Replacing worn out or outdated electrical outlets and switches is an easy do-it-yourself home improvement project. With some basic tools and safety precautions, you can upgrade the look and functionality of your electrical system.
Reasons to Replace Outlets and Switches
There are several reasons why you may need to replace electrical outlets and switches:
Upgrade to GFCI outlets - GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets are essential in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms and other areas where water is present. They shut off power if electricity leaks through water, preventing shocks.
Replace old or broken outlets/switches - Outlets and switches wear out over time. Replacing them restores safe electrical function. Signs include loose connections, sparks, flickering lights.
Lighten or brighten a room - New white or almond outlets and switches can make a room seem brighter. Replacing brown, yellowed outlets provides a quick cosmetic upgrade.
Add safety features - Tamper-resistant outlets prevent kids from inserting objects. Weather-resistant covers protect outdoor outlets. Timer switches automate lights.
Electrical Safety Precautions
Working with electrical wiring can be dangerous. Take these precautions:
Turn off circuit breaker - Locate the breaker controlling the outlet/switch and turn it off. Use a contact voltage tester to confirm power is off.
Disconnect light fixtures - Take down any light fixtures so wires are not live when removing the switch.
Avoid working alone - Have someone present in case of emergency. Never work on electricity alone.
Wear safety gear - Use insulating rubber gloves and shoes when handling wires. Safety goggles protect your eyes from debris.
Use caution on aluminum wiring - Hire an electrician if your home has aluminum wiring. It presents hazards if improperly handled.
How to Replace an Electrical Outlet
Replacing an outlet is a straightforward process once you turn off the power. Follow these key steps:
1. Turn off electricity and confirm it's off
Turn off the breaker controlling the outlet. Verify power is off by testing with a contact voltage tester. Ensure electricity is off throughout the entire process for safety.
2. Remove cover plate screws
Use a Phillips screwdriver to remove the two cover plate screws holding the outlet in place. Pull the outlet from the electrical box but leave wires connected.
3. Disconnect and remove old outlet
Loosen each screw terminal and remove wires one by one. Take note of wire positions using colored tape. Remove the old outlet and pull wires out of the box.
4. Prepare new outlet and connect wires
Strip 3/4" insulation from wire ends. Wrap wires clockwise around new outlet screw terminals in the same positions as old outlet. Tighten terminal screws securely.
5. Mount new outlet in box
Push wires back into box and mount new outlet flush to wall surface. Screw on the cover plate. Carefully restore power and test with a voltage meter.
Replacing Light Switches
Replacing a standard single pole switch is a very similar process:
1. Turn off electricity and confirm it's off
Locate switch breaker, turn off power, and verify with a voltage tester. Take down any light fixtures.
2. Remove switch plate and mounting screws
Unscrew switch plate and mounting screws holding the switch in place. Carefully pull switch from box without touching wires.
3. Disconnect wires and remove switch
Make note of the screw terminal wire positions. Loosen screws and disconnect wires one at a time. Remove old switch.
4. Connect wires to new switch
Connect new switch wires to same screw terminals as old switch. Wrap clockwise around screws and tighten. Double check connections.
5. Mount new switch and install plate
Carefully tuck wires into box and mount new switch flush. Attach switch plate cover. Turn power back on and test switch.
- Use a voltage tester to regularly check that power is off when replacing outlets and switches.
- Take pictures before disconnecting any wires to remember the wiring layout.
- Only work on small sections of wiring at a time, replacing one outlet/switch per breaker.
- When in doubt, consult an electrician - safety is paramount when working with electrical wiring.
With proper safety precautions, the right tools, and by following the correct steps, you can successfully replace electrical outlets and switches in your home. Take your time, be cautious of wires, turn power off completely, and call an electrician for any uncertainties. New outlets and switches will upgrade safety, aesthetics and functionality.