How to Replace an Electrical Outlet. Seriously, YOU can do this.

Sometimes you become immune to the ugly stuff in your house. Like old, gross electrical outlets.  Fear not.  There’s nothing scary or hard about it. You CAN replace an electrical outlet.  This tutorial walks you, a homeowner, through how to replace an electrical outlet in a real life situation.

White brick wall with wide white baseboard, dark brown, paint splattered old electrical outlet in the middle of the baseboard.

Jump right to the Quick View Tutorial.

 

Isn’t she a beaut?  The elegant lines, the contrasting colour that makes her stand out and demand attention in the middle of the baseboard, the paint artfully slopped all over it.

Behold THE HAGGARD, HORRIBLE OUTDATED, OUTLET.

At least it’s near the ground.  When I first moved into my house the majority of the outlets were 3 feet off of the ground, waist level on the walls for some reason.  I suspect the previous owners had no knees.

I’ve wanted to move this plug closer to the corner of the room as opposed to being in the middle of it for ages but … well I  just haven’t had time in the past 18 years. You know how it is.

I finally gave up on the bigger job of moving it and resolved to at least change out the receptacle to something less bossy.

I am a firm believer that you shouldn’t do anything around your house that has the potential to kill you. Things like roofing work, installing an electrical panel or running on newly waxed floors while wearing socks.

But this?  Replacing an electric outlet.  That?  THAT you can do without fear of death.

 

How to Replace an Electrical Outlet.

1. TURN THE POWER OFF to the area you’re working on. Better yet. Just cut the breaker to the whole house if you aren’t sure about which breaker or fuse powers the outlet you’re working on.

Electrical panel with one breaker turned off.

 

2. Remove the face plate to the electrical outlet.

Removing ugly brown, paint splattered face plate from outlet in white baseboard.

 

3. Remove the electrical outlet from the box by unscrewing the visible screws.

Unscrewing brown electrical outlet from box in white painted baseboard while cute Burmese cat looks on.

 

4. Pull the outlet away from the box.

Old,dusty electrical outlet pulled out of wall with wires still attached.

Seems I got paint splattered on more than the receptacle. Heh. I’ll deal with that later.

Don’t even ASK me when this outlet was originally installed but there were some issues. For some reason the ground wire was broken.  It either happened as I pulled the outlet out or happened when the outlet was originally pushed in.  Either way it needs to be fixed.  I’ll get to that.

See? This is what happens in a real life situation as opposed to a sterile instructional video.

 

5. Remove the wires from the old outlet by unscrewing the screws they’re wrapped around slightly.  Just enough so that you can slip the wires off.

Blue screwdriver unscrewing black wire from brass screws on old electrical outlet.

 

6. Throw that sucker out.

Old electrical outlet in palm of hand in front of now empty electrical box and bare wires.

 

7.  Now is the time to talk about the scary GROUNDING WIRE, which everyone seems confused by.  Here are the two things you need to know.

a) The ground wire needs to be grounded to the box, AND

b) The ground wire needs to be grounded to the outlet.

First, how do you recognize the ground wire?  It’ll either be the green wire, or a bare copper wire.  One of the two.

Before installing your new outlet you would wrap the ground wire around the grounding screw at the back of the metal box and then bring it forward to the receptacle.

 

Shot of inside of electrical box, focusing on the box grounding screw at the back of the box, to the right of where the wires come in.

 

Since my grounding wire is broken I’ve had to do something a bit different.  I’ll have to make the two independent wires work together as one.

8. I’ve created a loop in my stubby little grounding wire with pliers. Luckily it’s just long enough to wrap around the grounding screw.

Electrical wires coming into electrical box, with ground wire bent in a U for placement over the ground screw.

See that hole in the back of the box that the wire is coming through? There should really be a Romex connector there so the wire isn’t rubbing the sharp metal edges. I didn’t have one and wanted to continue with the post, so continued on without it for the time being.

