NEMA connector

NEMA connector
Ungrounded and grounded power plugs
A NEMA 5–15 plug and receptacle. (Different scales. Blade spacing is 0.75 inches (19.1 mm) for both.) Note that the receptacle will also accept an ungrounded plug whether polarized or unpolarized.

NEMA connectors are AC power plugs used for mains electricity in North America and other countries that use the standards set by the U.S. National Electrical Manufacturers Association. Some types are found in nearly all buildings in the United States. Similar and interchangeable connectors are used in Canada, Mexico, and other countries using the same type of receptacle, although there are some exceptions. NEMA wiring devices are made in current ratings from 15 to 60 amperes, and electrical potential (voltage) ratings from 125 to 600 volts. Different combinations of contact blade widths, shapes, orientation, and dimensions give non-interchangeable connectors that are unique to a particular voltage, current capacity, and grounding system. NEMA 1 (two prong) and NEMA 5 (three prong) are used for commonplace domestic equipment; the others are for heavy duty or special purposes. The dimensional standard for electrical connectors is ANSI/NEMA WD–6 and is available from the NEMA website.[1]


NEMA nomenclature

"Row and column table of NEMA receptacles."
A table of NEMA receptacles, with their common US uses listed.

There are two basic classifications of NEMA device: straight-blade and locking. The straight-blade 5–15 and 5–20 are found nearly everywhere in countries using the NEMA standards, and are intended for supplying lighter-duty, general-purpose electrical devices. Twist-locking types are used for heavy industrial and commercial equipment, where increased protection against accidental disconnection is required. Numbers prefixed by L are curved-blade, twist-locking connectors; others are straight blade and non-locking.

The numeral preceding the hyphen in NEMA nomenclature indicates the configuration, that is, the number of poles, number of wires, voltage, and whether single- or three-phase. A grounding type of device will be described as two-pole, three-wire; or four-pole, five-wire; etc. A non-grounding device will be two-pole, two wire; or three-pole, three-wire; etc.

The numeral following the hyphen is the rating of the device in amperes. The number is followed by the letter R to indicate a receptacle (female connector) or the letter P to indicate a plug (male connector).

As an example, the 5–15R is the common 125 V two-pole, three-wire receptacle. The L5–15R, while sharing the same electrical rating, is a locking design which is not physically compatible with the straight-blade 5–15 design. The 5–30 has the same two-pole, three-wire configuration and 125 V rating, but is rated 30 A.

Although there are several non-grounding device types in the NEMA standards, only three of them are in widespread use today. These are the two-pole 1–15, still in use in millions of buildings built before the 1960s, and the three-pole 10–30 and 10–50.

The small hole near the end of the power (non-ground) blades of some NEMA plugs is used for convenience in manufacturing; if present it must be of specified diameter and position.[2]

Non-locking connectors

NEMA non-locking connectors all use blades of various flat and folded shapes (except for the round pins used on grounding connectors). The plugs can be detached from the receptacles by pulling back on the plug body. These connector families have been designed so that grounding connectors for 120 V and 208/240 V cannot be accidentally intermated.

NEMA wall receptacles can be found installed in any orientation. Neither NEMA nor the U.S. National Electrical Code nor the Canadian Electrical Code specify a preferred orientation, and different orientations may be found in the same building. When the ground blade of a receptacle is on the bottom, the neutral blade is on the upper left and the hot blade is on the upper right. All descriptions below assume this orientation.


A non-polarized 1-15P plug

All NEMA 1 devices are two-wire non-grounding devices (hot-neutral) rated for 125 V maximum. NEMA 1-15P plugs have two parallel flat blades, 14 inches (6.35 mm) wide, 0.06 inches (1.524 mm) thick, 582332 inch (15.875–18.256 mm) long, and spaced 12 inches (12.7 mm) apart, and are commonly found on household lamps and consumer electronics such as clocks and radios. Standards exist for 1–15P, 1–20P and 1–30P plugs, and the 1–15R receptacle. There are no 1–20R and 1–30R receptacles; 1–20P and 1–30P mate with a corresponding NEMA 5 receptacle. Plugs may be and receptacles must be (since 1948) polarized to preserve the identity of the neutral conductor; the blade connected to neutral will be wider (516 in/7.938 mm) than the other, and polarized sockets will only accept a polarized plug in the correct orientation.

NEMA 2 (obsolete)

All NEMA 2 devices are two-wire non-grounding devices (hot-hot) rated for 250 V maximum. Although standards exist for 2–15, 2–20 and 2–30, this series is obsolete, and only Hubbell still manufactures 2-20 devices.[3]


5–20R T-slot receptacle mounted with the ground hole up. The neutral connection is the wider T-shaped slot on the lower right.

