How To Buy Electrical Outlets

Properly choose the right electrical outlet types for your home's electrical needs and decor

The most common electrical outlets are 15-amp duplex receptacles — the outlets designed to accept standard plugs for most small appliances and lamps.

If you want to replace an outlet, simply turn off the power to the outlet and remove it. Get the amp rating off the outlet and pick up a replacement with that rating and the same configuration and number of holes.

This buying guide will explain standard residential wiring requirements and appropriate outlets for each, so you can be confident you’re choosing the right electrical outlet for your needs.

Understanding Your Home’s Electrical Wiring

Most homes in the U.S. are wired with a combination of 15-amp and 20-amp, 120-volt circuits.  

  • A 15-amp circuit is usually served by 14-gauge wire and is protected by a 15-amp circuit breaker or fuse.
  • A 20-amp circuit, protected by a 20-amp breaker or fuse, must be served by 12-gauge or 10-gauge wire.


Tip: The easiest way to determine whether a circuit is 15 or 20 amps is to look at the corresponding breaker or fuse in the breaker panel.

Because 15-amp receptacles can be used with 20-amp circuits, most of the receptacles you see in homes are the standard 15-amp variety, with two slots and a U-shaped grounding hole.

Twenty-amp receptacles have a horizontal slot branching off one of the vertical slots. Appliances, such as microwaves, often have 20-amp plugs and must be plugged into a 20-amp outlet. Plugs designated as 20 amp will not fit into 15-amp outlets.

Standard Household Electrical Receptacles

There are a variety of outlet options designed to match the requirements of your appliances, power tools and electronics.

Outlets and outlet covers are available in a variety of colors, wood finishes, and metals such as brass and nickel. Coordinated sets of wall switches and matching switch plates are also available.

15 amp  - Buy Electrical Outlets

15-amp duplex receptacle

  • Standard electrical outlet in American homes
  • Each of the two outlets has a long (neutral) slot, a shorter (hot) slot, and a half-round grounding hole
Combination Outlet  - Buy Electrical Outlets

Combination outlet

  • Provides two features in one device (ex: outlet with a light or a switch)
GFCI  - Buy Electrical Outlets

GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter)

  • Protects from dangerous ground faults, which occur when electrical current travels through any abnormal path to ground
  • Monitors the current flowing through the hot and neutral conductors to determine if any current is leaking from the circuit
  • GFCI will trip and quickly turn off power if the leakage reaches a potentially hazardous level
  • Code requires GFCI receptacles be installed in bathrooms, wet areas of kitchens, basements and outdoors
AFCI  - Buy Electrical Outlets

AFCI
(arc fault receptacle)

  • Protects against electrical fires resulting from arc faults by interrupting power, reducing likelihood of home’s electrical system being an ignition source of a fire
  • Designed to detect a wide range of hazardous arc faults resulting from damage in branch circuit wiring and extensions to branches such as appliances and cord sets
  • Required by the National Electrical Code in many areas of the home
Tamper Resistant  - Buy Electrical Outlets

Tamper-resistant receptacle

  • Can be used in place of conventional 15-amp and 20-amp outlets
  • Required by 2008 National Electrical Code for use in new construction or renovation
  • Protects children from electrical injury with a built-in shutter mechanism that blocks insertion of most small objects; shutters only open when a properly rated plug is inserted
  • Permanent once installed, offering continuous protection, unlike plastic outlet caps that can be removed
Weather Resistant  - Buy Electrical Outlets

Weather-resistant receptacle

  • Required by the 2008 National Electrical Code in damp or wet locations, such as patios, decks and pool areas, or any other residential outdoor location
  • Available in 15- and 20-amp sizes
  • Built with UV-stabilized thermoplastic; corrosion-resistant
  • Choose from combined weather/tamper-resistant outlets or weather-resistant GFCIs with or without tamper-resistance

Remember: Outlets in damp or wet locations should always be installed with weather-resistant covers.

Rotating Outlet  - Buy Electrical Outlets

Rotating outlet

  • Can be positioned to accommodate more than one large plug from cell phone chargers, hairdryers, cordless appliances, night lights and more
  • Reduces the need for power strips

Specialty Outlets

Many appliances, tools and electronics require specific types of electrical outlets to operate safely and at peak efficiency.

Surge suppression outlets  - Buy Electrical Outlets

Surge suppression outlets

  • Designed to protect sensitive electronic equipment from power spikes without the need for power strips
Split circuit receptacles  - Buy Electrical Outlets

Split circuit receptacles

  • Two outlets with each wired on a different circuit, or one outlet live and the other switched
30-amp or 50-amp  - Buy Electrical Outlets

30-amp or 50-amp 125V/250V receptacles

  • Required by some heavy-duty appliances such as dryers, cooking ranges or power tools
  • Has a special prong configuration
Ungrounded  - Buy Electrical Outlets

Ungrounded or ungrounded/unpolarized outlets

  • Usually found in homes built before the mid-1960s
  • Similar to standard duplex receptacles in that they accommodate two-prong plugs, but missing the U-shaped grounding hole.
  • Polarized with one long (neutral) slot and a shorter (hot) slot

Tip: If your home was built with these outlets, you may want to upgrade the wiring before replacing an ungrounded or ungrounded/unpolarized outlet with a grounded one.