Changing Out an Old (UGLY) Outlet

So, this is one of those not so pretty posts, but I promise it is Oh So Handy! Especially if you live in an old house (20 yrs. or more). Our home was built in 1978 and most of our outlets are almond colored and many are so worn that they won’t hold a plug anymore. I used to get annoyed EVERY TIME I vacuumed downstairs and turned the corner only to have the vacuum plug slip from the outlet. Not only is this frustrating, but it is also a fire hazard. Old outlets should be replaced for safety reasons (but, hey, I’m okay if you just want to change them to a pretty white outlet.)

I distinctly remember my father showing me how to wire an outlet when I was about eight years old. I didn’t remember exactly what he taught me, but I do remember the feeling that – yes, I can do this myself! Being the father of three girls, Dad taught us all the things he would have taught a son. This is a picture of my Dad, my sisters and me teaching him all we knew about bows, barrettes and bobby pins.

I know several of you would never think of taking apart your outlet. You might say electricity scares you. Well, that is a good thing! A healthy fear of electricity will make you more cautious, so don’t lose that fear. It is a good thing to double and triple check your safety when working with electricity. Now, are you ready to update your outlets? This is a relatively easy task to do. And, I promise I will show you step-by-step instructions.

I highly recommend performing outlet replacements during daylight hours (or have a lamp that you can plug into an extension cord from another room.) Also, don’t let your little ones watch you, we don’t want them to stick a screwdriver in the outlet when you aren’t looking. Therefore, it is best to handle this fix during nap times.

Materials needed:

Needle-nosed pliers with rubber or plastic handles*
Flat head screwdriver*
Phillips head screwdriver*
Wire Strippers*
Wire cutter*
Voltage tester
Night light
15 amp/ 125 volt or 20 amp/ 120 volt duplex outlet
outlet cover

* It is safest to work with tools that have rubber or plastic handles that won’t conduct electricity.

optional tools:
vacuum to clean out the receptacle box (there will be dirt and dust in there and this may be the only opportunity you will have to clean it!)
cushion to sit on
power drill with screwdriver bits to speed up the process

Required Safety Instruction:


Turn off the power to the outlet you are working on. I highly recommend putting a night light or light in the outlet and turn it on. Then shut off the circuit at your circuit breaker and check to see that the light has gone out.

Also note that just because two outlets are in the same room, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are on the same circuit. Plus, it is possible for the top and bottom of one outlet to be on separate circuits. Always check both the top and bottom of an outlet before you work on it.


Instructions:

Okay, let’s begin. Take a deep breath and realize that if an 8 yr. old can do it, so can you!

1. Turn off your power, double check both outlets with your light to make sure the power is out to both top and bottom outlets.

2. Now take out your voltage tester. Insert a probe into each of the top two holes.  If the tester lights up, you need to back up and turn off the power to the outlet! If it doesn’t light up, then check the bottom outlet as well. Still no light? Perfect, the power is off to your outlet.

3. If you haven’t done so already, remove the face plate from your outlet by unscrewing the middle screw.

4. Unscrew the two mounting screws as shown below.

5. Gently pull the outlet out of the receptacle box. Inspect the outlet and see if you have the same amp replacement outlet. (Usually there are marking denoting 15A 125V or 20A 120V on the silver tabs, on the back or near the screw hole in the middle of the outlet.)

6. Note which wires are attached to the outlet and where. Then make a drawing if you need to of their position. Or work by transferring one wire at a time.

7. If the wires are wrapped around screws (lucky you), unscrew your wires and skip to step 10.  If your wires are poked into holes in the back of the outlet, you may choose to try to release them by poking a flat head screwdriver into the slot next to the wire, or you will need to cut the wires as close to the outlet as possible.

8. Now strip about 1/4 inch of the insulation from the end of your wire. Gently use your wire strippers to clamp down on the wire being sure it is scoring the insulation. If you need to, rotate your wire strippers 90 degrees and cut through the insulation again. then while the strippers are still around the wire, pull gently towards the end of the wire to remove the cut insulation.

9. Next take your needle nosed pliers and grasp the end of your wire and twist the end to make a shepherds hook shape. Do this for all your remaining wires.

10. Looking at the back of your new outlet, you will see that one side has silver screws and/or markings on the back that says white wire. The other side of the outlet should have gold screws and/or markings indicating hot wires (the black wires). And one screw towards the bottom that is green, this screw is for your bare or ground wire.

