If you intend to replace an existing electrical outlet, the type you choose will be based on several factors, including the location of the outlet, it's intended or likely use, and any upgrades that you might decide to include.
The location of the intended replacement outlet is important because of safety concerns. If the outlet will be installed in a potentially wet or damp location, such as a bathroom, basement, or outdoor area, you must use a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlet.
A GFCI outlet protects users from electric shock or death by electrocution by detecting subtle changes in current that indicate inadequate grounding, which can be caused by exposure to moisture.
These outlets will shut off automatically and won't reset until hazardous conditions have passed.
Wiring a GFCI outlet is nearly identical to wiring a traditional outlet, with black wires connecting to gold terminals, white wires to silver terminals, and green or copper wires to green grounding terminals.
Because GFCI outlets have reset buttons and indicator lights in the center of the outlet, they must be accompanied by an open cover plate, which is essentially a rectangular frame that covers only the outer portion of the outlet.
Most household appliances can use a commonplace 15-amp outlet, which consists of two receptacles with two parallel slots and a round hole for a grounding prong.
However, some higher-powered appliances will require a 20-amp outlet. These appliances can be identified by their plug type, which replaces one of the familiar parallel slots with a "T"-shaped slot.
A 20-amp outlet must be connected to a 20-amp circuit, with wiring at least 12 gauge in thickness and controlled by a 20-amp circuit breaker. Attempting to use a 20-amp outlet on a 15-amp circuit can result in overheating and fire.
You can check the amp rating of the circuit to which you intend to add the outlet by looking at the circuit breaker that controls the existing outlet. If it is stamped with the number "20," then the line is adequate. However, if it is stamped with a "15," then it cannot handle a 20-amp outlet.
20-amp outlets are wired in the same manner as 15-amp models,came can even use the same cover plates with the center bar between the two receptacles.
There are various upgrades that you should consider when replacing an existing outlet. If the outlet is frequently used to power sensitive electronic components, such as laptops, then a surge protector outlet would be useful. These outlets shut off power if a power surge is detected, protecting equipment from damage or complete loss.
USB-enhanced outlets include either one or two USB ports between the two receptacles. These outlets are most useful in areas where phones and tablets are often being charged, and free the receptacles for other uses besides becoming permament homes for charging ports.
Enhanced outlets are also wired in the same manner as traditional outlets, but also require open face plates to accommodate rest button or USB ports. For more information, contact an electrician in your area.