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.

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Behold THE HAGGARD, HORRIBLE OUTDATED, OUTLET.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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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

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

 

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 Install an Electrical Outlet

  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.

→Like to Sweat, Swear and do Stuff? GET MY POSTS emailed to you 3 times a week←

 

46 Comments

  1. How are you able to anticipate everything I need to upgrade in my life so perfectly Karen!!!? Seriously, your last 3 posts have been things happening to me! Thanks for your skillful suggestions and pictures that say 1000 words 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Ha! Ohhhh they’re just things that mainly apply to all people I think. At least all people that read this website. 🙂 ~ karen!

  2. Why did you use wood screws to screw the plug to the baseboard rather than using the screws that came with the plug?

    • Karen says:

      Because it’s a very old electrical box and the new plug didn’t line up with it properly. With wood screws I could drill straight into the wood baseboard to hold everything secure. ~ karen!

  3. billy sharpstick says:

    As a person who is a retired electrician, and who possess a penis, I saw this headline and immediately thought to myself, “Myself, As good as Karen is at doing stuff, she’s bound to screw this one up and I will get a chance to mansplain how to do it right.” Fortunately(for me, because I would be sure to receive threats to my life and gonads for being so insensitive and politically incorrect), she got it all right. The only thing I will add is to recommend splurging(30 cents or so?) on nylon unbreakable cover plates. The cheap plastic ones tend to crack easily.
    (Next, please post how to replace a toilet and septic tank, real soon! Long story, don’t ask!)

  4. Gayle M says:

    Thankfully, your supervisor arrived just in time (photo 3) for the important stuff!

    I. Need. To. Do. This. Really, I do. Thanks so much for all you do to keep us fledglings safe and occupied caring for our “stuff”. It truly is an art…

  5. Debbie D says:

    Yea! You finally replaced that old ugly outlet that was ruining the look of your gorgeous wall! Thank you for posting this great tutorial. Electricity scares me to death. I have cut and pasted this fabulousness and now have it for a reference for the future should I need to do this soon. This is wonderful. Thank you so much for posting!

  6. TucsonPatty says:

    I need a light switch changed out (why would that break? Weird.) and have been nervous about trying to do it myself. I am one of those people that thinks there is left over electricity hiding inside that lamp or outlet or switc, even when the power is turned off. It will jump out and get me. I know – not possible, but I do lots of other scary stuff to make up for that fear. Thanks for making this look simple enough for me to take care of my problem.

    • whitequeen96 says:

      What? You mean the electricity WON’T jump out and get me if the power is turned off? I don’t know . . . Why does the light stay on my re-charger for my phone even after I unplug it? Anyway, twice (TWICE!) I’ve managed to shock myself because I THOUGHT I’d turned the power off to whatever it was I was working on.

      • Jenny says:

        Get a current detector! We have one to double-check that the power is off because our home’s fuse box is horribly labeled and very weirdly organized (especially for a house built in 2005) and we’ve gotten shocked when we thought the whole room was on one fuse and painfully found out it wasn’t. Search “current detectors” on Amazon–they’re not even expensive!

      • SusanR says:

        Another option to check it is to plug a lamp into it. Leave the light on when you go to turn off the power. If the lamp isn’t lit when you return, you’ve turned off the power, or else the bulb decided to take exactly that moment before you arrived to burn out. These are the things I think of, when faced with doing something that has me slightly fearful. I can always come up with some situation in which all of my safety measures will be useless.

        Haven’t shocked myself yet, though! But I also use a device to measure if there’s any power in the outlet.

  7. Sabina says:

    Bravo! I’ve replaced all my switches and outlets over the years too but when it came to the GFCI I cried “uncle” and asked for help. Too many wires on that sucker for me!

    PS – there’s been a recall on some Instant Pots for melting and starting on fire. I thought of you!

  8. Thera says:

    Handy trick if you don’t know which fuse is which (renter with an unmarked box), plug a lamp into the socket you are replacing and turn it on, when it turns off you have the right fuse!