11. Hook each of your wires around the appropriate screw (Gold Screws = Black wires;  Silver screws = White wires;  Green screw = bare or green wire).

12. Using your needle nosed pliers, pinch your wires tightly around the screws attempting to close the loop.

13. Tighten each screw being sure that the wire stays tightly wrapped around the screw.

 

14. If all your wires have been screwed tightly onto the outlet you can gently push your outlet back into the receptacle box. Try to rock the outlet in by alternately pushing on the top and then the bottom. If your outlet doesn’t go in, pull it out and rearrange the wires so they fold neatly behind the outlet and try again.

15. Screw in the mounting screws.

16.  Replace the face plate.

 

Now you can turn the power back on and use a nightlight or lamp to make sure your outlet works

Hey, you are done! Congratulations, you did it. Reach up and pat yourself on the back because I’m proud of you!

Comments

  1. Sandra {sawdust and paper scraps} says:

    Nice! I'm going to refer people to you when I get asked how to do this. I refused to take responsibility if someone zaps themself. :o) You did a really fabulous job of explaining everything. I think an 8 year old could do it with you as their guide!

  2. Stephanie@cre8tive says:

    Your instructions are so detailed! It really makes it look easy! I am going to save this one for my new son-n-law. Him and my daughter are in the process of buying their first house, and he could use these "how to" tutorials you post. I just love each and everyone one of them you do. You again, are amazing, but I think your dad was more amazing by having the sense to teach his girls the way he did!

  3. Pine Tree Home says:

    I have ivory outlets in my I wish they were white home…hmmm, trick is now jumping in and switching them out. Thanks for this!

  4. Thanks for linking up to the Mad Skills party!

  5. The mad woman behind the blog says:

    Great timing. I just spent my entire Sunday afternoon doing just this. The scramble was to get it done before my daughter woke from her nap and wanted the TV. Spoiled child but much better looking house.

    Here from between naps on the porch.

    I love your blog wallpaper, btw!

  6. This is a very helpful post… I know how to do this.. but it's always good to have a little confidence booster when you haven't done it for a while..

    good pictures too.

  7. Amanda@The Hand Me Down House says:

    Brittany – I think we are like twins or something! :) My dad showed me how to rewire an outlet too — and we too have a wonderful picture of dad with barretts and bows in his hair! :)

    Wonderful tutorial – thank you!! :)

  8. That voltage tester is going on my shopping list. Your cousin got zapped after her darling fiance assured her – twice – that the electricity had been cut (I was installing a new light switch). Oddly, that was the second time in a week I got zapped – the other time was with a dog bark collar. Now convinced they are a form of animal abuse.

  9. Jan @ bobbypins boardwalk says:

    Excellent. I'm so happy to know this. Between you and me — hubby always acted like this was a big and dangerous "job" that he would have to tackle. HAHAHA. I love the man dearly, but some of the things that he thinks are hard end up being pretty darn easy when a competent woman explains it to another competent woman. BOOKMARK AND A NEW FOLLOWER!!! I invite you to visit my place and do the same!

  10. Carrie K says:

    So that's how a voltage tester works!!!

  11. Alanamous says:

    Don't get discouraged if you have a hard time getting the outlet back in the wall. Sometimes the spaces are tight and the wires difficult to bend. But a little bit of patience and Faith after following Brittany's directions to rearrange the wiring will have you wiggling the new box right back into place.

    Brittany – you may want to add a short addenda to cover GFCI's.

  12. m @ random musings says:

    Thanks for the post

    I learned by closely observing what I removed (and studiously inspecting that little booklet that comes with the new outlet).

  13. ★All Thingz Related★ says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this great tutorial with us at Anything Related!
    {Rebekah}

  14. vanpeltium-4 says:

    THANKS!! Can't wait to get to work on this!! BTW – just found your blog via hand me down house and I love everything so far…keep up the great work!

  15. Nice post. As an FYI: You do not have to cut the wires. You can insert a small flat-head screwdriver into the squarish opening, above where the wire connects to the outlet. This will release the teeth that are clamping on the wire.

