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Replacing an old electrical outlet

July 28, 2010 at 11:08 am | Category: Remodeling Contractor

Nothing looks worse–and performs worse–than old electrical outlets. They are unsightly. Plugs slip out of them. They are dangerous. Replace old electrical outlets with new outlets and faceplates.
1. Shut Off Power
Shut off power to circuit you will be working on at the service panel. Do not assume that the markings on the service panel box are correct. Double-check by testing outlet with a voltage tester.
2. Remove Face Plate
Unscrew center screw of face plate with a flat-head screwdriver.
3. Double-Check that Power is Off
With faceplate off, insert voltage tester into receptacle box alongside the outlet. Use a flashlight to find the side with the black wires. The black wires are the live wires. Test these wires.
4. Pull Out Outlet
Unscrew top and bottom screws from outlet, and gently pull out outlet by these top and bottom “ears.” Again, be careful not to touch any wire. Now that you can see the outlet in the light, check once more with the voltage tester to make sure that the black wires are not live.
5. Understand Color Coding
• Black wire = live wire. These are usually affixed to the outlet by means of gold or brass colored screws.
• White wire = neutral wire. These are usually affixed to the outlet by means of silver colored screws.
• Green or bare wire = ground wire. This is usually affixed to the outlet by means of a green screw.
6. Understand Wire Sizes
• 14 gauge wire = a thinner, lower capacity wire used for most receptacles and lighting. Rated for 15 amps.
• 12 gauge wire = a heavier, higher capacity wire used for GFCI outlets and higher amperage uses. Rated for 20 amps.
The wire size should be imprinted on the side of the cable sheath. If not, you can check wire size by means of an inexpensive wire gauge that you can buy at most hardware stores.
7. Take Note of Wire Configuration
If this is a simple three wire set-up (one black wire, one white wire, one ground wire), it is not necessary to note how it is hooked up to the outlet. But if you have multiple white and black wires (you should not have multiple ground wires), please note where each wire goes by affixing tabs on the wires with masking tape. Even though you think you will remember–as soon as the wires are detached, you will forget. Trust me. Do this.
8. Do You Have the Right Outlet?
Depending on the wire coming into the box (whether 14 or 12 gauge), you need to buy the correct outlet. Outlets rated for 15 amps cannot be used with 12 gauge wire, because most likely this 12 gauge wire is pulling 20 amps.
9. Install Wires in New Outlet
There are two methods of attaching the wires.
• Back Wire
You can “back wire” by pushing the wires into spring-loaded grip holes in back of the outlet. Make sure that about 3/8″ wire covering is removed from the end of the wire before inserting in hole. If bare wire still shows after wire is inserted, remove and slightly trim down wire before trying again. You don’t want any bare wire showing.
• Screws
The preferable method is to screw the wires in. This is better because the screws give you a stronger grip. Like the “back wire” method, trim back the wire covering so that only the bare minimum is showing to make contact with the screw. Screw in as tightly as you can.
10. Re-Install New Outlet
Take this opportunity to clean up the receptacle box with your shop vac before re-installing the new outlet. Also, tape up any frayed or nicked wires with electric tape (though if the wires are badly deteriorated, you may have to trim back and replace with new wire). With a clean box, gently fold back the wires into the box and push the outlet in and screw it in. You should not have to force the outlet in. If you do find yourself forcing the outlet, pull it out again and reorganize the wires and try it again. Forcing the outlet may damage the wires or pull them away from their connections on the outlet.

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