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.

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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.

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The 20-Amp Outlet

This outlet provides more power than usual, provided it’s installed properly. Standard household electrical 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.

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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.

This is how to install a wireless light switch.

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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.

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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.

Learn about smart lightbulbs from a Family Handyman editor.

Steve Maxwell
Steve Maxwell is an award-winning content creator who has published more than 5,000 articles, shot countless photos and produced video since 1988. Using his experience as a carpenter, builder, stone mason and cabinetmaker, he has created content for Mother Earth News, Reader's Digest, Family Handyman, Cottage Life, Canadian Contractor, Canadian Home Workshop, and many more. Steve lives on Manitoulin Island, Canada with his wife and children in a stone house he built himself. His website gets 180,000+ views each month, his YouTube channel has 58,000+ subscribers and his weekly newsletter is received by 31,000 subscribers each Saturday morning.