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I haven't noticed these over the years I've owned my home. Only recently I happened to look down and think "huh, that's odd, why are those outlets colored bright orange." I have, over the years, realized that color around electrical components matters.

enter image description here

So I Googled a bit about orange outlets but in most applications it seems to be used in hospitals. I've also found articles about it being a hospital-grade isolated ground outlet, but from a home owner's perspective, I have no idea why this is helpful. At the same time, the original homeowner clearly thought this would be a useful feature. So I'm just trying to figure out why.

Per request in the comments, I've added an image of the breaker panel open: Breaker panel open Breaker panel without zoom

(without the zoom of the above picture)

Note: Ignore the yellow stickers / red arrows. This image is from my initial home inspection which was pointing out some issues with oversized breakers. Those issues are resolved and I assume they don't affect these outlets. Sorry about the image quality, the original image was not very high res.

Inside the outlet box:

I apologize, but this is as close to disassembling the outlet as I'm comfortable with. I understand if your first impression is "those pictures are worthless", but I figured I'd post them in the event that they help in any way.

Overview of Outlet Box Overall view of the outlet with the box opened.

Top of Outlet Box Close up of the top of the outlet box.

Bottom of Outlet Box Close up of the bottom of the outlet box.

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    Can you turn the breaker powering it off, open up the outlet box, and post photos of the wiring inside it? – ThreePhaseEel Mar 1 '20 at 14:45
  • you've got everyone curious as to whether the outlets are grounded, but don't feel bad if you leave us in suspense. – Jasen Mar 2 '20 at 10:00
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    There is also the possibility that it's one the original electrician had handy. I know there is a specific purpose in mind behind brightly colored outlets, but I have come across some strange stuff in my 100 year old house that can easily be explained by "well, that's what the guy had in his truck and he didn't feel like going to the hardware store. Not saying that's the case here, but I have seen some stuff like that. – Paul TIKI Mar 2 '20 at 19:31
  • @ThreePhaseEel - I know this is over a year late, but I've added some additional images of inside my electrical panel and some images inside of the outlet box per your request. Not sure if they help given their quality, but figured I should follow up; better late than never. – William 2 days ago
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That recep appears to be right next to your service panel, connected to the panel by a 1" conduit nipple.

That makes it the "magic electrician's outlet".

It's not required by Code. It's just a "common practice" for an electrician to fit such an outlet, and place it on a dedicated circuit breaker. This costs about $10 normally ($5 for the breaker, $1 for the nipple, $1 for the Handy Box, and $3 for a quality recfep and cover). This is generally the first breaker installed in the panel. The electrician then runs extension cords off it to power tools and lights while wiring the rest of the house. Alternately, the electrician can power down the whole house (except that one circuit) and do the needed tasks.

Since it is dog simple, only the two THHN wires to the recep (ground is via the steel conduit itself), it's very easy for the electrician to visually inspect that it cannot possibly be interacting with any other circuit in the house. So the electrician can be confident that the entire house is powered down.

I'm not sure why your electrician would use an orange one. I would look closely at how it is grounded to the ground screw on the receptacle. Perhaps the electrician wired it intentionally groundless for some reason, in which case I would hope and expect to see it fed from a GFCI breaker.

Once, a person complained that they were having breaker trips trying to power a gaming PC, laser printer, and (not surprisingly) air conditioner in their home office on a single 15A breaker. They simply needed another circuit run. How far is the service panel? "It's actually in this room. Here's a pic." Et voilà, there was the Magic Electrician's Outlet, and on a 20A breaker no less. Problem solved!

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    The green grounding screw and grounding contacts are separated from the yoke in an isolated ground receptacle. If this isn't an isolated ground, you'd have to connect the ground screw to the metal box to ground the outlet... Right? – JACK Mar 2 '20 at 0:59
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    @JACK holy smoke, good point. I wonder if the electrician even realized that. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Mar 2 '20 at 1:05
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    That why I mentioned in my answer to make sure the outlet is actually grounded... oh, I hate holy smoke....lol – JACK Mar 2 '20 at 1:11
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    It means JACK caught something I missed. I got derailed by orange meaning hospital grade. You could stick a magic 8-ball 3-lamp tester in there and see if you get 2 happy lights. You could also see if the breaker that turns it off is a GFCI breaker. (By convention they typically put that breaker on the bottom right or botton left). – Harper - Reinstate Monica Mar 2 '20 at 1:26
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    If you don't have a magic 8 ball tester but have a voltage meter, connect it to the smaller slot on the receptacle (hot) and the ground contact. If you get 120V, you're grounded (in a good sense) – JACK Mar 2 '20 at 1:34
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The orange colored outlets are installed for an isolated ground. They are electrically the same as regular outlets, except they're built better and the yoke of the outlet is not tied to the grounding screw of the outlet. I've only seen them used with metal conduit and the circuit has its own dedicated insulated ground which goes back to the original ground connection and usually has its own buss bar. The previous owner might have installed it for some sensitive battery backup systems, who knows. No need to replace it as it will do the job fine. I'd verify that the outlet is, in fact grounded with its own ground wire as the yoke to box will not ground it, which shouldn't be done anyway.

