Your electrical system is composed of numerous different parts and components, however there’s really only one that you interact with and think about every single day: the outlets on your walls. Electrical outlets are the ports from which we get the electricity we need to power our devices, and that means we’re constantly plugging things in and pulling them out from these sockets. Over time, this will eventually lead to wear and tear in the sockets themselves, and that wear and tear will eventually lead to the socket needing replaced.

Replacing a socket is a pretty simple repair for your home, and one that you can do yourself with even the most basic of handywork skills. In this blog, we’ll explain how you know when you need to change a socket and then give quick step-by-step instructions on how to replace it properly.

When Do You Need a New Outlet?

It’s pretty easy to tell when general use and wear and tear have brought an outlet to the end of its lifespan. A few of the most common signs of an old or wearing-out outlet include sparking when plugging something in, a humming or high-pitched ringing noise coming from the outlet, a general warm feeling coming from the outlet, or plugs which simply won’t stay in anymore because the electrical contacts have become worn and loose. If you notice any of these signs, then it’s a good time to change out your outlet and put a new, secure one in its place. You’ll be safer, and your whole home will be at a much lower risk for a fire.

How to Change an Outlet

You’ll need just a few basic tools: a flat-head screwdriver, a Phillips-head screwdriver, needle-nose pliers, and wire cutters. Wire strippers are optional, but can make removing the plastic shielding around the wires in your walls a little bit easier if you don’t have the skill to do it with just the wire cutters.

First, start by shutting off power to the outlet you’re replacing. To do this, plug in a lamp or other device you can clearly see is powered on, and have someone keep an eye on it. Then go to your electrical panel and find the circuit breaker that your outlet should be on. Flip it to the off position. If the lamp or other device shuts off, then you’ll know you’ve found the right one. However, to be on the safe side, take the lamp out of the outlet and plug it into a different outlet and see if it turns on. If it does, then your outlet is successfully turned off. Safety is absolutely critical when performing this service.

Next, you’ll want to remove the old outlet. To do this, simply unscrew the outlet cover plate, which is usually done with one small flat-head screw in the center of the plate. Remove this screw and the plate should come right off. Next, you’ll want to loosen the outlet from the receptacle it’s mounted in. This is done with two smaller screw, one located at both the top and the bottom of the front of the outlet (they may be either Phillips or flat-head). This will loosen the outlet and allow you to pull it away from the receptacle.

On each side of the outlet, you’ll see one of two things: a screw holding a wire in place, or a wire being fed into a small tube designed to hold it in place. These are the hot (black, brown, or another dark color) and neutral (white) wires which bring the electrical current through your outlet itself. There may also be a third unshielded wire coming from your outlet, known as your ground wire, which functions as an added safety feature. Simply loosen the screws on the sides of the outlet and the wires should all come free from the outlet to disconnect it completely.

Next, visually expect the wires themselves to see their condition. The copper in these wires can corrode and wear out over time, resulting in added resistance that can lead to the extra heat and sparking in your outlet. If your wire appears corroded, trim off the that segment and then strip the shielding off the wires coming from inside your wall to expose roughly another half-inch of wire. This wire should be bright, shiny, and like-new. This isn’t necessary for your unshielded ground wire.

You can either bend this wire into a hook shape and attach it to the screws on the side of your outlet, or press the exposed wire into the correct hole. In both cases, simply tighten down the screw on each wire and you should be good to go. Make sure you placed the wires in the appropriate holes. Reversing any two connections could have devastating consequences for your home. The hot wire should be labeled as such, or may be indicated by a “plus” (+) sign. The neutral wire should be labeled as such or maybe with a “minus” (-). The ground wire will be labeled as “ground.”

Once all of your connections are correct and secured, press the new outlet into your receptacle and use the two screws you removed to put it back in place. Then simply replace the cover with the other screw, turn your breaker switch back on at your electrical panel, and you should be good to go! Plug in your lamp or device to check that your outlet works correctly.

If you need help with an outlet problem, or you have another electrical issue which needs serviced, pick up the phone and call All Pro Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Electrical at (909) 500-8193 today.

Note: These instructions are for simple, basic electrical outlets only. Outlets with additional features like USB ports, added lighting, or automatic timers may require additional wiring configuration to set up properly. If you’re looking to replace one of these outlets or replace a normal outlet with one of these feature-loaded outlets, we strongly encourage you to contact our electricians and have them complete the installation for you.