DIY Electrical Receptacle Replacement

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Job

Since we painted the dining room, we also want to update the fixtures and receptacles to newer, more modern looking accents. In this job we change the electrical receptacle to a Leviton Decora outlet.

Safety

Don’t electrocute yourself. Test your receptacle before working on it with either a light bulb or a current sensor. Copper wire ends can be a little sharp. Don’t prick yourself either, but more importantly, don’t electrocute yourself!

Tools

  • Robertson screwdriver
  • flathead screwdriver
  • current tester
  • a Sharpie marker

Materials

  • Decora three-prong outlet
  • Decora plate

Job Plan

  1. Test the outlet. It should beep or your light bulb should turn on. If this does not happen you either have a bad bulb or a bad tester. Test it again until you get a beep to ensure your testing equipment works.
  2. Go to the electrical panel and read the labels. If you don’t see the room in you are working in, try finding adjacent rooms, and take a best guess based rooms close to the one you are working on.
  3. Flip the switch, return to the receptacle and test.
  4. If successful your light bulb or your tester will not respond as it did in step 1. Double check to be sure.
  5. If you still beep return to the panel and try again. Worst case, begin flipping off groups of switches then via process of elimination try to narrow down the correct switch (this is when a helping set of eyes and hands testing the outlet while you are at the panel is helpful).
  6. Assuming that you have narrowed down the panel switch and there is no power to the receptacle, use a flathead screwdriver to remove the cover.
  7. Switch to your Robertson screwdriver to loosen the top and bottom screws fastening the outlet to the box.
  8. Pull the outlet out. Test it again. If it beeps. Stop and and return to step 2.
  9. You will see gold and silver sides on the outlet with black lines going to gold and white lines going to silver. You will also see a naked ground cable attached to a turquoise screw. If there are multiple wires you may see more than one white, black and ground. If you see a red line, that is a communication line and the outlet is on a three-way switch. Unless you are comfortable dealing with a three-way switch, best to put it back together and call for backup.
  10. Disconnect the white side first. If you haven’t successfully turned off the power yet, disconnecting white first will be better for you. Disconnect all of the white side before working on the black side. Keep the colors separate and not touching.
  11. Disconnect black wires.
  12. Disconnect ground.
  13. Take your new receptacle and perform the operation in reverse.
  14. Connect the ground (naked copper wire).
  15. Connect the black wires to the gold side.
  16. Connect the white wires to the silver side.
  17. Ensure that the sheathing is not under the fastening screws, also make sure there is not excess exposed copper on either your black or your white lines. If you see any signs of damage to the box or exposed wire where there shouldn’t be any, call for back up.
  18. Refasten your outlet to the box, pushing the wires in behind the receptacle and into the box. Under no circumstance should any wire be beside or in front of the re-seated outlet. Ideally the box should line up with the wall and not pose any problem with finishes, however use your judgment and loosen or tighten the outlet within the box as required so that when the cover is put on (1) the outlet is straight (2) the cover will slide into place snugly.
  19. Place the new outlet cover over the receptacle and fasten with a flathead screwdriver. Use a light touch. The cover is easily cracked and should float on the outlet against the wall.
  20. Return to your electrical panel and correct any labeling errors you found using a thin black Sharpie marker and a clean legible script or a label maker. Consider the next owner of the house and  yourself the next time you need to work on a particular room or outlet.
  21. Finally, turn your receptacle back on.

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