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Electrical Outlets: Upgrading, Adding & Repairing

One of the easiest upgrades that can be done to the electrical system at your home or office is outlet replacement. Replacing older electrical outlets that do not have the correct grounding, updating appearance, and making sure your outlets are GFC-protected properly can elevate safety, functionality and style. Let’s start by reviewing some basic terms related to electrical outlets:

  • Hot – This is the wire that carries the 110 voltage.
  • Neutral – This is the wire that connects the voltage back to the source.
  • Ground – This wire is connected to the earth.
  • GFCI (Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter) – This outlet detects a fault in the circuit and will trip to break it. GFCI outlets trip at a higher rate than breakers and are used in locations where water is present or may become present under normal conditions.

5 Types of Electrical Outlets and Outlet Replacement Services

Two-Prong Electrical Outlets

  • 1 hot, 1 neutral
  • Why should you consider upgrading from this outlet type? In older applications, some outlets only had holes for 2 prongs – not allowing for a grounded cord to fit without an adaptor.

Three-Prong Electrical Outlets

  • 120V (1 hot, 1 neutral, 1 ground)
  • Common applications? These outlets are required for all installations.
  • What is involved in upgrading from a two-prong outlet to a three-pronged outlet? To upgrade, you need to replace the outlet and make sure the wiring is equipped with a grounding conductor.

Four-Prong Electrical Outlets

  • 2 hot, 1 neutral, 1 ground
  • Common applications? Electric dryers and ranges. The older outlets for ranges and dryers were only three-prong, but with today’s appliances, a four-prong receptacle is needed for the use of a neutral wire.

GFCI Outlets

  • 1 hot, 1 neutral, 1 ground
  • Common (required) applications: GFCI outlets are required in all wet areas, including bathrooms, laundry rooms, garages, kitchens, and outdoors. This has not always been the standard but is now required by all codes.
  • Why should you consider upgrading to a GFCI outlet? Confirming that GFCI outlets are being used where required/appropriate is important, as they help with accidental electrical shock and damage to appliances that are plugged into the circuit.

USB Outlets

  • 1 hot, 1 neutral, 1 ground
  • Why should you consider upgrading to a USB outlet? This will allow for the charging of devices, such as phones and tablets, without the use of adaptors. You will be able to plug directly into the outlet with the charging cord from your device. Multiple USB ports can be used at the same time while still allowing the receptacle to be utilized normally.
  • What is involved in upgrading to a USB outlet? Replacing the outlet with one that is equipped with USB can be done in most receptacle locations.
  • How much does it cost to upgrade to a USB outlet? Check our current offers for savings.

When to Repair or Replace Your Electrical Outlets

The following are some of the most common problems with electrical outlets that may require repair or replacement:

  • Overheating – The most common cause of outlet failure is overheating. When a cord is not plugged in correctly or is not sized to fit the outlet, there is a poor connection, which can result in arcing inside the outlet. Arcing occurs when electricity has to jump in order to bridge a gap, which creates heat and a burn mark around the slots of the receptacle. The outlet will overheat and eventually fail.
  • Tripping – When a GFCI circuit is protected by a GFCI outlet, it can trip — causing the outlets behind it on the circuit to go out. In most cases, this can be fixed by pushing the reset button on the outlet. If the outlet will not reset, it could be because the GFCI has tripped repeatedly (they become weaker as they trip). If a GFCI continues to trip and will not reset, then there may be other issues, or the outlet may need to be replaced.
  • Damaged Exterior – Outlets usually have a plastic exterior that can become brittle and prone to breakage over time. The breakage can occur from simply removing a cord. This can expose interior parts of the outlet and raise the chance of encountering live parts.

As with all electrical issues, the safest route when you have a malfunctioning, overheating or otherwise damaged outlet is to call a licensed professional.

Adding New Outlets

  • What is involved? Installing a box in the wall, running wire from a power source and installing it into the wall. Most of the time, this can be done without damaging existing sheet rock, but not in all cases.
  • Why should you consider adding outlets instead of using power strips? Power strips can be overloaded easily, as they are not always rated highly enough for the devices being plugged into them.

Style Upgrades

Keep in mind that you can also change the style and color of your outlets. In the past, there were three standard colors. Today, there are many styles and colors to choose from. The standard duplex receptacle is not your only choice. You can opt to add some flair to your space with a more decorative option or blend your outlets in with a subtle design, such as a screwless faceplate. There are typically matching options available for switches, as well.

While aesthetic changes may seem like ones that are easy to DIY, keep in mind that removing the face or cover of an outlet or switch can expose live wires, which only a licensed electrician should handle.

Electrical Outlet Replacement in Austin

Whether it is for convenience or safety, outlet installations and upgrades should be performed by a professional. At Efficient AC, Electric & Plumbing, our licensed electricians are known throughout Austin metro for the highest quality work. We’re dedicated to achieving the safest and most aesthetically pleasing results for your home or business. Call us at 512-501-2275 to discuss your next project.

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