Changing an Electrical Outlet

by Jason Dyck
(last updated June 28, 2013)

These days it seems just about everything around your house needs an outlet—or it has a charger that does. With all the use, eventually the outlets will wear out. Our home is fairly old, and the outlets are so worn out that some of them will not even hold the plug. That can be a fire hazard, as well as being annoying. So, it's time to change them out for some new ones. Before you get started, make sure you have the tools and parts you need:

  • Screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Masking tape
  • Pencil or pen
  • The new outlet

Note the rating of the new outlet. It should tell you how many amps it can handle. You will need this information later. Here is the process.

  1. Turn off the power. This is essential! Find your circuit breaker box, and turn off the breaker for the room the outlet is in. Just turning off a light switch will not do, you must cut off all electricity to the room, or you could easily end up dead. Using a voltage tester is best if you have access to one.
  2. Remove the cover. Use the screwdriver to remove the screw or screws holding the cover on and set the pieces aside where they will not get lost.
  3. Double check the power before proceeding. Make sure that there is no electricity coming to the outlet. You cannot be too careful. Try plugging something in to be sure. Some rooms may be on more than one circuit.
  4. Remove the outlet. Unscrew the screws holding the outlet to the wall, and pull the whole thing out of the wall. Set the screws aside with the cover.
  5. Check the outlet and wires. Now that you have it out, you need to make sure you have the right new outlet. Check the wires; they should be marked either 12 gauge or 14 gauge. If the wire says 12 gauge, make sure that the new outlet you have is rated for 20 amps. If it is not, do not install it. Go back to the store and exchange it for one that is.
  6. Label the wires. Using the tape and pencil, put a flag on each wire identifying where it attaches. This will make life easier when you connect them to the new outlet. There should be a black wire, a white wire, and a green or bare wire. The black is the live wire, the white is the neutral, and the green one is the ground wire. The ground wire may be attached to the box that holds the outlet and wires.
  7. Switch the outlets. Use the screwdriver to remove the screws holding the wires, and use the pliers to bend the wires as necessary. Bend the wires in a half-loop around the screws for the new outlet and attach the screws to the outlet according to the flags on the wires. Use the wire snip section of the pliers so that there is no more exposed wire than necessary. Have just enough wire showing to go around the screw. Remove the flags.
  8. Put the outlet back. Screw the new outlet to the wall where the old one was, and replace the cover.
  9. Restore power. Turn the breaker back on and try plugging something in to check that the outlet is working. If it does not, or if it makes a hissing or crackling noise, turn the breaker back off, open it up and double check your work. Good work!

Author Bio

Jason Dyck

Jason has been a cook, a hotel clerk, a website developer, a landscaper, a dance instructor, a financial auditor, and the list goes on. He holds Associate degrees in English and Social Science. Jason lives in Utah with his wife and two sons. ...

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