A very quick and inexpensive update that you can do in your home is to replace outdated yellowed or broken outlets. You can buy a “contractor pack” of ten or as singles for usually around $.50-$1.30 per piece! The plastic covers for each can also be bought as a contractor pack for pennies on the dollar. Can you believe that?! Most people don’t realize this because they don’t make it a habit to walk up the electric nuts and bolts aisle at the store. Even better, each outlet only takes a couple of minutes to replace.
** Disclaimer: I am NOT a licensed electrician. However, there are many simple projects such as this, that you can do for yourself safely and accurately, as long as you follow EACH step precisely. Any deviation or questions, should be consulted further before proceeding.
Materials Needed: flat and Philips (star head) screwdrivers, wire strippers, plug in style voltage tester (shows proper ground, etc)
How to replace:
1) First and foremost, the most important thing to do is to turn off the WHOLE house power at the breaker panel. The “main” switch is usually at the top. For good measure, I not only flip this one switch but also each individual switch as well to OFF. Overkill maybe, but it doesn’t hurt anything. Of course, just to be certain or if there’s a concern, power off AC’s, computers, TV or other sensitive electronic equipment before you flip the breaker. Some people still like to double check each outlet before they begin by inserting an inexpensive plug in type of voltage tester that shows “no voltage”. This is perfectly fine if it makes you feel better, but really, if you have turned off ALL breakers, there should be no voltage.
2) Begin by unscrewing the outlet cover and discard since this is what you are replacing. Usually a flat head screwdriver is all you need to do this.
3) Next, unscrew the old outlet you want to replace and pull gently from the box so that the side of the outlet/switch is exposed along with the wires. STOP HERE
4) Take a good look at how it is wired. If your outlet is wired with anything other than the following, it would involve a more advanced discussion and you should not proceed until you consult a licensed electrician or more advanced instruction. What I am about to discuss covers the majority of house wiring you will find in the outlet boxes:
BLACK (copper wire with a black insulating cover)=hot wire
WHITE (copper wire with a white insulating cover)=neutral wire
COPPER (no insulation)=ground
5) Using a screw driver, remove the wires from the old outlet by loosening each of the screws. Someone once gave me great advice: If you have 2 sets of the 3 wire system (i.e. 2 blacks, 2 whites wired to one outlet), as you remove them from the old outlet, bend them back in the same pattern so that you can remember how it should go back in to the new outlet. Most older outlets were wired with a “loop” around the screw. For this instruction, we are covering “new style” only and discarding the old loops. The newer style outlets and switches are great because the wire gets inserted directly into a slot in the back without having to get the loop just right, which can be time consuming.
6) Using the wire stripper, clip off the old loop back to the insulating cover. You can leave the exposed copper wire loop as you will re-use this.
7) Using your wire strippers, find the slot that best matches the size of your wire (usually a 12 or 14 slot) and go up about a 1/2″-3/4″ on the black and white wires consecutively and clamp and pull. The wire strippers will strip away the insulating cover only and leave exposed copper wire. Leave the newly exposed area “straight”.
8) Take your new outlet and look at the back and sides. You should see 5 screws (2 silver, 2 gold, 1 green), the back should have 4 small holes and lettering that actually take the guess work out for you by stating “HOT” and “this side up”. Easy huh?!
9) One at a time, insert the black wire into the slot at the top hole on the back marked “HOT” (or if you have 2, in the same pattern as before in both of the “hot” side holes). You should actually feel a small “click” when its pushed in correctly. You should not see ANY exposed copper wire sticking out of the outlet. If it is, pull it out and snip off the small amount that is extra with your wire strippers. Fasten the side screw securely and pull on the wire. It should not give at all. Once this is done, proceed to the white wire and repeat.
10) Reusing the loop for the exposed copper wire, loop the wire around the green screw and secure well so that it does not slip.
11) Once you are satisfied with the fastening, simply push back into the box securely and screw to the outlet box with the screws already provided. Finish with a new cover.
12) Once you are completely done, you may turn the breakers back on. Using your voltage tester, plug it in and it will confirm that you are all wired properly.
You will love the clean, crisp feel of a fresh outlet! Please feel free to comment if you have any questions!