You’ve seen those big clunky outlets with the funny angled places to receive the plug prongs. You’ve noticed them behind your clothes dryer and electric range and beside your water heater and air conditioner. Each of these outlets is a 240 volt outlet designed to supply more electrical power for your larger appliances through the 240 volt wiring and 240v single phase plug. These are also quite different from the standard 120v outlets, having more wires, higher voltage, and greater hazards and safety risks.
You may have noticed them, but probably never gave them another thought . . . until you saw smoke coming from behind your dryer, that is. A little understanding of the 240 volt outlet, 240v single phase plug, and 240 volt plug wiring will help you to be prepared if a problem or emergency does arise. And knowing a reliable emergency electrician in advance is recommended as well.
- 1 What Is a 240 Volt Outlet and Why Is It Different?
- 2 240v Wires
- 3 240 Volt Outlets and Plugs
- 4 240V Single Phase Plug vs. 240V 3 Phase.
- 5 How to Install a 240 Volt Outlet
- 6 A Common Problem with 240 Volt Outlets and 240V Single Phase Plugs
- 7 240 Volt Dryer Fire Statistics and Recommendations
- 8 Why DIY for 240 Volt Projects Isn’t a Good Idea
- 9 Wiring Limitations of Older Homes
- 10 Where to Turn for Easy 240 Volt Outlet and 240 Volt Plug Wiring Solutions
What Is a 240 Volt Outlet and Why Is It Different?
You’re probably familiar with the standard and more common 120v outlet (sometimes known as 110v) that you plug your phone charger, TV, computer, toaster, vacuum cleaner, and coffeemaker into. Delivering higher voltage and more power and having more wires, 240v outlets are a little different.
Basically, two 120v circuits 180 degrees out of phase are connected together, hence the 240 volts, for twice the electrical power without the need for increasing wire size. So your 240v receptacles have two 120v wires supplying power along with a neutral wire. (Newer homes with newer 240 volt plug wiring will have outlets and plugs with four wires, which includes a ground for greater safety and reduced fire hazard.) Larger appliances, especially those equipped with an electric motor, simply run more efficiently with a 240 volt power supply. These appliances include ovens and ranges, dryers, water heaters, air conditioners, furnaces, and welders.
The outlets and plugs for 120v appliances have, as we mentioned, three wires, but only one of these is “hot” – that is, actually carrying electric current – and is usually blue or black in color. And the white wire, the neutral, completes the circuit, with the green or bare wire simply being a ground.
But 240 volt plug wiring has instead of a white neutral wire an additional “hot” that is usually red or blue. These two “hot” wires deliver the 120 volts twice for a total of 240 volts. These wires are then connected to a two-pole breaker at the circuit panel in your breaker box – basically just two 120v single-pole breakers wired together. This is more complicated than 120v wiring and is best left to the professionals.
240 Volt Outlets and Plugs
The outlets and plugs themselves are larger than 120v ones and have at least three (sometimes four) differently shaped holes and prongs. Three-prong outlets, then, commonly have a top receiving hole shaped like a backwards “L” and two diagonal holes lower down and toward the sides. Most outlets for four-prong 240v single phase plugs have that same configuration with the addition of a lower half-circle-shaped hole.
And all of this is for safety’s sake. You can’t plug a 120v appliance in to a 240v outlet because the hole configuration won’t allow it. This, then, prevents a power overload to your 120v appliance and the possibility of a fire. That’s why it’s always best to call on the services of a reputable, licensed electrician for 240 volt problems and repairs.
240V Single Phase Plug vs. 240V 3 Phase.
With respect to 240 volt matters, you may have heard the terms “single phase” and “3 phase.” These are very different electrical animals and call for different approaches.
As we mentioned above, a 240v single phase plug has two “hot” wires delivering power. A 3 phase plug, though, has three “hot” wires delivering power, generally more power than single phase. Usually, 240v 3 phase is reserved for commercial applications and single phase for residential uses. But before you begin any 240v electrical projects in your home, you should have a professional check to see whether it’s single or 3 phase.
How to Install a 240 Volt Outlet
With 240 volt plug wiring and outlets, as we mentioned earlier, the circuitry and number of wires are different, and the fire hazard and chance of severe shock are greater. So installation of wiring and outlets should be performed by licensed professional electricians. Installation of 240 volt outlets usually includes the following steps:
- Determining of the best location for the new 240v outlet
- Removing all obstructing objects like furniture, cabinets, and shelves
- Shutting off power at the main breaker
- Carefully cutting a hole in the drywall to receive the outlet
- Drilling holes in the stud (beside which the hole has been cut and to which the receptacle box will be mounted) through which the 240 volt plug wiring will be run to the breaker box
- Installing the outlet box and pulling wiring (usually up to and through the attic) to the breaker box
- Attaching wiring to the receptacle and mounting it in the box
- Installing new breaker and attaching wiring
- Testing new breaker, circuit, and outlet to ensure correct functioning and safety
And if you have a damaged or worn 240 volt outlet, it’s a good idea to replace it because is can pose a definite safety hazard. In addition, for most people, it’s also a good idea not to attempt a DIY project here.
