How to Replace an Outlet

Unless you have a newly built house, chances are you have at least one old, ugly, and perhaps even damaged electrical outlet in your home. Fortunately, you don’t have to be an electrician to learn how to safely change an outlet. As long as you’re careful to shut off the power to the receptacle before you start work, replacing an outlet is easy.


You’ll need a voltage tester, wire cutters, wire strippers (sometimes you can get these two in the same tool), electrical tape, and, of course, a new outlet. Make sure to replace any ungrounded outlets with three-prong grounded outlets. If you’re replacing an outlet in the kitchen or bathroom, local building codes probably require you to use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. You may want to consider replacing your old-fashioned outlets with USB outlets so you can ditch the wall adapters for all your gadgets.


Turn Off the Power

Before you begin work on your electrical outlets, you need to shut off power to the circuit you’ll be working on at the breaker box. Your breakers should be labeled so you can identify which circuits power which rooms and appliances, but if you’re not sure which breaker to turn off, play it safe and turn them all off.


Test the Outlet

Once the power is safely off, test the outlet with a voltage tester. This will confirm that there’s no electrical current running to the outlet before you start poking around in there with conductive metal tools. If there’s still voltage in the outlet after you’ve turned it off at the breaker, that means there’s another circuit powering that outlet, or it could mean that you turned off the wrong breaker. You can use the voltage tester and the elimination process to figure out which breaker or breakers you need to turn off to cut power to the outlet.


Remove the Old Receptacle

Unscrew the faceplate, or pop it off if it’s one of the kind that just snaps on. You’ll see a screw at the top and bottom of the outlet. These hold the outlet in place. Remove them and gently pull the outlet out of the wall.

If you’re replacing a grounded three-prong outlet, you should see three wires coming out of the wall and wrapping around three different screws on the sides and back of the receptacle. You should see a black and a white wire -- these are your live wires. They provide power to the outlet. The green or bare copper wire is the ground. 

Loosen the screws holding these wires in place and gently unwind the wires. Inspect the wires -- if the ends look broken or frayed, snip them off with your wire cutters and strip a little more of the wires so you can rewire your new outlet with fresh, solid wire.


Wire Up the New Receptacle

On your new outlet, you’ll see three screws or sets of screws. They’re color-coded: Silver, brass, and green. The black wire connects to the brass screw; the white wire connects to the silver screw; and the ground wire connects to the green screw.

Loosen the screws on your new receptacle and wrap the bare ends of your wires around the appropriate screws, so that when you tighten the screws back down, there isn’t a lot of bare wire hanging out exposed around the sides. Wrap the wires in a clockwise direction, so that tightening the screws clamps them down instead of pushing them off. 

If you don’t have a green ground wire in your outlet, never fear. The outlet box inside the wall may be grounded; you can test this by placing one prong of your circuit tester in the short slot of the receptacle (when it has power) and touching the other to one of the screws that holds the faceplate down. The tester should light up if the box is grounded. If it isn’t, take an eight-inch length of green grounding wire and attach one bare end to the grounding screw on the outlet and the other to the grounding screw on the back of the outlet box.


Replace the Faceplate and Restore Power

Gently push the new outlet back into the box, and reattach the screws holding the outlet in place. Make sure it’s straight. Replace the faceplate, restore power, and test the voltage flowing to the outlet.

DIY tips are for informational purposes only. Please be sure to take the appropriate safety precautions and ensure your project complies with any applicable federal, state, or local laws and regulations. 

AHS assumes no responsibility, and specifically disclaims all liability, for your use of any and all information contained herein.

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