Buying Guide

How to Shop for Different Types of Electrical Outlets

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.

Because 15-amp receptacles can be used with 20-amp circuits, most of the outlets you see in American 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. Electrical plugs designated as 20 amp will not fit into 15-amp outlets.

  • 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.

Types of Electrical Outlets and 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 duplex receptacle

15 amp  - Buy Electrical Outlets
  • 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

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

GFCI outlets (ground fault circuit interrupter)

GFCI  - Buy Electrical Outlets
  • 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 outlets (arc fault receptacle)

AFCI  - Buy Electrical Outlets
  • 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 receptacle

Tamper Resistant  - Buy Electrical Outlets
  • 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 electrical plug is inserted
  • Permanent once installed, offering continuous protection, unlike plastic outlet caps that can be removed

Weather-resistant receptacle

Weather Resistant  - Buy Electrical Outlets
  • 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

Rotating Outlet  - Buy Electrical Outlets
  • 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

Surge suppression outlets  - Buy Electrical Outlets
  • Designed to protect sensitive electronic equipment from power spikes without the need for power strips

Split circuit receptacles

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

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

30-amp or 50-amp  - Buy Electrical Outlets
  • Required by some heavy-duty appliances such as dryers, cooking ranges or power tools
  • Has a special prong configuration

Ungrounded or ungrounded/unpolarized outlets

Ungrounded  - Buy Electrical Outlets
  • Usually found in homes built before the mid-1960s
  • Similar to standard duplex receptacles in that they accommodate two-prong electrical 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.

USB Outlets

USB Outlets
  • Wall socket with one or more USB ports built in
  • Allows recharging of devices direct from USB cable 
  • Leaves regular outlets free for use by other appliances

Smart Outlets

Smart Outlets
  • Replaces a traditional outlet; does not require adapter 
  • Allows control of outlet from smartphone 
  • Uses z-wave communication; requires a smart home hub for use