  16. Next to the hole that the wires were pressed into is a release hole. If you press a small screwdriver into that hole it will make the retention device relax, allowing you to remove the wire with minimal effort. That failing, the wire can usually be gently pulled out with a pair of pliers, twisting back and forth.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Another tip for when you are at the electric panel trying to find the right circuit to cut power to the outlet…instead of a nightlight, plug a radio into the outlet (with the volume up so you can hear it at the panel). when the music goes off, can assume you've turned off the correct circuit. This radio option may not work if you're doing the project while kids are napping, but otherwise it's easier than getting up after each circuit flip to see if the nightlight is still on or off.

  18. - Brittany says:

    Anonymous, you have some great tips and ideas! Thanks so much for sharing! I love the radio trick.

  19. Cerulean Bill says:

    I liked this. I've done this kind of repair successfully, but I've also gotten unpleasantly surprised when I found that the upper socket was on a different circuit than the lower one.

    If I could add one step — when using the voltage tester, use it once when the power is still on. That will tell you if you're doing it right, and if the tester works.

  20. Mark Daniels Bathroom Kitchen Remodeling says:

    Don't cut the wires if possible. Grasp outlet pulling firmly and rotating the outlet back and forth, the wires normally work their way out intact.

  21. Mark Daniels Bathroom Kitchen Remodeling says:

    Be sure to check both outlets as one may be a switched outlet and the other hot all the time.

  22. No need for any screwing on most outlets I've seen. Just stick the wire in the holes provided (one can be seen just touching the top of the red circle on this picture:

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_g5zUd7bijOw/TET_pPEEZvI/AAAAAAAABBI/pwTMdgywQs0/s400/ScrewIdentify.jpg

    You take the wires out by sticking a thin screwdriver or another wire in the rectangular holes.

  23. No need to either cut the wires or wiggle them out of the old socket. Stick a small screwdriver or another wire into the hole next to the wire to release it.

  24. Carpet Cleaning Melbourne says:

    Good to see they are NOT using the "back stab" connections but using the screw connections. Good to see using the "old" style outlet rather than that stupid new flat face thing that does not help align the plug.

  25. Lettered Cottage says:

    SUPER awesome post!
    Thank you for linking it up. Tons of folks are gonna find this really helpful!

    :-)

  26. Ryan Belcher says:

    Wow. Thanks. This is easily the best guide on changing (or installing) outlets I have ever seen. Just one note, while not necessary, a cordless screwdriver, if you have one will speed up the process.

  27. Make your loops on your wire with the wire strippers. They have a hole for that. It has been my experience as a 10 year electrician to just wiggle the wires out of an old receptacle if they are stabbed in.!

  28. Texas Lightsmith says:

    This blog is RAD! Thanks for sharing!

  29. Fantastic job! It looks wonderful!

  30. Nice work. I also wrap my outlets in electrical tape around the screws. It prevents them from accidental grounding.

  31. Melissa M. says:

    Thanks for the inspiration, along with help from my local Home Depot. I replaced an outlet today. I only got zapped once!

    • Melissa, Oh no! How did that happen? I hope you are okay. But, also glad you replaced the outlet.

      -Brittany

      • Melissa M. says:

        Wow. I wasn’t expecting a reply–especially one so quick! I grabbed the darn thing when I was using the “tester”. One outlet down and many more to go. At least this outlet is fixed. Every time I plugged something in, it would fall out.

  32. Cowboy 17 says:

    RE: http://www.prettyhandygirl.com/2010/07/changing-out-old-ugly-outlet.html

    The voltage tester you suggest is better than nothing, but a non-contact voltage tester which buzzes or beeps if any live wires are nearby is better and safer. This all-plastic device is available at your local hardware store. Basically, it detects live 60 cycle AC, whether or not any current is flowing, no matter if the wire is insulated or bare. Before you send in your finger or any metal tool, send in the non-contact voltage tester probe first. Pay particular attention to wires with black insulation, but probe them all. Sometimes a live wire from an unrelated circuit will be “just passing by” the component you are working on, in which case your plan will leave people fishing around in live outlet boxes.

