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Electrical: Replacing a Receptacle

Electrical TesterReplacing a receptacle, while different from a wall switch, is only slightly more difficult. First, turn off the circuit breaker that controls power to the receptacle. Once the breaker is off, I use a simple tester to confirm that the circuit is no longer hot. If you have difficulty determining whether or not the power is off, turn off the main circuit breaker; but have a flashlight handy.

Remove the screw or screws holding the plastic cover in place and set the cover aside. Then, remove the screws holding the receptacle and gently tug on the receptacle, pulling it about 3” from the electrical box, if possible. There may be a confusing jumble of wires inside the box, but the only ones you need to be concerned with are the ones that attach to the receptacle.

You will find the wires connected to the receptacle either on the back of the device, entering holes in the receptacle body, or secured under screws on the sides. The receptacle screws are color coded for “hot,” the black or bronze looking screw, and silver or lighter color screws for the negative side of the circuit. If you plan to attach using the holes in the rear, make sure you connect the wires to the proper side as indicated by the screw color. Also, the rear of the receptacle is marked with a “strip gauge,” a guide for removing the proper amount of insulation.

Receptacle showing hot/negative/groundSimply connect the wires to the new receptacle, bare wire to green, ground screw; white wire to silver negative screw (always located on the same side as the green screw); and the black to the bronze or dark colored screws. Note: the smaller blade opening in a receptacle should always be the “Hot” side of the circuit.

If you choose to insert the wires into the rear holes of the receptacle, simply follow the guide above, placing the wires in conjunction with the appropriate colored screws. Once completed, you can secure the receptacle in its box, install the plastic plate, turn on the power, and you’re done.

Caution: If your wiring appears to be aluminum instead of copper, it’s best to call an electrician to complete the job and to test for other problems. Some older homes were built with aluminum wiring which was later discovered to pose a potential fire hazard. If you think your home has aluminum wiring, call an electrician for an inspection.


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