Replacing Power Outlets in Your Home

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If one or more of the power outlets in your home is old-fashioned, unsightly, or has stopped working and you have had some previous experience working with wiring, you may want to replace it yourself (although using a professional is always advisable).

Replacing Power Outlets in Your Home

If you choose to do a DIY power outlet replacement, the usual process looks something like this:

  • Kill the power to the outlet you want to replace by switching off the relevant circuit breaker, or even better, switching off the main breaker and cutting power to the whole house.
  • Double-check that the outlet is not live by using an electrical tester.
  • Unscrew the old outlet and pull it forward to expose the wiring.
  • Disconnect the wiring, noting how it was connected, and remove the outlet.
  • Attach the wiring to the new outlet by following the supplied wiring diagram, or by replicating the way the old outlet was connected if no diagram is available.
  • Gently push the outlet back into the enclosure box, being careful not to snag or pinch any of the wiring in the process, and insert the securing screws.
  • Switch the circuit and/or the main breaker to the “on” position.
  • Test that the new outlet is working properly by connecting an appliance or small lamp, etc. and switching it on – if the outlet doesn’t work, the circuit breaker trips, or you see sparks or notice a burning smell, leave the circuit breaker off and call a licensed electrician immediately.
  • Throw out the old outlet (or take it to a facility that recycles electrical equipment if there is one in your area).

You should NEVER try to replace an outlet in your home if:

  • The outlet is causing a circuit breaker (or the main breaker) to trip.
  • There are sparks or a burning smell coming from the outlet.
  • Replacing the outlet will require cutting into walls and/or modifying wiring – e.g., if the outlet is a very old type and no replacement can be found that will fit into the box, with the screws and holes lining up, etc.
  • Local codes require you to replace one or more regular outlets with ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets, especially in the kitchen, bathrooms, or outdoors – or you simply want to do this to make your home safer (GFCI outlets are designed to shut off the power if they come into contact with water or if the electrical load becomes unbalanced). Improperly grounding a GFCI outlet can result in a loss of power in the home, or even cause a fire.

In the cases above, or in any situation where the replacement of an outlet requires more than removing and reattaching wires and screwing the new outlet in, or if you have no previous experience working with electrical wiring, call a professional to do the job for you.

Of course, the safest way to do things and not to expose your home and family to unnecessary risk is to simply have all electrical work performed by a licensed electrician.