General Interest

The Definition and Types of Electrical Outlets

An electrical outlet works as a bridge between electrical equipment and electricity supply. It’s a device that looks like a socket and is installed in the walls. On some occasions, you may find them in the floor and ceiling too, for powering up setups like neon signs and door openers. There are different types of electrical outlets for various functions. Sometimes, it is possible to convert between the types and adjust the voltages by using adapters.

Are Electrical Outlets and Receptacles the Same?

These terms are interchangeable and refer to the same device. You may hear the names plugs or plug-ins too, but these are correct for a male cord end. The outlet or receptacle is a female end that houses the prongs of a male connector. You can describe it as an opening, or a series of openings, that draw power from a wired source and supply it to the connected electrical equipment and components.

Types of Electrical Outlets: The Common Variations

All the receptacles may seem identical to the unobservant eye, but a closer look will reveal slight variations. There are several styles that you will see in the homes and offices everywhere. Let’s find out:

Standard Outlets

These are the ones you see in your home, office, and other building facilities. Rated for 120 volts, you can connect any small appliances such as TVs, computers, toasters, and more to them. There are two- and three-pin variations but the second type is more common since the 1960s.

The thicker third pin is located at the bottom and is grounded. It carries electricity safely to the ground if the neutral wire in the outlet fails. You can plug both grounded (like power tools) and ungrounded (like curling iron, toaster) appliances to these outlets.

Non-Polarized Outlets

Unless you live in a very old home, these are a rare sight these days. With an overall symmetrical shape, the pins of these receptacles have the same size. These are ungrounded and non-polarized, both are dangerous for any electric device. Also, non-polarization increases the risk of electrical shocks.

Dryer and Range Outlets

The standard models are not sufficient for some appliances (such as a refrigerator) that require too much power. The dryer version can supply 240 volts and you just need to plug in your device to it. It comes with four pins. There is a three-pin model too, but it’s fading quickly.

The range version also does the same thing but in a different way. You use them for lugging in a stove or other cooking appliances. The sensors, buzzers, and timers require the 120-volt version while the 240-volt model is for burners and heating tools. The main panel has a dedicated circuit breaker for such outlets.

GFCI Outlets

Standing for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, these receptacles ensure that the electricity does not deflect from its normal route – coming through the hot wire and returning through the neutral wire. It trips in case of a ground fault or a short circuit from a faulty device. It saves you from shocks and electrocution.

The GFCI models are a bit expensive than the regular ones. However, you don’t need to install them everywhere except in the bathrooms and kitchen.

AFCI Outlets

Standing for Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter, these are just like the GFCI receptacles but give protection against arcs. An arc refers to a unique condition when a fire incident happens because of the jumping of electricity from one wire to another. A combination of AFCI outlets at the beginning of every circuit and an AFCI circuit breaker will protect your old house from fire hazards.

Switched Outlets

It’s an outlet with a switch, which you can use to keep the power on and off. It lets you control the electricity supply and turn it on and off whenever you want. It comes handy when you want a device to keep plugged but not switched at all the time.

USB Outlets

These look just like the standard version but with two extra holes for USB charging ports. There is another model that has no holes but four USB ports. These are suitable for charging up to 4-amp devices. You can plug into them anything that uses a USB connector, such as a smartphone or iPad.

Outlets with integrated USB ports are still not mainstream. However, if they don’t come in your home by default, you can choose to install them as the price is not expensive.

Smart outlets

These will take your experience of using electronics to a new level! They look like regular receptacles, but you can control them from your smartphone. There are two types. One is just like the standard model but has smart receptacles. You have to have smart home hub installed to use them. Another version is the adapter-like ConnectSense and Belkin WeMo Switch that you can plug into a traditional outlet.


Although there are many different types of electrical outlets, it’s not possible to interchange one for another. Every single one has specific functions and is rated for certain ranges of volts and amps. Besides, you should never insert a plug into a mismatched outlet. Remember not to bend or twist the plug’s prongs in any way to fit the receptacles.

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