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How to Replace an Electrical Outlet

Updated on December 8, 2015

So you want to replace an electrical outlet in your home. We can DO that!!

Although it can be both scary and dangerous if your not careful, it's really not that hard to do.

In this article I'm going to teach you all you need to know to do it yourself!

As an electrical engineer, I learned to respect electricity and all that it can do. But you don't have to hire someone to do something as easy as replacing an electrical outlet (or also called a receptacle) in your house that is broken or just needs changing.

Doing small fix-it jobs yourself can be both rewarding and save you at ton of money.


Safety First - ALWAYS!!

ALWAYS be sure the power is off before trying to do ANY electrical work!

To do this, make sure the power to the outlet is turned off at the main service panel or also known as the fuse box. If your not sure which switch in the fuse box controls the outlet that you will be working on - just shut the whole thing down. It's better to be safe than sorry in these types of instances.

Let's check the outlet to make SURE the power is off.

Using a flat-head screwdriver, remove the screw(s) and take off the outlet cover (tape the screw to it so you won't lose it).

Using a voltage indicator is the best way to verify the electricity is off to the outlet. Insert the tip into the small slot (hot) if it's a two-pole polarized or two-pole three-wire grounding outlet. For a two-pole non-polarized receptacle, place the tip of the voltage indicator in the righ hand slot. Test all of the slots because the outlet may not have been wired correctly and you want to make sure it is dead before starting your repairs.

If the voltage indicator emits a continuous beeping sound and flashing light, then the electricity was NOT turned off properly - STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING, and go back to the main service panel (fuse box) and try it again. Do not continue the repairs until you are CERTAIN that there is no electricity going to the outlet!!!.


Removing the Old Outlet

Remove the screws that are holding the outlet to the electrical box in the wall and gently pull the outlet out.

Before removing any wires, be sure and mark each one with a piece of masking tape marking them as hot (black), neutral or also called cold (white), and grounding wires (green or bare copper). This will help you during the installation of the new outlet.

Next see if the wires are wrapped around terminals (screws) on the sides of the outlet or if they are inserted into holes in the back of it.

- If wires are attached around side terminals (screws), loosen the terminals with a screwdriver and detach the wires.

- If the wires are inserted into holes on the back of the outlet, place the head of a small flat-head screwdriver in the slot located next to each hole to release the wire and gently pull the wires out.


Installing the New Outlet

First you'll want to look at the old outlet and see if it has a metal tab between the two terminals on each side. If there isn't a tab (it's missing) on the hot side, it means that the outlet is controlled by a switch somewhere (usually a light switch on your wall). If this is the case, take some wire cutters and snip the metal tab off on the new outlet.

Next, you will need to have about 1/2 inch or so of bare wire ends before you can connect them to the new outlet so you may need to "strip" some of the insulation off of the wires you've removed from the old outlet. (This will depend on if you easily got the old wires out/off or if you had to cut them to get them off of the old outlet). To "strip" a wire, simply use a knife, needle-nose pliers, or wire cutters and cut some of the insulation (the plastic coating over the metal part of the wires) and remove it from the wires (be sure not to cut the actual metal wiring).

OK - your ready to start re-installing your wiring to the new outlet.

Always start by connecting the "green" or "bare copper" wire first as this is your grounding wire. Then the white wire, and finally the black wire. This is for safety reasons and is always "good safety practice".

- If your new outlet has screw terminals, Bend the tip of one wire into a loop with a pair of needle-nose pliers and curl it around the terminal (screws) in a clockwise direction. Then tighten the terminal (screws) with a screwdriver into place.

- if your new outlet has slots in the back of it, simply place a small flat-head screwdriver into the slot and slide the wire into the hole. Removing the screwdriver will "lock" the wire back into place.

Now repeat this process with all the other wires until all have been connected.

Gently slide the outlet back into the electrical box in the wall. Make SURE the grounding wire is NOT touching any of the other wires-if it is, simply use a screwdriver and bend it away from the other wires.

Once you have the outlet back in the wall, replace the screws connecting the outlet to the electrical box and turn the power at the main service panel (fuse box) back on.

Plug in your appliances and you're good to go!!


You DID It!!

Congratulations - you've just changed an electrical outlet!!

It really isn't all that hard, but can be intimidating the first time you try it. Just remember to ALWAYS be safe when working with electricity.

I'll be posting more home improvement tips and Do It Yourself articles later, so bookmark me and check back often!

© 2012 Laura Rash


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