All NEMA 5 devices are three-wire grounding devices (hot-neutral-ground) rated for 125 V maximum, with the 5–15, 5–20 and 5–30 being grounded versions of the 1–15, 1–20 and 1–30, respectively. The addition is a 316-inch (4.763 mm) diameter round or U-shaped ground pin, 18 in (3.175 mm) longer than the power blades (so the device is grounded before the power is connected) and located 14 in (6.35 mm) below them. (14 in/6.35 mm is edge-to-edge; 1532 in/11.906 mm center-to-center.)

The 5–20P plug has the neutral blade rotated 90° and shifted so its inner edge is approximately 12 in (12.7 mm) from the hot blade. The 5–20R receptacle may have a T-shaped neutral hole, to accept both 5–15P and 5–20P plugs. The 5–30 and 5–50 are larger, with 1 inch between power pins; 5-30 also has a bent neutral blade.[4] All of these are uncommon, as twist-locking plugs are generally used for high-current applications.

Nearly always both current blades on 5–15P plugs are narrow since the ground pin enforces polarity. If the ground pin is removed in order to fit it to a 1–15R outlet or extension cord, the live/neutral polarity is lost. 1–15P plugs are also compatible with 5–15P sockets. In this case, the socket retains polarity enforcement. Cheater plugs, adapters that allow a 5–15P plug to be fitted to a 1–15R outlet, are readily available, but are illegal in some countries. Proper grounding is dependent on the outlet being an ordinary duplex receptacle with a correctly grounded center screw, and the grounding tab of the adapter being connected to that screw.

The 5–15R is by far the most common electrical outlet in North America in buildings built since the mid-twentieth century. It is usually installed in a twin duplex configuration (which may be on a common circuit or with each receptacle on a separate circuit, sometimes switched).

The standard 5–15 (and its 1–15 two prong counterpart) is sometimes called an “Edison plug” in the film and theatre industry, where that name distinguishes it from more specialized theatrical connectors. This is presumably a reference to Thomas Edison or the various Edison utility companies which supply electric power. In the motion picture and TV production industries, an extension cord that uses this type of connector (usually 12 AWG or 10 AWG)[5] is known as a "stinger". Generally, lighting technicians use these extension cords to deliver power to lights 2000 W and less.[6]


NEMA 6-15 (green is ground).
NEMA 6 50A power socket with dustproof flexible shroud, used on a farm silo unloader.

All NEMA 6 devices are three-wire grounding devices (hot-hot-ground) used for 208 V and 240 V circuits and rated for 250 V maximum, with the 6–15, 6–20 and 6–30 being grounding versions of the 2–15, 2–20 and 2–30, respectively. The 6-15 resembles the 5-15, but with collinear horizontal pins, spaced 2332 in (18.256 mm) center-to-center. The 20 A plug has a blade rotated 90°, and the 6–20R receptacle may have a T-shaped hole, to accept both 6–15P and 6–20P plugs. The 30 A plug and socket look similar to the 15 A one but larger. The higher-current versions are rare, with twist-locking plugs such as L6-30 or direct wiring more common. Generally 6–series non-locking plugs are used for such appliances as large room air conditioners, commercial kitchen equipment, and the occasional home arc welder. Single phase 6-50 is commonly used on farms for the silo unloader, and is used with a 6 gauge flexible power cord up to 200 ft long (61 m).

NEMA 6 devices, while specified as 250 V, may be used for either 208 V or 240 V circuits, generally depending on whether the building has a three-phase or split-phase power supply. Visitors to North America should not regard the NEMA 6–20R or 6–30R found in many hotel rooms as a source of 240 V power, since in most cases they are supplied with 208 V, and electrical equipment may be designed for a hot-neutral configuration instead of two hots.


NEMA 10-30

NEMA 10 devices are a curious throwback to an earlier time. They are classified as 125/250 V non-grounding (hot-hot-neutral), yet they are usually used in a manner that effectively grounds the appliance, though not in a manner consistent with most modern practice.

As commonly used, 10–30 and 10–50 plugs have the frame of the appliance grounded through the neutral blade. This was a legal grounding method under the National Electrical Code for electric ranges and electric clothes dryers from the 1947 to the 1996 edition. Since North American dryers and ranges have certain parts (timers, lights, fans, etc.) that run on 120 V, this means that the wire used for grounding is also carrying current. Although this is contrary to modern grounding practice, such installations remain common in the United States and are relatively safe, because the larger conductors used are less likely to be broken than the smaller conductors used in ordinary appliance cords, and the current carried is small.

