How Are Commercial and Institutional Outlets Different?

Most residential construction uses “general” or “residential” grade electrical outlets for 120-volt service. These are quite sufficient for everyday use but are only one of four different grades of 120-volt blade-style outlets specified in plug and receptable standards in the US and Canada.

General Use Receptacles

General use receptacles are the most common and comply with safety standards of the US and Canada. They are designed to supply a variety of common electrical loads and are tested to ensure they can handle the loads of lamps, vacuum cleaners, heaters, and other household products.

Public spaces like airports and hotels get a lot of traffic from people who are continuously plugging devices in and out, adding wear and tear to the outlets. To reduce breakage and replacement cost, outlet manufacturers offer what they call “commercial grade” or “heavy duty” outlets that comply with the same standards for general use.

These look and work just like typical residential outlets but are designed for heavy use and made with sturdier materials, both for their surfaces and internal components. They cost about 50% more than “residential grade” outlets but pay off in the long run in areas with heavy use. In fact, some claim to last a hundred years or more under normal use.

Many commercial and industrial buildings will specify these outlets, and they can add durability in residential construction in places like kitchens and home offices where appliances and other electronics are used.

Hospital Grade Receptacles

In addition to complying with general use requirements, hospital grade receptacles are specially designed and subject to additional standards. These include additional grounding reliability, assembly integrity, strength, and durability.

Hospital grade receptacles come in 15-amp and 20-amp flat-blade configurations. They have the same markings on general use receptacles but add the phrase “Hospital Grade” or “Hosp. Grade” on the back for visibility during installation and a green dot on the face, visible after installation with a cover plate.

There is also a locking-type receptacle rated 20-amps, 125-volts marked “Hospital only” with no green dot appearing on the face.

Designed for use in hospitals and other medical facilities, the only reason to consider a hospital grade outlet in a home would be if you or someone living in your home needs to be supported by a respirator or needs a never-fail outlet for similar devices.

Of course these outlets only work if there’s power to use. If you have members of your household or facility that needs life-sustaining medical equipment, a reliable backup power system is essential. You can learn more about backup generators here.

Federal Specification General Use Receptacles

The General Service Administration of the US government gets into the act, too. In addition to complying with the general use requirements, federal spec receptacles have to comply with US Federal Specification W-C-596, “General Specification for Electrical Power Connectors.” This specification was created to help government procurement personnel obtain the correct receptacle from suppliers. It details configuration, electrical rating, type (single outlet or duplex) and even includes the color of the outlet face. The receptacle industry adheres to an identification scheme in lieu of their usual catalog designations to facilitate government purchases.

 It identifies construction features, marking specifications, and performance requirements beyond the requirements of the safety standards of durability and service life. In other words, they need to have Uncle Sam’s okey doke. And they cost more, of course.

Receptacles are identified by the federal specification verification mark, capital letters “F” and “S” each in a wing on either side of the UL Listing Mark. Unless you’re working under a federal contract, you won’t need to worry. But if you are, make sure your electrician knows the ropes.

Hospital Grade/Fed. Spec. Receptacles

As the grade name indicates, hospital grade/fed spec receptacles are built to comply with federal hospital grade requirements. They are also identified by the capital letters “F” and “S” flanking the UL Listing Mark and have the hospital grade green dot on the front.

They are built to a different set of performance and construction requirements than regular fed spec outlets. For example, a regular fed spec receptacle is not subjected to the abrupt plug removal performance testing, whereas a hospital grade/fed spec is.

What You Need to Know as a Homeowner or Contractor

With different electrical ratings, colors, styles, sizes, and configurations there are over 1,000 styles of blade outlets on the market. Most of the time, your choice will be between general use and “commercial grade” when it comes to the outlets you’ll use throughout your property. Ideally, you want outlets that are going to be able to handle your power demands for many years.

Begin by identifying the appropriate grade (general use or commercial) and features like tamper resistant or GFCI that conform with the and codes and safety standards applicable to the installation.

If you need help deciding, a licensed electrician can help choose the outlet that’s right for your needs and expected electrical requirements. Consult with electrical contracting pros early in the planning and design stage to avoid unpleasant surprises and unnecessary expenses.

Allstar Electrical Services delivers the quality results you expect and deserve on remodeling, repairs, and new construction. We work hand-in-hand with owners and contractors to ensure your project is done right, on budget, and on schedule.

We’ve served the Front Range for over 20 years, are top-rated by the BBB, and are proud to be a Angi’s HomeAdvisor Preferred Contractor.