Electrical outlets are not all the same. Whether you're moving into a new home, renovating your existing space, or upgrading your appliances, understanding which outlets match your new electrical needs is an important step. Mismatched appliances/electronics and outlets can pose serious safety hazards, raising the risk of a home fire, electrical shock, or some other type of major malfunction.
What are the most common types of electrical receptacles that you'll find in residential properties? Take a look at the top types of outlets and what every homeowner should know about them.
Most residential home outlets that are used for everyday electronics, and some smaller appliances, are 120-volt receptacles. These are the outlets that you plug three-pronged items into. They have two slots over a curved opening, which works as a ground for the electronic that you're plugging into the outlet.
Another safety feature is the larger, rectangular, slot. This is designed for polarized plugs, with a neutral and a hot side.
It's likely that you'll find this type of outlet in a double or duplex form. This means you have two working receptacles, with one on top of the other. If you have two different items plugged into the outlet, they can both get the same amount of voltage.This doesn't mean that both electronic or appliance items must draw equal amounts of electrical current. They can draw the current they need, independent of what the other item is also drawing.
What can you plug into a 120-volt outlet? Again, these outlets can handle a wide variety of electronics. Most of these outlets work with small home electronics, such as computers, laptops, televisions, audio systems, hair dryers, toasters, microwaves, and other similar small appliances.
If you're not sure whether your 120-volt outlet can handle an electrical item, ask a professional contractor. If the current needed to safely use the item exceeds what the receptacle offers, an electrician can install a higher voltage outlet.
The 240-volt outlets in your home look different from the 120s. Instead of the duplex arrangement, these receptacles are single. They're often have a round face shape that differs from the 120-volt style.
Along with the obvious appearance differences, these outlets are typically used for items that require more power. Larger home appliances, such as ovens, cooktops, clothes dryers, air conditioners, furnaces, electric water heaters, and some types of power tools all require this type of receptacle to work safely.
Never attempt to plug one of these appliances or any electronic device that states it needs a 240-volt outlet into a 120-volt receptacle. This is a serious safety hazard that puts you, your appliances, and your home at risk.
If you have an older home, your 240-volt receptacles may use three wires. Most modern electrical codes require these outlets to use four wires. Don't worry about learning the in-depth electrical reason why a four-wire arrangement is now required. Novices and nonprofessionals should never attempt to wire or rewire outlets. Leave this job to the professionals.
The most important takeaway that you need to know about three- vs. four-wire 240-volt outlets is that a licensed electrical contractor should evaluate the receptacle for you. Before plugging in a new appliance, renovating, or using your new home's outlets, have an expert assess the receptacles and make corrections as needed.
GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) devices can be used with 120-volt, 240-volt, or other outlets, depending on the receptacle and the surrounding safety issues. The GFCI monitors the flowing current. If the device detects a ground fault, it cuts the power to the appliance or electronic item.
This safety feature is used to prevent electrical shocks or fires from starting. You're most likely to find these test and reset buttons in outdoor receptacles or in garages, bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, or anywhere else that has a damp environment.
Do you have receptacle questions that only a professional can answer? Contact Supreme Electric for more information.