Smarthome hub, to allow communication between the outlet and the phone.

As with any electrical work, upgrading electrical outlets and or circuitry should only be done by a licensed professional. Give Mr. Sparky a call for a free estimate for any electrical work needed.

Mister Sparky Electrician Houston, America’s On-Time Electrician, serves Houston, Texas and the cities of Katy, Sugar Land, Cypress, Spring, The Woodlands and others with a team of certified electricians. In addition to emergency electrical repairs, some of the electrician services provided by the company include electrical outlet/switch repair, ceiling fan installation, lighting installation, wiring repair, landscape lighting installation and home electrical inspections. Call us today at: (281) 907-8418.