End of copper wire bent in the shape of a U for placement over ground screw.

 

9.  Then I created the same loop on the longer, broken off part of the grounding wire.

** if my copper wire had been a tiny bit longer the better thing to do would be to use a 2 port Wago like this to attach the wires.**

Grounding wire secured to grounding screw at back of electrical box.

 

10. I looped the shorter grounding wire around the grounding screw and then I looped the longer grounding wire around the screw so everything was touching.  As long as the two grounding wires were touching behind the screw, I knew I’d have a completed circuit.

REMEMBER this was an anomaly because my grounding wire was broken off very short.

Most people will have a longer wire that will easily loop around the grounding screw in the box with enough left over to attach to the new outlet.

 

11. Get your new outlet and face plate ready.

Old, brown, paint splattered electrical outlet laid on wood floor, above new, white electrical outlet.

I like the snap on face plates that don’t have a visible screw to hold it on.

12. Attach your wires to the new outlet.

TIPS FOR WHAT WIRE GOES WHERE

Shot of new electrical outlet held in a hand, showing the brass screws on the side.

– Your outlet will have one side with brass screws.  The other side will have silver screws and a green screw for the ground wire.

 

Shot of new electrical outlet held in a hand, showing the silver and ground screws on the side.

 

Attach your wires like this:

BLACK GOES TO BRASS

WHITE GOES TO SILVER

GROUND GOES TO GREEN

 

New white electrical outlet with white wire secured to silver screw and ground wire secured to green screw.

See how there are two silver screws?  It doesn’t matter which one you use.  So don’t fret over it.  Just pick one. Try to do a little better than I did with the exposed copper wire though. The least amount of it should be exposed as possible. More should be under the screw.  (This doesn’t matter on the grounding wire as it doesn’t conduct any electricity)

 

Hook your wires so they are going  in the same direction as the screw is when turned to tighten. This will help clamp the wire down as opposed to pushing it off.

New electrical outlet with black wire secured to brass screw.

See how there are two brass screws?  Again, it doesn’t  matter which one you use. Just pick one.

Also notice I did a better job of having less of the bare copper wire exposed.

 

13. Carefully push the new outlet back into the box.

Gently pushing new electrical outlet into electrical box in white baseboard.

This shot here nearly BLEW the minds of some electricians who read this post when I first published it. Why? Because I haven’t wrapped the outlet in electrical tape. Some electricians (this is kind of a polarizing issue) wrap any outlets that are going into metal boxes with electrical tape.

This covers the metal screws and therefore prevents them from ever accidentally coming into contact with the metal box. However, there are other electricians who are just as adamant about not using electrical tape.

14. Rescrew the outlet into the box.

Screwing new white electrical outlet into white, wide baseboard.

 

15.  Cover with the face plate and you’re done.  Just turn on the power again and watch the room light up.

White painted brick wall with wide white baseboard and new white electrical outlet.

And just like that you know how to install an electrical outlet.

Here’s a quick rundown without pictures so you can quickly check it for when YOU replace your hideous electrical outlet.

How to Replace an Electrical Outlet.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Difficulty: Easy(ish)
Estimated Cost: $5

Step by step instructions on how to replace an electrical outlet.

Materials

  • new electrical outlet

Tools

  • wire strippers or scissors
  • Screwdriver

Instructions

  1. Turn power to the outlet OFF.
  2. Remove the face plate.
  3. Unscrew and pull out the old outlet.
  4. Remove wires from the old outlet.
  5. Attach new outlet.  White wire to silver, black wire to brass, Ground wire to grounding screw at back of box and then to green screw on outlet.
  6. Gently push the outlet back into the box.
  7. Screw the new outlet in place.
  8. Attach new face plate.
  9. Turn power back on and bask in the glow.

Now that you’re an electrical outlet expert, you might as well learn how rewire a lamp.

There’s only one question left to answer.  No. I am not likely to wash the paint off of my floors in the near future.  Not in the next 18 years anyway.

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