Understanding the Difference Between 120 and 240 Volt Outlets

120 vs 240
Fred's Appliance
November 5, 2016

Any time you do electric work in a home, or even need or want to move your appliances around, you need to understand the difference between 120 and 240 volt outlets. You will find them both in your home; but how are they actually different, and why do you need to know the difference to begin with? That’s what this post will examine.

Understanding Electrical Currents

Think of electrical currents in your home as pressure. The more quickly and harder the individual electrons are pushed through your electrical wiring, the more power they will provide to the outlet.

Of course, that means you have to be very careful. Not every electrical wire (and outlet) can handle higher voltage, such as 240 volts. Ignore that fact, and your conductors can overheat, leading to significant fire hazards.

You can distinguish between a 120 volt outlet and a 240 volt alternatively relatively easily. The first image that comes to mind will tend to be 120 volt; it’s the one you use to plug in anything from your vacuum cleaner to your phone charging cable. A 240 volt outlet, on the other hand, is larger, with room for three individual plugs or four plugs of varying size.

You may think that the safe route, then, is to simply go with 120 volt outlets throughout your home. But as it turns out, both the 120 volt and 240 volt alternatives can be beneficial, depending on your needs (and appliances).

When 120 Volt Outlets Are Enough

Most everyday appliances only need enough electricity for a 120 volt outlet. Microwaves, refrigerators, and dishwashers are examples of examples that will function perfectly fine on 120 volt outlets.

You will recognize these outlets anywhere in your home. In fact, if you don’t know that there are two types of outlets, these will be the ones that you think of as ubiquitous. But in some situations, 240 volt wiring and outlets may be required.

When You Need 240 Volt Outlets

A number of your appliances require more than 120 volt to run adequately and reliable. Your washing machine, dryer, and oven/range are the most common examples. All of them will technically run on 120V, but they won’t be nearly as effective; in fact, an oven that is connected to a 120V wire will only produce 1/4 the heat it would produce if connected to a 240 volt outlet.

For your home, that means planning your electricity carefully is an absolute necessity. You need to know exactly where your stove, washing machine, and dryer will be located in order to ensure that your wiring is adequate for optimum function. Should you ever need to replace an outlet or wire, you need to know what type of conductor and wire strength will be necessary.

The Need for Electrical Expertise in Appliance Repair

Every appliance will inevitably break down at some point. No matter how great your new oven or washing machine is, it won’t last forever with the need for repair at some point. If you want to save money and undergo that repair yourself, you need to understand exactly how electricity and the different types of current play into your repair efforts.

Put simply, you don’t want to risk messing up the electricity and risking a fire hazard or improperly functioning appliance. As a result, you need to make sure that you can both match the right appliance to the right outlet, and replace the wiring with one of adequate strength if necessary.

Any type of appliance repair requires at least some electrical knowledge. Are you confident in yours? If not, you may want to brush them up. Fortunately, our appliance repair classes can help you do just that. Contact us to learn about your options.

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