8 FAQs about Electric Outlets and Switches

Mar 12, 2015 | Laura Firszt

Photo: elPadawan/flickr

Are you building, renovating, or upgrading a house or a condo … or planning to, someday? Don't forget the electric outlets and switches. These are small details, but they will contribute a great deal to your home's safety and style. Here are 8 FAQs regarding important features for savvy homeowners to know about.

Q. Which grade of electrical outlets should I install in my home?

A. There are 3 grades of outlet on the market. Homeowner grade, the cheapest, is commonly found in builder-grade homes. However, this type is flimsy and tends to wear out in 5-10 years at the most. When you install or replace electrical outlets, go for commercial grade instead – this costs about 50 percent more than the less expensive kind, but the financial difference is insignificant, considering that commercial grade outlets will last 100 years under typical home use conditions. Hospital grade is very expensive, costing ten times the price of homeowner quality, and is really not necessary; it's designed for never-fail use in medical facilities (for example, to power breathing machines).

Q. What is the half-circle-shaped hole you see on electrical outlets these days? 

A. This very important addition to modern electric outlets is there to ensure your safety. It is a ground built in to the outlet in order to prevent contact between a hot wire and a neutral one, thereby avoiding the danger of electric shock or fire. If you move into an older house, you will need to install these outlets to replace the old ones.

Q. Explain the term "tamper-resistant receptacle."

A. This is a type of electric outlet that the NEC (National Electric Code) requires to be installed in all newly constructed or renovated residences as of 2008. It is designed to protect children from shock and burns as the result of their sticking small metal objects (for example, paper clips or keys) into the receptacle.

Q. What is a rotating electrical outlet used for?

A. When you want to plug several devices into the same receptacle at the same time, a rotating outlet will allow you to rotate the individual plug-ins as much as 360 degrees so that they will all fit in nicely.

Q. Are there outlets manufactured especially to stand up to outdoor use?

A. Yes, you can purchase specially manufactured weather-resistant electrical receptacles. These are subjected to extra stringent requirements and tested for their resistance to factors such as exposure to intense cold or ultra-violet light.

Q. What does a "decorator outlet" mean?

A. A decorator outlet performs the same function and is just as safe as a regular electric outlet. However, its lines are more elegant and it may come in a selection of different colors to complement your home decor. Should you wish to hide the outlet completely when not in use, you may purchase a special pop-out model. You can also find USB outlets that will match your electric receptacles for a unified look.

Q. What's new and exciting in the area of electric switches?

A. Lots! Power switches come in an array of decorator styles and hues. Your stylish light fixtures may be adjusted by means of dimmer switches to create an attractive ambiance for any occasion, while saving energy as well. Talk to your electrician for more ideas.

Q. How can electrical switches help with home safety?

A. Switches can be illuminated for greater visibility, particularly desirable when a household member has physical limitations. In case of emergency, just flick the Emergency Decorator Home Locator Switch and cause your home's outdoor front lights to flash, signaling "SOS" until help arrives.

Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.

Updated April 25, 2018.

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