  9. Zackery Edwards says:

    That box needed a romex connector coming into the back for the wire. It is a hazard without one. You should have taped the outlet terminal to prevent a hazard between between metal box and receptacle. That was not the proper way to secure or Bond the metal box with that ground either

    • Karen says:

      I always think it’s funny when someone who has never left a comment before shows up with a negative comment as their first one. And now I have to explain things so readers aren’t frightened away from this post. 1. A romex connector is a clamp that is *sometimes* at the back of the box where the wires come in that clamps down on the wire to prevent it from moving. Older boxes will not have this. Since this is a secure, sheathed wire there’s no danger. 2. Yes if you read a manual on how to install a new outlet *some* will say to tape around the terminal but they also say it’s optional. There are electricians who do it and electricians who don’t. Taping is *not* required by code. 3. The ground wire is indeed secured properly. Not sure what your issue with that is.

      • linda in illinois says:

        Bravo Karen!

        • Zack says:

          I always think it’s funny when someone does something to risk other people’s life’s is what your comment back to me should read. Section 312.5 c ,300.12 and 300.15 in the NEC which is the National Electric Code dis agrees with your sometimes needing a Rolex connector. You did this for your readers safety so why would you not choose tape on a receptacle in a metal box. Your ground in box is improper the way you have it due to the way you have attached them together.

        • Zack says:

          I always think it’s funny when someone does something to risk other people’s life’s is what your comment back to me should read. Section 312.5 c ,300.12 and 300.15 in the NEC which is the National Electric Code disagrees with your sometimes needing a Romex connector. You did this for your readers safety so why would you not choose tape on a receptacle in a metal box. Your ground in box is improper the way you have it due to the way you have attached them together.

    • Penny says:

      You would do well to read the comment left lower down the page by Tim. It demonstrates very well how a man can add a HELPFUL comment, without sounding like an arrogant, condescending arsehole.

      • Zack says:

        Id say an a hole wouldn’t be trying to help at all now would he Penny?

        • Penny says:

          Zack, if you take a sneak peek back at my (admittedly rather snippy) comment, you’ll see that I never said you WERE a poo-pipe, just that the tone of your comment made you *sound* like one. It’s why many of us testicularly-deficient types come to TAODS; Karen never talks down to us or makes us feel like naughty toddlers caught playing with the Makita, just provides clear, helpful tutorials that actually work.
          You can’t be a complete waste of a good skin or what would you be doing on TAODS?!

  10. Susan Claire says:

    I don’t mess with electricity. First step is turning off the power, and that would involve opening the fuse box-nope, not going to do that. I will gladly pay for the nice electrician man to come over and risk his life. More power to you Karen (hah!) for showing us how, but I think I’ll sit this one out.

  11. Ev Wilcox says:

    Thanks Karen! I have waited actual YEARS for that kind of work when spouse would not get it done. Now that he can’t do it, I can wait till he is busy elsewhere and do it myself and he won’t even know. No need to to hurt his feelings, but no need to wait either! Thanks!

  12. Jenny says:

    We’ve been slowly changing out our outlet covers, too–it really makes a difference to go from old dingy almond-colored outlets to fresh white outlets/light switches! I’ll be honest, I usually hold the flashlight/screwdriver/screws for my husband while he does the nitty-gritty, but I think next time I’ll insist that I do the hands-on work.

  13. Linda H says:

    Speaking as someone who replaced all the switches and outlets in the house (they were ivory. I wanted white, plus all the outlets were installed with the ground on the top rather than the bottom as is standard these days) I’d like to suggest that as you find out which breaker works for each outlet/switch you mark it on the inside of the cover plate. Saves time if you need to mess with it again.
    Naturally you still check to be sure there’s no current before boldly grasping any wires. I use one of those little detectors that lights up if there’s a current and then touch first with the back of my hand because I’m really paranoid about electrocuting myself. I also prefer to work when there’s someone else at home to call 911. (Did I mention that I’m paranoid about electricity?)

  14. Tim says:

    Two things you may want to add: check the outlet with a tester before and after you turn off the breaker or fuse. No tester? Use a lamp. If the outlet does power on,. Look for a wall switch or other obvious reason. If it has other issues (swapped wires, no ground, etc…) before you start, then maybe call an electrician. Then flip the breaker and recheck. Always always always recheck. The breaker may not be labeled correctly, or someone could have tied two circuits together (not code, but surprisingly common) and your outlet could still be live!

    While you have the outlet out of the wall, carefully inspect the wire and wire insulation for corrosion and cracks, also make sure it is copper, not aluminum. If aluminum, you will need special outlets to prevent corrosion and eventually fire.

    Finally, after turning the power on, check the outlet with the tester again. If GFCI, test the fault protection feature, too.

