How To: Change a Receptacle

Disclaimer-Captain DIY and highly recommend exercising extreme caution when attempting DIY projects. Not everybody can do everything, and some things should only be done by professionals. Keep your digits attached, and keep the insurance company off of your back. Do it right or call the right people!

We’re back with another exciting episode of DIY to FI, and this time we’re talking outlets! I should mention at the onset of this article, electricity is incredibly dangerous, and if you feel at all uncomfortable handling it I suggest hiring a contractor to do it for you. There is no shame in recognizing your limitations!

Alright, now to address the apparent discrepancy in the title versus the opening sentence. An outlet is technically any place in the circuit where electricity is or has the potential to be used. Therefore, a light fixture is an outlet, just as a receptacle is an outlet. For the remainder of the article, we will be referring to it as a receptacle because we are now well versed in these things and we don’t want to sound like n00bs. Got it? Good.

You can tell it’s this one because I’m pointing at it

First thing we do is approach the offending receptacle with our testing device. If you plan on doing more than one electrical project in your house I highly recommend purchasing a multi-meter, preferably one made by Klein, Milwaukee, Greenlee, or Fluke. The small home-owner grade testers are good for home-owner grade people, but we’re way better than that! We take pride in our tools!

If you don’t have any form of testing device and you still insist on going ahead with this project, plug a lamp into the offending receptacle and make sure it is on. If that is impossible due to the severity of the damage to the receptacle, go out and buy a darn tester. Then head to your circuit breaker panel and find the circuit breaker that is labelled accordingly and turn it off by pushing the lever away from the center of the panel until it clicks off.

Back to the receptacle, we insert the multi-meter into the receptacle and ensure there is no power. Once we can be assured of the lack of potentially welding our pliers together by accident we can begin the removal process. Start with the cover plate, unscrewing the screw in the center. If you have Decora receptacles the screws will be on the top and bottom.

I also have a plug-in tester just for show

After pulling the cover plate off we can see there are two screws holding the receptacle by the “yoke” to the box. When we pull these out we can remove the receptacle from the wall and see what we’re really working with here. You should have at least three wires connected to the receptacle: black, white, and green or bare. The black is your “hot”, or ungrounded conductor, the white is your “neutral”, or grounded conductor, and the green or bare is your “ground”, or grounding conductor. Simple, really. If you find you have two blacks and two whites, not a problem. We will simply take them off of the receptacle and twist them together with our pliers to make sure they are connected tightly together, then take a piece of scrap wire of the same color and connect one end of that to the bundle we twisted up and tighten those up by twisting on a “wire nut”, or solderless wire connector. Just call it a wire nut, everyone will know what you’re talking about.


Whew! We have done a lot already and we haven’t even started attaching the new receptacle yet! Don’t worry, we’re halfway done. You’ll be able to get back to your home brew project in no time!

If you have a handy set of wire strippers, they should have a little hole labelled “loop”. This little hole can be used to create a nice hook in the wire that you can use to wrap the wire around the screw. The green or bare wire goes on the green screw, the white wire goes on the silver screw, and the black wire goes on the brass screw. Tip: make sure the hook wraps around the screw in the same direction the screw will turn to tighten. That way the hook will close when the screw is tight, rather than open. If you get it backward, you’ll know.

Your receptacle is now wired and ready to be placed in its new home for years of service! All that’s needed now is to put it in the box by tightening down those two screws on the top and bottom. You may notice that the receptacle in the first picture had the ground slot (the round one) on the bottom, and the last picture has it the other way. People tend to like it better with the ground down because it makes it look like a little face, but the proper way is with the ground up. The theory behind that is if there is something plugged in slightly and a piece of slim metal were to fall on it, if the ground is down the metal will make contact with the hot and neutral and all hell will break loose. Done the other way, all the metal will hit is the ground prong. No worries, mate!

You say potato, I say upside down

Time to trek on over to the circuit breaker box and turn on that breaker! Proper way here (there’s a proper way for everything electrical) is to use your non-dominant hand and turn your face away. This way if you screwed up and it explodes it won’t melt your face off and remove your dominant hand. Seriously.

Whoops, using the wrong hand

Everything held? No explosions? Congratulations! You just repaired your first receptacle! Just whatever you do, don’t tell anyone. If you do, they will assume you can come to their house and fix all of their stuff while they drink beer and watch you. Again, seriously.

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