The homeowners guide to replacing electrical outlets

by Team HomeServe |
How to Install an Electrical Outlet

Replacing old outlets is a common, inexpensive, DIY fix that most average homeowners can handle.

Here's what you need to know about replacing electrical outlets:

Signs that it's time to replace

Old outlets can be a fire hazard, so it's important to replace them when they show signs of aging. The most obvious indicator is that the outlet no longer holds plugs snugly.

When it is time for a change, choose a ground fault circuit interrupter (“GFCI”) outlet. GFCI outlets offer better protection from electrical shock than standard ones. They automatically turn off if there's a short circuit or if they detect the current flowing incorrectly, such as through a person or water.

Tools and materials

To complete this DIY project, you'll need:

Needle nose pliers
Voltage tester
New electrical outlet

Check the amp rating on the old outlet so you can choose the right replacement. You can purchase new outlets and voltage testers at most home improvement or electronic supply stores. As you shop, keep in mind that electrical outlets are also called receptacles.

How to replace an electrical outlet

Safety always comes first: Review these quick tips for safe electrical DIY before you get to work on the outlet. When you're ready, follow these steps:

1. Turn off the power.

Never do electrical DIY with the power on; you'll risk a painful shock running through your body. You can switch off the power from the main fuse or circuit panel.

2. Unscrew the cover plate.

Once the screws are free, carefully remove the cover.

3. Test the circuit.

Use a voltage tester to make sure the power is definitely off and it's safe to proceed. Place one probe on the taller outlet slot first, and then touch the other probe to the shorter slot.

4. Unscrew the receptacle.

Remove it from the wall with the wires still attached.

5. Remove the wires.

Take note of how the wires are attached to the old receptacle, so you can follow suit when attaching the new one. Snap a picture so you can reference it as you complete the next step.

6. Use pliers to attach the wires to the new receptacle.

Black wires typically attach to brass screws, while white wires attach to silver screws. GFCI models also have a ground wire that attaches to a green screw on the outlet.

7. Push the receptacle back into the wall.

Screw it back into place.

8. Screw the cover plate back on.

This is also a great opportunity for creative DIY: Instead of the original wall plate, you can attach a decorative one for a totally new look.

9. Turn the power back on.

You can use the voltage tester to make sure the circuit is live again. A well-grounded outlet should be about 120 volts.

10. Test your work.

Plug in a small electronic device, and turn it on to test the outlet. Press the test button on the outlet, which should cut the electricity. When you press the reset button, the electricity should turn back on. Pro tip from Home Depot: Use this method to test GFCI outlets every month. If the indicator light doesn't turn off and back on, it's time to replace the outlet again.

While replacing outlets is an easy electrical fix, many repairs require the expert skills of a licensed electrician. If you think there is something awry with your electrical system, don't wait to call a professional, as these issues can be serious safety hazards.

Being prepared before electrical issues arise is always a good strategy. Plans from HomeServe can help with the costs of covered repairs. See what plans are available in your area.