Persons moving their older appliances to newer NEMA-14-equipped buildings (or vice-versa) should have the cords replaced by a qualified electrician.

Obsolete 125 V, 15 A / 250 V, 10 A duplex outlet

NEMA 10–20 devices are very rare nowadays, but are occasionally found in homes that once had a large window air conditioner. There is also a similar obsolete design, lacking a NEMA configuration number, rated 125 V, 15 A / 250 V, 10 A which is nearly identical to the AS/NZS 3112 standard used in Australia/New Zealand. It has existed as far back as 1915, and is seen in US patent 1,179,728.[7] They are also extremely rare.


NEMA 14–30 and 14–50 receptacles

The NEMA 14 devices are four-wire grounding devices (hot-hot-neutral-ground) available in ratings from 15 A to 60 A. Of the straight-blade NEMA 14 devices, only the 14–30 and 14–50 are common. The 14–30 is used for electric clothes dryers and the 14–50 for electric cooking ranges. The voltage rating is 250 V. They are essentially the replacements for the NEMA 10 connectors above with the addition of a separate grounding connection.

All NEMA 14 devices offer two hots, a neutral and a ground, allowing for both 120 V and 240 V (or 120 V and 208 V if the supply system is three-phase rather than split phase). The 14–30 has a rating of 30 A and an L-shaped neutral blade. The 14–50 has a rating of 50 A and a straight neutral blade sized so that it will not fit in the slot of a 14–30.

NEMA 14–50 devices are frequently found in RV parks, since they are used for shore power connections of larger recreational vehicles. Also, it was formerly common for mobile homes to be connected to utility power via a 14–50 device.


NEMA TT–30 plug and receptacle. (The center hole on the receptacle is not a contact.)

NEMA TT–30 (TT stands for Travel Trailer) is a 30 A, 125 V recreational vehicle standard (hot-neutral-ground) which may also be known as RV 30. It is frequently (and sometimes disastrously) confused for a NEMA 10–30. The RV receptacle is common in nearly all RV parks in the United States and Canada, and all but the largest RVs manufactured since the 1970s use this plug. The hot and neutral blades are angled at 45° from vertical and 90 degrees to each other, similar to NEMA 10 devices. The plug is slightly smaller than a NEMA 10 but larger than ordinary 5–15 plugs. The ground pin, however, is round, like those on straight-blade NEMA grounding devices. Referring to the diagram, the orientation is the same as the NEMA 5 plug and socket, with the receptacle neutral on the lower right. Due to the appearance of this plug, many people assume that it is to be wired for 240 V, but this is a 120 V device. Adapters exist with the TT–30 plug on one side and a 5–15 or 5–20 socket on the other side. When the cord is detachable from the RV an L5–30 is usually used on the RV end of the cord.

Twist-locking connectors

Twist-locking connectors were first invented by Harvey Hubbell III in 1938 and “Twist-Lock” remains a registered trademark of Hubbell Incorporated,[8] although the term is used generically to refer to NEMA locking connectors manufactured by any company. Locking connectors use curved blades. Once pushed into the receptacle, the plug is twisted and its now-rotated blades latch into the receptacle. To unlatch the plug, the rotation is reversed. The locking coupling makes for a more reliable connection in commercial and industrial settings, where vibration or incidental impact could disconnect a non-locking connector.

Locking connectors come in a variety of standardized configurations that follow the same general naming scheme except that the designations all begin with an “L” for “locking”. Locking connectors are designed so the different voltages and current ratings can not be accidentally intermated.[9] Many specific types exist; only a few are listed below. Other types include miniature locking connectors, and special purpose connectors for boats, 400 Hz circuits such as used for aircraft, and direct-current use.

One disadvantage of twist-lock connectors is that in the event that the cable is accidentally pulled too hard, rather than the plug falling out of the receptacle, the exposed conductors may come out of the plug, causing dangerous shorts or shock hazards if the circuit is live.


NEMA L5 connectors are a series of locking connectors with a maximum specified voltage of 125 V. Supply connections are intended to be single-pole hot-neutral-ground circuits with a nominal voltage of 120 V RMS.


NEMA L6 connectors are used with circuits with a maximum specified voltage of 250 V. Supply connections are intended to be two-pole, three wire hot-hot-ground circuit with nominal supply voltage of 240 V or 208 V depending on phase configuration. The L6 connector does not provide a neutral line.

