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Replacing an Electrical Outlet

by Hickerson Brothers on March 25, 2016

How to Replace or Repair an Electrical OutletThe essential electrical outlet (also known as electrical sockets, receptacles, and plugs) is so necessary to modern life that it’s almost impossible to imagine a home being built without them.  While we may someday be able to enjoy wireless charging for all our devices (goodbye trip-hazard cables), that day isn’t here yet and we’re left with those familiar white electrical outlets being placed regularly along each wall.

It’s fortunate that we like choices and decisions, because these simple little devices give us plenty of options.  From location to type, choosing an outlet is extremely customizable.  While there are a few requirements set down by the NEC, many of these are already standard in electrical outlets so you don’t have to worry about it when selecting a replacement.

Types of Outlets

Yes, there are a great number of different styles and types of outlets in the world, but that isn’t what we’re looking at here.  When it comes to electrical outlets, you get a choice based on what you plan to use the outlet for and where it’s going to be located.  Some of these choices are for safety reasons while others are simply cosmetic differences.

Some factors are required by the NEC.  Regular outlets every 2-3 feet are mandatory, and an outlet with a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is mandatory for outlets near open water sources or in locations where high-impedance appliances (think power tools) are used.  Otherwise, it’s up to you to configure your outlets as you like.  Special outlets for 220 or 240 volt appliances are used on dedicated circuits (mostly washers, dryers, and electric ovens).

As you can imagine, this opens the playing field quite a bit.  For regular, floor-level outlets you might want to consider safety outlets to protect small children from inserting things into the socket itself.  Then again, you can always cover the outlets with safety plugs to prevent a toddler from tampering with them.

Another thing to consider is an outlet with more modern sockets.  By which we mean an outlet that has both standard 3-prong sockets and USB ports built directly into the outlet.  Rather than taking up precious electrical sockets with USB chargers, having a couple of USB slots built directly into the outlet can be a life saver when it comes time to charge your devices.

Is it Time?

Should you even be considering a replacement outlet?  If you aren’t getting power from an electrical socket it could be an issue at your home’s circuit breaker, but if a quick check of your electrical panel shows no tripped circuits, then the problem is likely elsewhere, and may necessitate a quick repair or replacement.  Fortunately, replacing an electrical outlet is easy.

But if your outlet is powering devices and appliances correctly, it might still be time for a replacement.  There are a few other factors to consider when it comes to aging electrical outlets. Is your outlet:

  • Warm to the touch?
  • Powering devices properly?
  • Causing regular breaker trips?
  • Delivering mild electric shocks when touched?
  • Holding electrical plugs or allowing them to slide out?
  • Causing a visible electrical arc when connecting plugs?

If any of these are the case, then it’s time for a replacement or (at the very least) a repair by a licensed electrician.  If it’s a problem with the outlet itself, a replacement is often the quickest and most inexpensive response.  However, if the problem is actually with the wiring in your home, or with connections leading to the electrical receptacle (possibly due to worn insulation), then getting a licensed electrician to examine the outlet is ideal.

How to Replace an Outlet

If you plan to order your replacement outlet online, be sure that it’s designed to work with American plugs at 120 volts.  Once you have your outlet, you’re ready to replace the old receptacle with the newer one.

  1. Turn off power to the outlet. Simple flip the breaker (or remove the fuse) at your electrical panel to make sure that power is disconnected to the outlet.
  2. Remove the faceplate. There should be one or two screws holding the faceplate in place. Simply unscrew them to remove the plate.  If you have a voltage tester, this is a good time to double check and make sure that there is no power running to the outlet.
  3. Unscrew the receptacle, detaching it from the electrical box. Pull the entire assembly free of the electrical box, with the wires still attached to the back of the outlet.
  4. Take note of where the black and white wires are on the electrical receptacle (we’ll be placing them in a similar configuration for the replacement). Remove the wires.
  5. Inspect the tabs on the old receptacle. If the break-off tabs connecting the two terminals are broken, duplicate it with the new outlet by bending the tabs back and forth with a pair of pliers until they break free.
  6. Attach wires to the new receptacle. Be sure to connect any green (common or earth-ground) wires to the green terminal on the electrical box or receptacle.
  7. Replace the receptacle and screw into place.
  8. Replace the cover and turn on the power.

Hickerson Electrical is your source for all home electrical services.  We’re ready and willing to deliver top-quality service to your home at a moment’s notice.  So call today at (703) 594-3913.

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