Welcome to one of my favorite things. I've spent the better part of 20 years working on my home, and I'd like to share with you what I have learned. I hope you enjoy it, and maybe learn a thing or two.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Changing An Electrical Outlet

If you live in an older house like I do, one of the biggest eye sores can be your electrical outlet and switches. These are not very hard to replace as long as you take a few simple safety precautions.

Today we will attack the outlet. I was moving some furniture around the other day and found one little lone plug that did not get replaced in the remodel. This is lucky for you because you can watch me replace it. This time we will only work with a correctly functioning outlet. We will cover a non-functioning outlet later because that is a whole different animal.

Before you start, READ EVERYTHING! Make sure that you are confident you understand the directions. I am NOT a licensed contractor. If that alone makes you uncomfortable, STOP, but I have easily replaced 100 of these. I think I can walk you through it. =)

What you will need:

1- 15 amp grounding receptacle (this is a standard plug)
2- A new cover plate for the outlet (optional)
3- Straight and Phillips head screwdriver
4- Needle nosed pliers
5- Electrical wire strippers (you may not need these, but you won’t know until you remove the old receptacle)

If your receptacle does NOT look like this, DO NOT proceed.

First, turn the power off to the outlet. Do this by plugging a light or a radio into the outlet and turn it on.

 The light that I have used, checks to see if everything is wired correctly. This is handy because before you start, you know that there are no problems with the wiring. You can buy one of these at any home improvement store for about $5 to $7.

Now, go to your breaker box and one by one turn off the circuit breakers until the radio or light has turned off. Once it is off, it is safe to handle the wires. I know it still makes you nervous to touch them. I still feel that sense of hesitation even though I know I won’t get shocked. It’s normal.

Take your straight screwdriver and remove the cover plate from the plug.

 You will see that the plug is held in by two more screws at the top and bottom of the plug. Remove these screws also. Pull the receptacle so that you can see the wires attached to it.

There should either be 1 black wire, 1 white wire and one green or copper wires attached, or there should be 2 black, 2 white and 1 green or copper wires attached. There might be more than one green or copper wire. (If there is, someone was just lazy, and it really doesn’t make a difference. IMPORTANT! IF NEITHER OF THESE TWO CONFIGURATIONS IS WHAT YOU SEE, SCREW THE PLUG BACK INTO THE WALL AND PUT THE COVER PLATE BACK ON. THESE INSTRUCTIONS WILL NOT WORK FOR YOU.

Time to remove the wires. Make sure that, when you pull out the receptacle, that there is enough wire to work with. If the wires are too short and barely come out of the receptacle box, you may want to choose not to replace it at this time because if you have to cut the wires, you may not have enough wire to attach it to the new receptacle. If everything looks good, the wires will come off one of two ways. If you have plenty of wire, just cut the wire right at the receptacle. (easy) If the wires are pushed into small holes in the back of the plug, it is easier to just cut them. They don’t pull out of those holes very easily, and you may damage the insulation around the wire trying to pull it out. If the wires are bent around the screws on the side of the plug, you may choose to loosen the screws and pull the wires off. My suggestion, just cut them =).

Separate your wires. Black on the right side, White on the left and Green or Copper at the bottom.

If you need to strip your wires, take your wire strippers and strip the insulation from the wire. ONLY A HALF OF AN INCH.

Look at the new receptacle. You need to identify certain parts. The Green screw is for attaching the ground wire. (The green or copper wire.) The side of the Brass or Gold color screws will be marked “HOT” wire. This side is for attaching the Black wire or wires. The side with the Silver screws may or may not be marked “WHITE”. This side is for the white wires. Make sure that you understand where all of these parts are before you begin.

First, bend the top of the green or copper wire at the top to make a hook at attach it to the green screw at the bottom of the receptacle. Tighten the green screw to hold the wire in place.

Now attach the white wire or wires to the silver screws. This can be done one of two ways. You can attach it in the same manner as the green wire or if it is available on the receptacle that you purchased, you can simply push the wires in to the holes in the back of the receptacle. Whichever manner you choose be certain that you are attaching the white wires on the side with the SILVER screws!

Attach the Black wire or wires in the exact same manner as the white wires. Be certain that the Black wires are being attached on the side with the BRASS or GOLD colored screws.

You will notice that I chose to wrap my wires around the screws. I just prefer this method.

Next, make sure that no matter how you attached the wires, that you tighten ALL the screws on each side.

Now push the receptacle and the wires back into the box. (There is no delicate way to do this.) Attach the receptacle to the wall, and put the cover plate back on.

Here is the moment of truth! Plug a light or a radio in, and turn in on. Go to your breaker box and turn the circuit breaker back on. Check the light or radio and make sure it is working. If it is, you follow directions well.

 If it is not working, you did something wrong, and you need to go back to the top and start over!

Happy Fixing!


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