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Electrical Outlet or Electrical Receptacle

Is it a receptacle or is it an electrical outlet?  These terms are really interchangeable, but are often confused by the DIYer.  This article reviews the basics of the electrical receptacle or outlet, the common types found in the home, and how to make the correct purchase when replacing an electrical outlet.

Another name for a receptacle is an electrical outlet.  Electrical outlets or receptacles are often called plugs or plug-ins, but a plug is the proper term for the male cord end (that plugs into an outlet or a receptacle). The best definition of an outlet or receptacle is “an opening or series of openings connected to a wired power source meant to power electrical equipment and components”. 

I had a reader comment on this post with some added information that I think you will find very uselful in helping to understand the definition of an outlet. The N.E.C. says:  A point on the wiring system at which current is taken to supply utilization equipment.   This will include more than a receptacle.  A light fixture, a smoke alarm
are examples of other “outlets” in a wiring system.  Here is another definition that might add to this clarification:
Receptacle Outlet. An outlet where one or more receptacles are installed.  Thank-you to Bob W.

The most common outlets or receptacles found within the home are:

1.  15A 125V duplex receptacle.
2.  15/20A 125V GFCI receptacle.
3.  20A 125V receptacle.
4.  30A 125/250V receptacle (electric clothes dryer).
5.  50A 125/250V receptacle (electric range).
6.  15, 20, and 30A 250V receptacles possibly found in a garage or shop.

It is possible that you could find other outlets or receptacles in the home, garage, or shop, but these are the most commonly used.

All outlets or receptacles have a NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) number that should be referred to when selecting the receptacle, and are required to avoid any confusion as to what it is you need.

These NEMA designations are designed to prevent the wrong combination of electrical systems from being connected together, thereby avoiding potentially hazardous conditions.The most important thing to remember is that the rating of the outlet, the size of the wire used to feed the outlet, and the breaker must all be matched.

(This is a thumbnail – click to view the table).

Here is an explanation for what the numbers and letters in the NEMA designation mean. (This is a thumbnail – click to view the table).

This table shows the type of outlet or receptacle, the NEMA number, the correct wire size, wire colors, and the size of breaker used to feed the outlet, and where the outlet may be found throughout the home or shop.

Type

NEMA #

Wire size

Wire colors

Breaker size / type

Use

15A 125V

5-15R

2c #14 AWG

Black (or red), white, green or bare copper

15A 1P

Convenience outlets throughout the home

15/20A 125V

5-20R

2c #12 AWG

Black (or red), white, green or bare copper

20A 1P

Kitchens, basement, bathroom, outdoors

30A 125/250V

14-30R

3c #10 AWG

Black, red, white, green or bare copper

30A 2P

Electric clothes dryer outlet

50A 125/250V

14-50R

3c #8 AWG

Black, red, white, green or bare copper

40A 2P

Electric range outlet

15A 250V

6-15R

2c #14 AWG

Black, red, green or bare copper

15A 2P

Large pressure washer

20A 250V

6-20R

2c #12 AWG

Black, red, green or bare copper

20A 2P

Large air compressor

30A 250V

6-30R

2c #10 AWG

Black, red, green or bare copper

30A 2P

Arc Welder

Electrical outlets or receptacles are integral to making our home a comfortable place to live, allowing us access to the conveniences that electrical appliances and equipment afford us, by providing us a means to connect to our home’s electrical system.

- Terry Peterman, the Internet Electrician

This entry was posted in Electrical Wiring, Receptacles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Bob W

    “Outlet” is defined as: A point on the wiring system at which current is
    taken to supply utilization equipment.

    This will include more than a receptacle. A light fixture, a smoke alarm are examples of other “outlets” in a wiring system.

    Here is another definition that might add to this clarification:
    Receptacle Outlet. An outlet where one or more receptacles
    are installed.

    These definitions were taken from the 2008 NEC. There is much less confusion when terminology is taken from the NEC as it is used there.

  • lenny

    do both silver and both brass screws have to be wired for a outley receptacle

  • bj

    ? I replaced my run of outlets in my basement and tested them, tester shows an open ground, why?

 

The Basics of Household Wiring DVD

"If you're looking for a good reference to help you understand simple home wiring, I personally recommend 'The Basics of Household Wiring' DVD".

Terry Peterman, the Internet Electrician
 
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