L6-20 and L6-30 connectors are commonly found on in-rack power distribution units in countries where the mains supply voltage is greater than 120 V. They are also found in the US for heavy-duty 240V equipment such as welders, where the higher supply voltage allows a lower current draw. These connectors are thus found where industrial equipment or large power tools are commonplace.


NEMA L7 connectors are used with circuits with a maximum specified voltage of 277 V AC. Supply connections are intended to be single-pole, three-wire hot-neutral-ground circuits with a nominal supply voltage of 265 V.

Typically, these connectors are found in commercial or industrial lighting circuits, especially where metal halide lamps are common.


NEMA L8 connectors are used with circuits with a maximum specified voltage of 480 V AC. Supply connections are intended to be two-pole, three-wire hot-hot-ground circuits with a nominal supply voltage of 460 V.


NEMA L9 connectors are used with circuits with a maximum specified voltage of 600 V AC. Supply connections are intended to be two-pole, three-wire hot-hot-ground circuits with a nominal supply voltage of 600 V.


NEMA L14 connectors are used with circuits with a maximum specified voltage of 125/250 V. Supply connections are intended to be two-pole, four-wire hot-hot-neutral-ground circuits with a nominal supply voltages of 240 V or 208 V hot-to-hot and 120 V hot-to-neutral.

These connectors are common on household backup generators, and on racks of power amplifiers in large audio systems.


NEMA L15 connectors are used with circuits with a maximum specified voltage of 250 V AC. Supply connections are intended to be three-phase, four-wire L-L-L-G circuits with a nominal supply voltage of 208 V L-L (wye three phase) or 240 V L-L (delta three phase).


NEMA L16 connectors are used with circuits with a maximum specified voltage of 480 V AC. Supply connections are intended to be three-phase, four-wire L-L-L-G circuits with a nominal supply voltage of 460 V.


NEMA L17 connectors are used with circuits with a maximum specified voltage of 600 V AC. Supply connections are intended to be three-phase, four-wire L-L-L-G circuits with a nominal supply voltage of 600 V.


NEMA L18 connectors are used with circuits with a maximum specified voltage of 120/208 V AC. Supply connections are intended to be wye three-phase, four-wire L-L-L-N circuits with a nominal supply voltage of 208 V L-L and 120 V L-N.


L21–30 plug and receptacle

NEMA L21 connectors are used with circuits with a maximum specified voltage of 120/208 V AC. Supply connections are intended to be wye three-phase, five-wire L-L-L-N-G circuits with a nominal supply voltage of 208 V L-L and 120 V L-N.

These three-phase connections include neutral and ground. The pin in the middle is ground, and the blade with a right angle on the tab is neutral.


NEMA L22 connectors are used with circuits with a maximum specified voltage of 277/480 V AC. Supply connections are intended to be three-phase, five-wire L-L-L-N-G circuits with a nominal supply voltage of 460 V L-L and 265 V L-N.


NEMA L23 connectors are used with circuits with a maximum specified voltage of 347/600 V AC. Supply connections are intended to be three-phase, five-wire L-L-L-N-G circuits with a nominal supply voltage of 600 V L-L and 347 V L-N.

Special safety features

Over time, electrical codes in the U.S. and Canada began to require special safety features in the basic NEMA 5-15R and 5-20R configurations to address specific electric shock hazard concerns. The safety features listed below are not mutually exclusive; tamper resistant GFCI receptacle outlets are sold.[10]

Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacles

Type B (NEMA 5–15) GFCI receptacle

These versions of the 5–15 or 5-20 receptacle are residual-current devices and have Test and Reset buttons (and sometimes an indicator light). In the U.S. and Canada, they are required in many potentially wet locations, including outside outlets, bathrooms, some places in kitchens, basements, and crawl spaces.[11] They work by comparing the current going out on the hot line, to the current returning on the neutral line, and will disconnect the circuit if the difference exceeds 4–6 milliamperes. They are cheaper than GFCI circuit breakers and can be wired to feed additional "downstream" outlets so that putting one GFCI receptacle in a circuit will protect all the plugs, lights, and switches downstream from it. They are also recommended for power tool outlets and locations where children might insert conductive objects into the receptacles.[11]

