How to Replace an Electrical Outlet

Introduction: How to Replace an Electrical Outlet

There are many reasons to replace an electrical outlet, whether it be to get rid of an outlet that is old and worn out, or to upgrade to an outlet that contains USB charging ports. Many people are hesitant to tamper with electrical wiring, and fear that they lack the skill and knowledge to be able to safely undertake such a task. Although it is always a good idea to hire a licensed electrician to perform any major electrical job, replacing an already-existing outlet is simple enough to be performed by virtually anyone. The process takes only 15-30 minutes, and requires minimal tools.

Step 1: Required Materials

  • Flathead screwdriver: The majority of screw in outlets can be manipulated by this screwdriver
  • Needle-nose pliers: Used to bend wire leads around connection screws
  • Wire cutters: Needed to trim wires and strip insulation
  • Ruler: Used to measure length of exposed wire.
  • Lamp, fan or other small appliance: must give an evident indication that it is plugged in (ie: light, noise, etc), used to determine when outlet is de-energized
  • Multimeter: Used to ensure outlet is de-energized
  • Tape and marker: Used to label wire leads, needed if wires are not color coded.

Optional Items

  • Philips screwdriver: Some outlet covers require a Philips screwdriver to remove.
  • Wire stripper: Makes stripping the insulation off of the wires easier

Step 2: Shut Off the Power

DANGER: Electric shock can cause injury or death! Ensure that the power to the outlet is completely shut off before beginning work.

This is the most important step in the procedure- once the electricity to the outlet is shut off, it is safe to handle the wires behind the electrical outlet

1. Plug a fan, lamp or other small appliance into the outlet and turn it on. It should be obvious that the appliance is receiving power from the outlet, as in image 2.1.

2. Go to the breaker box and flip the breaker powering the outlet to the OFF position. If the correct breaker was tripped, the appliance that was plugged in should now be de-energized, as seen in the above images. If this is not the case, you must try again by tripping another breaker. If you are unfamiliar with the electrical wiring of your house, this may take several tries.

3. Use your multimeter to verify that the circuit is de-energized. This step is to reaffirm that there is no power to the outlet. Make sure that the multimeter is set to AC mode, and be sure to check for electric potential between all three of the openings.

Note: If the outlet you are replacing doesn't work, even with the breakers shut, the individual leads must be checked with a multimeter to ensure they are de-energized once the outlet has been pulled out from the wall. This must be done BEFORE you try to manipulate any of the wires.

Step 3: Remove the Old Outlet From the Wall

1. Unscrew and remove the old outlet cover.

2. Unscrew the old outlet from the conduit box, and pull it forward, towards you. The wires connected to the outlet should now be exposed.

3. Identify the leads, or wires connected to the outlet. The wires should be color coded according to their purpose, as seen in image 3.2. If they are not, they can be identified by labels on the outlet itself, or the color of the screws that they are wrapped around. There are three types of wire leads in standard outlets:

-Ground Lead: Green, looped around a green or black screw.

-Neutral Lead: White, looped around a silver screw, depending on the outlet, there may be two of these.

-Hot Lead: Red, looped around a red or gold screw, depending on the outlet, there may be two of these.

Note:If the color of the wires does not match the description below, be sure to label them with a piece of tape before removing them from the outlet.

Step 4: Detach the Wires From the Old Outlet

1. With a flathead screwdriver, loosen the screws holding the wires in place.

2. Remove wires from around the screws using needle nose pliers. Refer to image 4.2. If you are unable to easily remove the wires, you can cut the outlet free using wire cutters. Be careful to trim off as little of the wire as possible. You should have three (or up to five) wires hanging out of the wall with nothing attached to them.

Step 5: Wire the New Outlet

1. Identify where each wire should attach to the new outlet. This can normally be done by looking for labels on the new outlet itself. Additionally, new outlets generally have instructions with a diagram of where each of the wires should go.

Note: Wires can be connected to terminals by either being wrapped around a screw, or inserted into a hole in the back of the outlet. The method used is based upon the design of the outlet you are installing. The outlet shown above connected to the hot and neutral lead through openings in the back of the outlet. The ground terminal was designed for the wire to be wrapped around the screw. Regardless of the method used to connect the wire, tightening the screw will fasten the wire in place.

2. Trim or strip the wires to expose the desired amount of metal. Refer to image 5.2. If the wire is to be looped around a screw, about 1 inch of exposed metal is sufficient. If wire is to be inserted into the back of the outlet, about 1/2 inch of metal should be exposed.

Tip:Try to minimize the amount of stress you place on the wire. Although wire is flexible by nature, repeatedly bending the wire may cause it to break.

3. Attach the wires to their corresponding terminals, and tighten the screw to secure them. There should not be a large amount of bare wire extending from the screws and/or holes. A small amount of wire, as can be seen in image 5.4, is alright. If there is an excessive amount of bare wire, remove the wire lead and trim it.

4. Gently tug on each of the wires to ensure that they are tightly fastened. Loose connections can result in a safety hazard.

Step 6: Test New Outlet

1. Carefully push the outlet back into the wall, fastening screws to hold in place. Depending on the length and type of wires used, this may require some finagling.

2. Plug in the appliance used in step 1. The appliance should still be set to on, even though no power is applied. This way, as soon as power is restored to the outlet, it will be obvious that the electronic device has become energized.

3. Shut the breaker to the outlet. The appliance should be energized, as seen in image 6.3. If this is the case, the outlet has been wired correctly. If not, there is an issue with one or more of the connections that must be corrected.

DANGER: From this point forward, the outlet is powered, and can pose an electrical hazard. Do not insert objects such as screwdrivers into the outlet, or touch the wires behind the outlet. De-energize the circuit before attempting to make further adjustments to the wires.

Step 7: Attach Outlet Cover

1.Tighten the screws holding the outlet in the wall. This ensures that the outlet will remain stable when things are plugged into it.

2. Place cover over outlet and secure with screws. Tightening the screws on the outlet cover too tightly can cause it to crack. Only tighten screws until the cover is held against the wall.

Congratulations! You have successfully replaced the electrical outlet. You can expect to be able to enjoy the reliable power output for years to come. Go ahead, charge your phone, plug in your laptop. You deserve it.

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    2 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Nicely done! I might have to try this...


    4 years ago

    Very nice work, and well presented! :)