  33. Found this at the perfect time! Really need to change out some old outlets. thanks

  34. You may want to add that your shepards hooks should be placed on screws so that they tighten as you tighten the screw. If you place them on the wrong direction the shepards hooks will become larger as the screws are tightened. Please remember if you are replacing an outlet in an old house the bathroom outlets may not be GFCI (ground fault circuit intrupters). A great easy way to know if an outlet is GFCI grounded is to go find the outlets in your house that are gfci’s (the ones with the test and reset buttons) and press the test button. Once you have found them all you can use your voltage meter and see if electricity is still running to the outlets located near your sinks and tubs. If you have an outlet located near a water source that is still recieving electical current then you should consider replacing it with a GCIF outlet. One GCIF per electical circuit protects an entire circuit. If you flip the circuit breaker and all outlet in a room stop working then they are all on one circuit.

  35. Shauna Rankin says:

    I absolutely love your site. I am about to move in to our first home & am so goint to make the undercounter bathroom storage. AWESOME

  36. Great post, what if your outlets don’t have boxes? Are those difficult to install?

    • Holly, oh goodness! Girl you need to get junction boxes installed ASAP! They are crucial for fire prevention. If there is a short or spark it would keep your drywall and wood house framing from igniting. Plus, it protects the outlet wires from being touched by anything. There are outlet boxes that are post-construction types. Check with your local hardware store.

  37. That is ONE stinkin-cute photo of King Daddy and his beautiful Princesses! Thanks for the excellent Tut! Do you perhaps know how to determine if the wiring will support moving from a current amp outlet to one that would support greater amps? And do you know how to rewire a GFCI protected outlet? These are the challenges that I am facing at the moment… and not moving forward on, since I am not SURE of myself.

  38. Just wanted to say that I LOVE your blog! I’m a single mom and a homeowner, and I’m gradually educating myself on these kinds of things. (Drilling holes in walls is a lot less scary when you know how to patch the mistakes, for example! ;) My dad is super handy — he built most of his house on his own — but not so big on the teaching part, and he’s really busy.

    So again, thank you!

  39. Just a thought. Last house had aluminum wiring. Even my dad the former contractor/inspector wouldn’t touch it. Make sure you’re only dealing with copper. Messing incorrectly with aluminum can cause safety issues and resale problems with inspections. Luckily ours was done by electrician with documentation by previous owner or it would have cost us. Even then it was a close thing.

  40. That’s nice, but you should instruct people to tighten the post screw that holds the wires with a flat head screw driver. Also instruct them to loop the wire around the post clockwise, so when they tighten the post the wire is secured as opposed to being pushed out of the way. Also know that in many municipalities this sort of simple repair REQUIRES a permit pulled by a master electrician. Not to say you can’t do it but if your code compliance guy is a dick, when you sell your house it could bite you in the ass with double permit fees and paying an electrician to come out and check it.

    You could also include a switch/breaker replacing guide, and proper wire nut technique. Many people are capable of these sorts of money saving techniques. CALL AN ELECTRICIAN if you encounter anything unexpected or dangerous.

  41. Wow! Thank you so much for this! :)

  42. THANK YOU!!!! I’m a single woman and a homeowner.I had an electrician come to my home for a quote to install a dedicated circuit, and was going to have my outlets replaced,at a cost of $299 for 15 outlets. The electrician was FLAKY,had to contact them for my estimate when I didn’t receive it after 3 days,and the list goes on. I’m actually EXCITED now to have the outlets changed,because it will be cheaper,more convenient for me, and most important, I’ll have a sense of accomplishment/satisfaction from doing it. Thanks again, and I’ve bookmarked your site. So thankful/happy to have found it,and your dad ROCKS! Very smart man!

  43. Hello;

    I have an outlet in my dining room that decided to just go dead on me one day. I checked it with a meter and there’s no power at all. There is no switch that controls that outlet nor is there an outlet in the kitchen that has been tripped. I turned off the circuit breaker and upon pulling the plug away from the wall I noticed there are only 4 wires. All of which are black and there is no ground? S.O.S.

    Thank you in advance.

    Julie

  44. I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this but you skipped the final step. Wrap the sides of the base of the outlet with electrical tape making sure to cover the screws & Wires. This will prevent the outlet from shorting out on you. It is standard practice in Chicago

  45. It’s even easier to strip the wires and then simply push the wires into the holes in the back of the receptacle… It takes a lot less time to do then hooking pinching and screwing them with the screws on the side , it also looks more professional and you get a better connection.

  46. LakeLady777 says:

    Have been waiting 25 yrs for my electrician husband to fix the one in the master bedroom that looks like the one in your picture … actually, the one in your picture looks sturdier. With your easy to follow instructions, I can finally do it myself. Bless you!

