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.)
Changing Out an Old (UGLY) 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.
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Needle-nosed pliers with rubber or plastic handles*
Flat head screwdriver*
Phillips head screwdriver*
15 amp/ 125 volt or 20 amp/ 120 volt duplex outlet
* It is safest to work with tools that have rubber or plastic handles that won’t conduct electricity.
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.
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