    Great post though, just wanted to add some additional safety tips in there too.

  15. Tarra says:

    Thanks for another great electrical post! I have a room full of wallplugs that need switching out to white.

  16. ES says:

    THIS is what I love about you Karen.
    You are the one who puts their arm around my shoulders and says, “Sure you can: here’s how.”
    Your tutorial on sheetrock anchors made possible the large heavy mirrors in my bathroom & closet, and the wire shelf systems above the washer/dryer, and in closet – all installed single-handedly by lil ol’ moi.
    This one will be utilized in the kitchen where the counter outlet faceplates coordinate with the rustic copper tile backsplash, but the outlets themselves are high contrast almond plastic.
    Thanks, Girlfriend.

  17. Mary W says:

    Well here in Florida almost all plugs are in the wall about 3 foot up. I’ve never actually seen one in the baseboard before except once in a very old house. Maybe they didn’t want to mess up nice wallpaper and thought it was easier just to go through the wood. I do think having them very low is a great idea since the cords won’t show as much. I’ve even seen them a couple times in the hardwood floors which is really weird but maybe when they finally got electricity, that was the easiest way to get wired – crawl under the house and up through the floor – we rarely have basements in Florida, also. It would be filled with water and snakes and maybe an alligator but positively would be covered in black mold. Just like spiders, I always slam the magazine or book shut if one turns up in a picture – but for some reason, I didn’t skip your post today – I’m terrified of electricity and spiders. I do so admire how you operate and can just see you as Scarlet ripping the drapes off the window and making a gown from it. You are certainly the deluxe emporium for blog readers – something for anyone. I did change the switch covers once to get white so I could paint them and was so scared the whole time I would slip with the screwdriver and it would touch something shocking – but was so happy that I did the job.

  18. Great! Loved this! Exactly what I needed! Two questions…

    1. Why are there two brass and silver screws if we only need one of each? What would we use them for?

    2. I have outside electrical outlets that don’t work. Confirming your directions would be the same when I try to replace them this Spring. Can’t see why they wouldn’t be the same, but thought I would ask.

    Did I say…THANK YOU! 💕💕💕

    Now…on to the lamp instructions! ☺️

    • Jenna says:

      If the outside outlets are the only ones not working, you probably have a GFCI breaker tripped. It’s happened to me in two different houses. The one that controls my outside sockets is actually located in the garage. All I had to do was push in the external breaker and BAM! Lights on.

  19. Beth says:

    Please add to the instructions to check that BOTH plugs have no power before starting. We have outlets that are on 2 breakers, breakers that were mislabeled…

  20. Cathleen clark says:

    I need this. Thank you Karen.😘

  21. Bernard says:

    One VERY important thing to do after flipping the breaker …. and perhaps I missed it in the how-to or the comments…… and this especially goes for older structures:
    PROVE IT….either plug a reliable tool or appliance into the socket or use a voltmeter or multimeter to ensure there is not a volt of electricity coursing through that terminal.

  22. martina says:

    You’ve inspired me! This morning I didn’t feel like waiting (& paying) for a plumber to come to relight the pilot in my gravity furnace. So I figured it out and did it my damn self. I felt like a total bad-a$$! Thanks for helping me feel like if those dummies can do it I can too.

  23. Alena says:

    Hi Karen,
    I can’t believe how behind I am – I am reading this post on March 1st!
    Nice article. I had no idea there are snap-on face plates. Will hit Home Depot on the weekend.

    Two comments:
    1. It really bugs me that the outlet is a bit askew. Is there no way to fix that? (I can’t help – that’s my own ‘ wiring’ at play here – I just like everything plumb and square [it’s a disease!]).
    2. Could you write a post on how to fix the cracked finish in between the floor boards? If you zoom in on the photo where you comment on the splatters on the floor – it shows there very nicely.

    I think there is one fugly outlet in the basement – I will try to replace it following your instructions!
    Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Alena, Cracks between the wall and the baseboard can be filled with caulking. But between the floor and baseboard or quarter round there’s always going to be a crack if it’s wood against wood. Seasons change and the wood shrinks and swells. Humid = less crack, dry = more crack. ~ karen!

  24. I like your idea on replacing an outlet. If you need assistance in the future, feel free to contact me. By the way, you’re creativity is so wonderful just like your article!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

The Art of Doing Stuff