A Common Problem with 240 Volt Outlets and 240V Single Phase Plugs
Many of us have, unfortunately, been there. You put a load of clothes in the dryer and then go off to do something else. You return several minutes later and smell that unmistakable electrical overheating/burning odor and see smoke coming from the back of the dryer. Closer inspection shows that the source of the smoke is the dryer’s 240 volt outlet. Why does this happen?
Generally, there are two main causes of such a scenario, both of them a species of loose connection, usually resulting from the inevitable vibration of the dryer and the movement of the nearby washer. First, the wires in the 240v plug often come loose from the post attachments and make little or intermittent contact. Or, second, the 240 volt outlet has become worn and the plug posts don’t make good contact when plugged in.
In both cases, because there is only a small connection for the electrical current to flow through, resistance is dramatically increased. And this results in overheating at that point – and sometimes a fire.
240 Volt Dryer Fire Statistics and Recommendations
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, “2,900 home clothes dryer fires are reported each year and cause an estimated 5 deaths, 100 injuries, and $35 million in property loss.” And that was from 2008-2010, so those figures would only be higher now. Further, electrical failure/malfunction was the third leading cause of these fires, causing at least 16% of them.
If your home isn’t a new one, experts recommend that you have the 240 volt outlets and wiring inspected by a licensed electrician to ensure proper installation that meets at least the minimal municipal code requirements. (For you never know who did the electrical work if you’re not the first home owner.) In addition, the U.S. Fire Administration recommends having your dryer installed by qualified professionals. And they also insist you should ensure, or have your electrician check to ensure, that “the correct electrical plug and outlet are used and that the dryer is connected properly.”
Why DIY for 240 Volt Projects Isn’t a Good Idea
The good news is that almost all electrical fires can be prevented if you understand the causes, have the requisite knowledge and expertise, and take appropriate repair and installation measures. The bad news, for DIYers at least, is that only license professional electricians have studied and mastered the National Electric Code (NEC) – which presents the proper methods for nearly all electrical work and procedures for preventing fires and weighs in at 800 pages.
For example, would you know that the minimum wire size for a 20 amp breaker is 12 gauge? That’s the size needed to carry 20 amps of current without any possibility of overheating (and fire) owing to too much resistance from a smaller wire size. And would you also know that poor electrical connections are the primary causes of home electrical fires because the poor connection increases resistance and leads to the creation of more heat, which can result in fires? Some of the most common poor connections include:
- Old, loose, or worn outlets (especially 240 volt outlets) – When the plug goes into the outlet too easily, without your having to apply at least some pressure, then the outlet is too loose and worn. It presents a fire hazard and needs to be replaced. (Remember the dryer business from just above?) Or maybe an appliance plugged into an outlet will operate only intermittently, in which case there is a problem that must be addressed
- Corroded connections and fixtures – It may take many years, but electrical parts degrade with age, often in the form of corrosion, especially in high-humidity areas. Connections and sockets in light fixtures are particularly susceptible to such degradation. Flickering lights are a good indication that something is wrong and the fixture should be replaced.
- Worn switches – Switches, because there is movement, will eventually wear out over time. Usually, it’s just an inconvenience, but can also present a fire hazard.
Another key consideration when it comes to your 240 volt outlet and 240 volt plug wiring is installing exactly the right size breaker. Too small, and it will trip at the wrong time and become a nuisance. Too large, too high an amp rating, and will pose a fire hazard because when an issue arises, the appliance will overheat before the breaker trips. The best policy is just to leave these projects to the trained professionals, like those at Work Best Electric.
Wiring Limitations of Older Homes
If you live in an older home that hasn’t been rewired, you will likely need the services of a professional electrician. For older homes simply weren’t constructed to meet the electrical demands of today’s technology and appliances. Many pre-1960 homes were equipped with only 60 amp service, but the standard in modern homes is at least 100 amp service. In addition, older homes very often had no 240 volt outlets, which means there’s no place to plug in your AC or dryer.
A licensed electrician can install a new grounded electrical panel (breaker box) to accommodate more circuits. This will allow dedicated 240v circuits so you can operate your modern appliances. In addition, a grounded system is far safer and will permit addition of surge protection and grounded outlets. And while you’re at it, you could have your electrician install arc-fault circuit interrupters as protection against fires.
So if you’ve just purchased or live in an un-updated older home, your best bet is to get an electrician to inspect the entire electrical system. And, then, if needed, the electrician can do the rewiring. This way, both your family and your appliances will be protected against electrical malfunctions and fires.
Where to Turn for Easy 240 Volt Outlet and 240 Volt Plug Wiring Solutions
An electrical problem involving a 240 volt outlet, a 240v single phase plug, or 240 volt plug wiring is not something you can ignore. Besides being a major inconvenience, there is a marked fire hazard, and it can quickly develop into an emergency situation. In this case, you need an emergency electrician to keep your air conditioner or dryer running and to give you (and your insurer) some peace of mind. So if you do encounter a 240v electrical emergency, call the experienced electricians on call 24/7 at Work Best Electric.
Don’t take a chance by waiting or attempting it yourself. We can help you prevent an emergency electrical problem from escalating into a life-threatening emergency. We employ only the best, most qualified professionals and use state-of-the-art equipment to provide high-quality service and a safe home. To be connected with a qualified local electrician, contact us now.