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A power receptacle is a point of connection between electrical devices such as lamps, computers, and stoves, and the electricity entering a structure. Often referred to simply as a “receptacle,” a power receptacle is a vital part of the wiring of a structure, and most structures have a multitude of receptacles to provide numerous points of connection. The use of multiple receptacles also allows for the use of different dedicated circuits; for example, a receptacle designed for use with a hot water heater can be put on its own circuit to prevent an overload.
Many lay people know a power receptacle as a power outlet or wall socket. The receptacle consists of a female connector which is designed to interface with male connectors. When something is plugged into the power receptacle, power can enter the device which is plugged in. When unplugged, the receptacle is open again, and may be used to connect another device, or left open.
Because the power receptacle acts as an interface point for the electrical system, it can pose a safety risk. Most have a number of safety features which are designed to address shorts, power overloads, and other problems which could pose a risk of fire or injury. For example, many power receptacles are grounded, and the receptacle is designed to make it difficult for people or pets to insert extremities into the receptacle. Specific building codes may address the installation of receptacles and the safety requirements for electrical systems to reduce the risk of shocks and electrical fires.
Open power receptacles may be covered with plastic caps for additional safety. The caps are designed to plug into the socket much like the male connector on a lamp, preventing people from coming into contact with the electricity inside the receptacle. Capping is often recommended as a childproofing measure, and they can also be useful in a household with curious and adventurous pets who could be injured or frightened in the course of exploring the inner mysteries of an electrical socket.
Different nations use different types of power receptacles, which can cause problems for travelers. In addition to having different arrangements of plugs, nations may use differing voltage, which can damage equipment from another country. Travelers have access to a number of converter plugs which they can use to plug into receptacles in other nations, along with transformers to handle differences in voltage; these supplies are readily available from hardware stores and travel shops.
@muscianwife - That is an excellent point and one I would like to add to. People should also remember that back when these older homes were built and wired, there were not near as many electrical devices as we have today.
They may have had a few lamps, a vacuum cleaner, possibly a microwave, and a television. They didn't have computers, iPods, DVD players, home theater systems, and a whole host of kitchen appliances to plug in. Therefore, the number of electrical plugs in an older home tended to be small...perhaps one or two outlets per room.
We know all about trying to run a modern household in a home that was never built for modern times. It can
be frustrating but also dangerous. At one point we did have an appliance catch fire at the electrical receptacle on account of old wiring. Thankfully, the sound of the pop and the smell woke us up before any major damage was done but it could have been bad.
I would recommend that if you are going to live in an older home, either request the electrical system be updated to current standards or minimize your use of electrical devices. Convenience now isn't worth losing everything you have in a fire when the system decides enough is enough.
I would like to add that it is incredibly important, particularly when dealing with older buildings and homes, to have a qualified electrician periodically come out and inspect your plugs and outlets.
Think about a home that may have been built just as electricity was becoming a common convenience in homes. The safety regulations and building codes of the day are nothing approaching what they are now. If you have an old home with it's original wiring that perhaps the family is now renting out for whatever reason, there could be dangers waiting.
The point is that you really have to be careful with electricity at all times but you should be particularly mindful of potential dangers when dealing with old and outdated wiring systems.
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