How to Choose the Right Electrical Outlet for Your Home

2015 Jun 09
Posted in:
Electrical outlets and switches

Thinking of adding a new electrical outlet to your home? 

Here’s our 3-step process to make sure you install the right outlet for your home and your needs.

Step 1: Know if you need GFCI and AFCI outlets

Most electrical outlets in your home should have some sort of built-in safety device. And there are 2 types: GFCI outlets and AFCI outlets. (You can identify these outlets easily as they will have “reset” and “test” buttons on their face.)

But to know if you need one or both of them, you must first know the difference between them.

  • GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets protect you from electrocution. They contain a small circuit breaker that trips if it detects a short circuit. 
  • AFCI (arc fault circuit interrupter) outlets help protect your home from electrical fires. Similar to GFCI outlets, AFCI outlets contain a small breaker that trips when it detects a dangerous arc. (Electrical arcs create heat that can light insulation, framing and other building materials in your home.)

GFCI outlet and AFCI outlet
GFCI outlet on the left with an AFCI outlet on the right. The two electrical outlets look similar but perform different functions.

Where do I need GFCI and AFCI outlets?
According to current electrical code you should have GFCI protection in:

  • Kitchens
  • Within 6' of sinks or water sources
  • Bathrooms
  • Garages
  • Unfinished basements
  • For all outdoor outlets 

You should have AFCI protection in all bedrooms.

That doesn’t mean every outlet in those locations must be an AFCI or GFCI outlet. Several electrical outlets can be connected to a single AFCI or GFCI outlet for protection

For example, in your kitchen, you likely have a single GFCI outlet (with a “test” and “reset” button) that serves as the GFCI device for all the other outlets in the kitchen (and maybe even the outside outlets). 

For AFCI protection, you can also install an AFCI circuit breaker in your electrical panel.

Step 2: Get the right outlet for your appliances and electronics

You may need or want a specialty outlet depending on the type of appliance or electronic device that will be plugged into it. Here are a few examples of types of appliances and electronics that use specialty outlets.

Large appliances
Heavy-duty electrical outlets are needed for some appliances, like:

  • Electric dryers
  • Electric ranges (ovens)

You’ll need a heavy-duty 240-volt electrical outlet for these appliances. There are both 3-prong and 4-prong varieties. Check your electric cord to make sure you get the right one.

Heavy duty electrical outlets
Note: Both of these electrical outlets should be on a dedicated circuit.

Medium-sized appliances and power tools
Some medium-sized appliances and power tools require larger, 20-amp electrical outlets

These look like a standard, 15-amp outlet except that the neutral slot is horizontal instead of vertical. (See photo below). 

Electrical outlets
The normal, 15-amp outlet on the left and the 20-amp outlet on the right.

Of course, your circuit and wiring must be 20 amps also in order to install this larger outlet (see step 3 for more info).

Smartphones, tablets and other small electronics
You can also get electrical outlets with built-in USB outlets, which come in handy in the kitchen, bedroom, living room or anywhere else you’ll be charging your cell phone or other small electronic devices.

Electrical outlet with USB plugs
An electrical outlet with built-in USB plugs.

Step 3: Know your existing wiring/circuits 

Lastly, before you install an electrical outlet you must make sure that your home can handle the new outlet.

Make sure you know: 

  • How many lights, outlets and appliances are already on the circuit — You don’t want to overload the circuit because that will overheat the wires in your wall. Plus, you’ll be tripping the breaker constantly, wearing down the breaker.
  • If you need a dedicated circuit for this outlet — For safety, many large appliances should have their own circuit in your electrical panel. If you’re installing an outlet for one of these appliances, you’ll also need to run new wiring and install a new breaker in your panel.
  • The amperage of the existing circuit — The amperage of the circuit must be greater than the outlet you’re installing. For example, never install a 20-amp electrical outlet on a 15-amp circuit. 
  • Whether your home has a ground wire — Older homes don’t have a ground wire. You can usually tell if this is the case for you if the outlets will only have 2 slots instead of 3. Don’t install 3-prong outlets if your home doesn’t have a ground. (In fact, you should rewire your home.)

Get help from a professional electrician in Phoenix

A George Brazil electrician can help you make sure you get the right electrical outlet for your needs. Plus we’ll make sure it’s safe and up to code. Contact us online for more info.


George Brazil Plumbing & Electrical is a professional electrical contractor serving metro Phoenix.