3-Prong vs 4-Prong Dryer Outlets: What’s The Difference?

Alex HService12 Comments

dryer outlets
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Most homeowners have run into problem of trying to hook a 3-prong dryer cord up to a 4-prong outlet, or vise-versa, at one point or another. Whether you move into a new home that has a different outlet or purchase a new dryer with a different power cord, this is an all-too-common scenario. Unfortunately, few people understand the different between 3-prong and 4-prong dryer cord. In an effort to shed some light on this subject, we’re going to discuss the purpose of these cords and why there’s a growing popularity for 4-prong cables.

Up until the mid 1990s, 3-prong outlets were the standard used in American homes. Nearly all homes built before this time featured either a 3-prong outlet or range outlet (slightly different than a typical 3-prong dryer outlet). It wasn’t until 1996 when the National Electrical Code (NEC) was updated to require 4-prong dryer outlets in all new homes. Existing homes may still use 3-prong outlets, as the NEC changes are limited strictly to new homes.

So, why did the NEC make the decision to switch from 3-prong to 4-prong dryer outlets in new homes? Although the old 3-prong outlets were effective at providing power to dryers, they had one major flaw: the ground and neutral wires were grouped together, creating the potential for shock. 3-prong dryer cords contain two ‘hot’ wires along with a third wire that contained both the ground and neutral wire. If a current happened to make its way onto the ground wire, it could travel up to the dryer.

The more recent 4-prong dryer cords feature two hot wires, a neutral wire and a ground wire. This eliminates the possibility for a ground current traveling to the machine, as it features a separate return path for unused power.

The good news is that you don’t have to purchase a new dryer if the current outlet in your home doesn’t match. There are a couple of different scenarios ways workarounds, one of which is to purchase a new dryer cord. Most home improvement stores, such as Lowes and Home Depot, sell both 3-prong and 4-prong dryer cables for about $20-$25 bucks. As long as you have access to a Phillips head screwdriver, you can easily change out the dryer cord.  Be sure to install the strain relief that comes with the new cord.

Fred’s Appliance Service is capable of installing a new 3-prong or 4-prong cord on either your dryer or range.  Schedule service online today!