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    This makes more sense in terms of why the previous owner might have wanted it. When posting this I was thinking someone would say "you idiot, this is standard because they allow the power company to do x, y, z if something goes wrong" or something like that. But maybe the previous owner just needed them for some niche use? I honestly would never use these myself. They're outside of the breaker box, but they're inside of a box around the breaker box, so they're not "easy access". In addition, there are normal floor level outlets right around it, so I'd use those before ever touching these. – William Mar 1 '20 at 15:26
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    Note that the triangle on the outlet face is the symbol for isolated ground. The color itself can vary, with orange being the most common. – Machavity Mar 2 '20 at 13:32
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    You use isolated ground receptacle to take the electrical noise off the circuit – Michael Mar 2 '20 at 21:58
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Unlike the usual white / ivory / brown receptacles, an orange receptacle isn't just colored differently, it's constructed differently and is electrically different. It's intended to reduce noise on the grounded metal components of the system from reaching sensitive equipment plugged into that receptacle. It's required by code in health care facilities and used to be popular for IT equipment. It's sometimes used with audio / sound equipment. The way the isolated ground is wired, it really wouldn't do much this close to your panel.

I wouldn't make any assumptions about why the previous owner used this. They might have just picked it for the color. They might have wanted the color to signal there's something different about this receptacle, or for no reason at all. They may or may not have wired it correctly.

I'd replace it with a regular receptacle, and verify that the wiring is normal and correct.

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    Why replace it? I see no benefit from, or need for that here. While the nature of the IG outlet may not do much that close to the panel, they are perfectly functional outlets, and commonly higher quality than average home-store junk. – Ecnerwal Mar 1 '20 at 12:50
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    Appreciate the answer, but in terms of replacing it I agree with @Ecnerwal. I don't really plan to use these ever. I honestly assumed it'd have something to do with my electrical panel like test outlets or something. There are normal plugs at floor level right around it, so I'd use those normally. I appreciate the clarification about how this type of outlet is constructed differently, that does help me understand the difference. – William Mar 1 '20 at 15:35
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    @ecnerwal and OP - if you can verify that the isolated ground was done correctly, yes it's fine. If however it was not, the equipment ground on equipment plugged in may be floating, which can be a hazard. I would not assume it was done correctly, because it's very odd to see in a residence. I'd rather just have a standard outlet so nobody's confused in the future. If this is a basement or other location requiring GFCI, install a GFCI receptacle while you're at it. – batsplatsterson Mar 1 '20 at 18:09
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    @batsplatsterson Can you clarify on what qualifies as "done correctly"? I'm more that happy to follow up, I just need to know what to follow up with. – William Mar 2 '20 at 2:05
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    @william, I'd mainly just make sure the receptacle's ground terminal is connected. It should have a separate insulated wire going to the ground bar in the panel. If it has a ground jumper to the box, it's not correct but safe. If someone left the ground terminal with no connection, or a jumper to neutral, that's no good. Sometimes you see isolated ground bastardized to reduce hum with sound / audio which is ultimately equivalent to just snapping the ground prong off the equipment, or using a three prong to two prong adapter without connecting the ground lug. – batsplatsterson Mar 2 '20 at 9:27
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At the public schools, orange outlets are energized when the school is running on generator and the grid is down.

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    Red is also used for that. – JACK Mar 2 '20 at 18:33
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Orange receptacles have grounds that are isolated from the standard ground and conduit. On a standard receptacle the ground and conduit can be a ground loop and act as an antenna for EMF from other electrical or extraneous sources. It's usually more effective on longer runs (longer antennas).

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  • I would think the real win would be with giving each outlet its own "home-run" safety-ground connection to the panel ground, so that if a nearby piece of equipment has a sufficient ground fault to momentarily create a few volts drop in the ground wire, that wouldn't affect the equipment with a home-run grounding lead to the panel. – supercat Mar 3 '20 at 17:27

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