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How to change an outlet

How to change an outlet

So changing a switch plate is easy enough but what if someone chose the ugliest dark brown outlets for every receptacle in your house? You would get really good at changing outlets I bet. Literally every outlet in our house was the ugliest dark brown and with the new crisp white walls they just had to go, so I learned how to change them and it has made all the difference! 

What you need:

  1. New outlet - of the appropriate amperage for your circuit (See Step 1 for more information)
  2. New switch plate
  3. Screwdriver
  4. Electrical test meter and receptacle tester (Recommended but not required)

The electrical panel for APTA

The electrical panel for APTA

Step 1: Turn off the power

First let me say that this is the most important step by far. If you are not comfortable turning off the power or do not know your houses electrical system well stop now and find someone who is. Have them walk you through this the first time for sure. I turn off the main switch just to be sure that there is no power coming into the house, it just makes me more comfortable. You can check that the power is off at the outlet with an electrical test meter or by plugging something in and seeing if it turns on. The switch on your electrical panel should indicate the amperage of the circuit you are working on (usually this will be 15amps or 20amps). This can get tricky if your panel is not labeled, in that case you can always check the old outlet when you remove it. Most newer outlets will be marked on the back.  


The exposed wires after the old outlet is removed

The exposed wires after the old outlet is removed

Step 2: Remove the old outlet

Once you know the power is off you can start removing the old outlet. Remove the old face plate to expose the outlet and remove the two screws from the top and bottom of the outlet connecting the outlet to the box. Now you should be able to pull the outlet out of the box to expose the wires connected to the sides of the outlet. There are three types of wires - white, black and ground. Here is all you have to know about the color of the wires.

 

  • The white "neutral" wire - this wire is connected to the silver screws
  • The black "hot" wire - this wire is connected to the brass or bronze-colored screw, it is fed from the circuit breaker to deliver power to the outlet
  • The ground (bare copper) wire - this wire connects to the green ground screw usually found on the bottom of the outlet

In most cases you will have one of each type of wire but depending on how the circuit is wired (if you outlet is connected to a switch, etc.) in my case there are two of each - 2 black wires, 2 white wires and 2 grounds. The process is the same either way. 

Free the old outlet from all of the wires by loosening the screws. If you are having a hard time freeing the outlet, you can remove the screws entirely. You will know the screw is close to coming out entirely when it starts to get harder to loosen. 


Securing the black wires to the bronze screws on the new outlet

Securing the black wires to the bronze screws on the new outlet

Step 3: Connect the new outlet 

Now connect the new outlet - connect the wires to the appropriate screws. The wires should already have a hook shape from being connected to the old outlet but you can bend them a little more or less if needed (just try not to over do it on the bending). In some cases if you are replacing an old outlet the silver and bronze screws might be in different locations but just remember this - 

White wire = Silver screw

Black wire = Bronze screw

Ground/ bare wire  = Green/ bottom screw

So In my case I have 2 black wires connected to 2 brass screws (on the right of the outlet), 2 white wires connected to two silver screws (on the left of the outlet), and two ground connected to the single green ground screw on the bottom left of the outlet). 


New outlet wrapped in electrical tape

New outlet wrapped in electrical tape

Pro Tip for Electrical Safety:

Before securing the outlet to the wall wrap the exposed wires and screws with electrical tape. This is an extra safety step that will help prevent someone from getting shocked if they are poking around in the electrical box with the power on. 


New outlet secured to the wall

New outlet secured to the wall

Step 4: Secure the outlet to the wall

Now push the outlet back into the box and secure it using the screws at the top and bottom of the outlet. Replace the switch plate ans you're done! Check that the outlet is wired correctly with a receptacle tester and switch back on the power at the electrical panel. If you don't hear a pop you're good to go :) 

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