  47. Would this work for the ugly light switches too?

  48. LRussell says:

    Brittany – Thank you for posting this. Also, I have to commend you on how patient and gracious you are with all of us readers. In your article you mention how to release the wires with a flat head screwdriver – then when many people post that information, you graciously say thank you – instead of most that would type back in all capitals that you posted that in the article. ha ha.

  49. SO helpful!!! I think I can do this. Thank you.

  50. Where did you get the outlet kit?

  51. Would it be the same process to change a two pronged outlet to a three pronged outlet? :)

  52. This is my problem exactly. I live in a 70 year old apartment bldg and the ‘electrician’ that replaced an old fuse box for a more modern style one, looked at that plug outlet and left it alone because he didn’t have a junction box. I am terrified of electricity, having once been zapped as a teen and thrown across the room….and have lived to tell about it, lol !! Can I install the junction box myself and if so, how difficult is it to do? I found you on Pinterest and have added you everywhere. Love it, that you’re dad too, taught you the ‘manly’ tasks. Great, Great web site and teachings.

    • Danica, yes, please install a junction box for your outlet and wiring to be installed inside. This will contain any sparks or shorts and will ultimately protect from a house fire. Installing a junction ox isn’t too hard, although you will need to purchase an old work box that has wings that will hold the box against the drywall. You can see part of the process here, Matt just left off inserting the box into the wall and turning the screws until the box is tightly secured. http://www.prettyhandygirl.com/2013/09/diy-cable-installation.html

  53. i have a house now with very few of the wall outlets looking like yours (the three-pronged “face” ones). most are the two-pronged ones with one prong larger than the other, but i also (it’s a 1959 house) have some of the two-pronged ones that are the same size (the old-old type). replacing these, particularly the old-old ones, has now surfaced up on the to-do list. is this something i can try to tackle if i have your instructions and have done that particular replacement that’s in your instructions? i have not ever tried to replace a two-pronged outlet with a “face” outlet, however. or is this better left to an electrician? i’m just looking for your opinion. if you say i shouldn’t, i won’t, otherwise i will look into it further. thanks.

  54. I want to replace an outlet that has 3 wires going into it on each side. The outlet I bought has only 2 places to attach the wires. Can I put 2 wires on one screw? Thanks

    • Don, if you buy an outlet that also has the holes in the back, you can connect two via the screws on the side and one in the back (or two in the back and one via the screw.)

  55. kathy tee says:

    thanks so much for the tutorial on changing out electic boxes. i recently paid $50 to have 10 done…which I thought was very fair price. now i know how easy it is! hardest part will be getting up and down from the floor :)

  56. DANGER!!!!
    By all means girls should know how to change a tire/tyre, use powertools etc (I taught woodshop in the US & my Dad taught me how to change a plug as a child too), but I am a bit concerned that this is encouraging something very dangerous. I changed plugs before when I was young and stupid, but there is no way I would do it anymore or encourage others, especially if I couldn’t supervise or be sure of their ability level.

    I know the voltage/current varies in different countries, but in many countries (including where I live) it is now illegal to install a power point yourself because it could be fatal if handled incorrectly. People living in flats where someone else might suddenly turn on the power or people with different types of plugs might be in danger of electrocution or fire at a later point.

    At the very least I think your instructions should suggest that their be someone else on ‘speaker’ phone who lives close by. If the person on the other end doesn’t talk them out of it, at least they will be listening so if anything goes wrong they can alert medics in case of emergency and can come and supervise any potentially traumatised children before they endanger themselves too. All it takes is for the bulb/connections in the lamp you THOUGHT you turned off to be temporarily faulty and the wire would actually be live.

  57. ….and please mention in your instructions it is illegal to do this in some countries.

  58. Dani, I’m not sure what countries you are talking about. But, if the reader follows instructions, changing an outlet will not kill them. Especially if their home is grounded. I respectfully disagree with your fear-inducing comment.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] or fixing things (like replacing a worn out almond colored outlet), [...]

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  3. [...] Pretty Handy Girl: Changing Out Old Ugly Outlet [...]

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  7. […] prettyhandygirl.com came to our rescue. The website has a long post on the subject. It comes with thoroughly described steps, pictures and instructions. It’s […]

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