6 Electrical Outlets That Maximize Safety and Convenience
These six specialized electrical outlets can improve your home life.
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The GFCI Outlet
This one could save a life. The letters G-F-C-I stand for "ground fault circuit interrupter." This means the outlet can sense the flow of electricity to the earth, switching off power within milliseconds if this flow is detected. In this case, the term "ground" means anything electrically connected to planet earth. In most situations where you would get a shock (or worse), your body unintentionally formed a pathway for electricity to travel to a pipe, the floor or something else. A GFCI outlet will click and shut off the power before it causes harm. Codes typically require GFCIs in kitchens, bathrooms, garages, basements, laundry rooms and the outdoors.
The AFCI Outlet
This one could prevent your house from burning down. The letters A-F-C-I stand for "arc fault circuit interrupter." This means the outlet senses arcing and sparking anywhere on the circuit, which can start electrical fires. An AFCI outlet shuts down power at the first sign of trouble. Most jurisdictions require new homes have AFCI protection on circuits that supply bedrooms and just about everywhere. Some AFCI outlets also offer GFCI protection.
The 20-Amp Outlet
This outlet provides more power than usual, provided it's installed properly. Standard household outlets typically deliver 15 amps of current, which is plenty for most situations. When you want more power for bigger loads without tripping a 15-amp breaker, a 20-amp outlet is part of the equation. But if you simply swap a 20-amp outlet for an existing 15-amp outlet, the breaker will still trip. To be used safely, pair a 20-amp outlet with heavier wires and a 20-amp breaker. You can spot a 20-amp outlet easily because one plug prong opening is T-shaped instead of a standard slot.
The Switched Outlet
This one adds functionality. Instead of a standard two-outlet duplex wall receptacle, the switched outlet replaces one side of the outlet with a switch. This is most useful in new wiring when you need to control something remotely with a switch, like a light fixture, but don't want to install an additional switch on the wall.
The USB Outlet
This outlet adds streamlined convenience to your digital life. Instead of the clumsy routine of plugging an adaptor into a regular wall outlet and then plugging a USB cable into the adaptor, the USB outlet has ports built right in for charging your phone or tablet. Expect to pay considerably more for a USB outlet than a regular electrical outlet, but that's money well spent if you like a tidy charging setup. Some USB outlets even include a little shelf for your phone.
The Smart Outlet
This outlet allows remote control of anything plugged into it, linked to an app via your phone, tablet or computer. The best smart outlets connect to your WiFi network, allowing devices to be turned on and off on a schedule. Smart outlets can monitor energy consumption from the outlet, respond to voice commands when connected with other hardware, and monitor temperatures remotely. Smart outlets come as versions you wire in to replace an ordinary outlet, or add-ons (shown here) that plug into an existing outlet, no wiring required.