Tamper-resistant receptacles

Starting with the 2008 National Electrical Code[12] and the 2009 Canadian Electrical Code,[13] listed tamper-resistant receptacles that address electric shock hazards to children must now be installed in almost all areas of new or renovated dwellings. According to statistics cited by the NFPA, the code change adds only $40 to the cost of building an average, 75-receptacle home in the U.S., yet prevents shock hazards to a child that sticks a single, metal object into the receptacle. The new receptacles are expected to reduce the number of electric shocks to children because inserting a normal, two-prong electrical plug applies pressure on both sides of the outlet to open an internal, spring-loaded shutter, but a foreign object fails to do so and therefore does not make contact with the live electrical contacts.[14] However, the device can still be defeated by inserting two objects simultaneously. Despite its weaknesses, the tamper-resistant receptacle is believed to be vastly superior to protective plastic outlet caps (they need to be individually installed to each receptacle and are a choking hazard when removed) and sliding covers that children easily learn to defeat.[12]

Leak-current detection and interruption (LCDI) plugs

Because portable air conditioners have caused many electrical fires, those sold in the United States now must have leak-current detection and interruption (LCDI) plugs. The cords have a fine wire mesh around the conductors and circuitry to detect any current leaking from the conductors to the mesh, which would happen if the cord were damaged or frayed. These could be NEMA 5–15, 5–20, 6–15, 6–20 or 6–30 plugs, depending on the air conditioner. The plug is equipped with “Test” and “Reset” buttons on the housing.

Color code

The color of a device neither identifies its voltage class nor power system. Because the colors are not regulated by national standards, the purpose of color-coding a receptacle is set by the building owner. In this case, building owners may select brown, ivory, white, almond, grey, and black receptacles in the 5–15 configuration to blend with the decor of a room.

However, while colors are not regulated by NEMA, some industries utilize colors for certain applications:

  • Blue receptacles may indicate built-in surge suppressors.
  • A red receptacle may indicate a special-service outlet such as one connected to an emergency standby power source.
  • At least one manufacturer makes a yellow receptacle which identifies it as corrosion-resistant.
  • An orange receptacle in telecommunication or data center usage may indicate the receptacle or plate pair is on a dedicated circuit, and not shared with other receptacles. This information, along with receptacle type (often 5-20R, L5-20R or L5-30R in North America) may be used to determine how much equipment may safely be installed.
  • A receptacle with a green dot is a so-called “hospital grade” device; such devices are tested to survive harder use than wiring devices intended for residential or commercial purposes.
  • A receptacle with an orange triangle is an isolated ground device, where the grounding pin of the receptacle is connected to ground independently of the frame of the receptacle and wiring outlet box. The receptacle itself may be any color, though older common convention in the United States specified an orange receptacle rather than an orange triangle on the receptacle.[15]

Break-away tabs

Duplex receptacles usually have break-away tabs to separate the top and bottom halves so that the two outlets can be placed on separate circuits.[16] This may allow for one switched outlet for a lamp or for two circuits to be used when heavy loads are anticipated. Two branch circuits may share a neutral terminating on duplex receptacles, a condition sometimes referred to as "split-wiring", "split-receptacle",[17] or "half-split".

Neglecting to break the tabs when replacing a split-receptacle can result in a 240V line-to-line fault.

See also


  1. ^ ANSI/NEMA WD–6, the standard for US electric power connectors
  2. ^ ANSI/NEMA WD–6 Wiring Devices Dimensional Specifications, page 17
  3. ^ Hubbell 2-pole 2-wire Straight-Blade Devices
  4. ^
  5. ^ Campbell, Drew (2002). Technical Film and TV for Nontechnical People. Allworth. pp. 133. ISBN 1581152299. Retrieved 2010-02-16. 
  6. ^ Box, Harry C. (2003). Set Lighting Technician's Handbook: Film Lighting Equipment, Practice, and Electrical Distribution (3rd ed.). Focal. pp. 20. ISBN 0240804953. Retrieved 2010-02-16. 
  7. ^ Patent 1,179,728 filed in 1915, can be seen at
  8. ^ Hubbell Corporate History
  9. ^ Hubbell Twist-Lock Wiring Devices and Safety Enclosures
  10. ^ "Tamper Resistant Receptacles: The New Standard of Electrical Safety". Hubbell Wiring Systems. Retrieved 18 October 2009. 
  11. ^ a b "GFCIs Fact Sheet". US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Retrieved 2010-05-04. 
  12. ^ a b "Tamper-Resistant Electrical Receptacles". National Fire Protection Association. Retrieved 18 October 2009. 
  13. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Child Safety Outlet. Retrieved 18 October 2009. 
  14. ^ "Hospital Grade Devices: Tamper Resistant Receptacles". Pass and Seymour Legrand. Retrieved 18 October 2009.
  15. ^ Knowledge and Know How
  16. ^
  17. ^

External links

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