How to Install an Electrical Outlet

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Whether you have a broken electrical outlet or just want to update the look of your home’s electrical devices to go with the new decorating, installing a new 120-volt electrical outlet is a simple project. A broken or faulty outlet is a definite concern, and, as with any electrical project around the home, safety is the number one concern. With a little bit of advice and a focus on safety, any homeowner or DIYer can replace an electrical outlet. Join the At Home channel’s host, Jeff Wilson, for a quick lesson on how to install a standard 120-volt electrical outlet.

Necessary Tools and Materials

  • Straight screwdriver
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Wire strippers
  • Pliers
  • Wire nuts
  • 120-volt duplex outlet
  • Matching cover plate

How to Install a 120-Volt Electrical Receptacle

  1. Make sure the power is off before beginning any work on any electrical device. At the electrical panel, turn off the breaker for the circuit on which you’ll be working. To check that the power has been shut off, you can use an electrical tester. Any number of electrical testers will do the job, although they each work in a slightly different way.
    • A plug-in type receptacle tester simply plugs into the outlet and lights up. The three lights and chart on the top are used to indicate whether the device is properly wired.
    • A probe type tester has two short wires that are bare at the ends. The probes insert into the outlet, and if the light comes on, there is power at the outlet.
    • A pen type voltage tester (or non-contact voltage tester) will indicate when current is present in many electrical devices. To test a receptacle, simply push the button and insert the tip into the hot side of the outlet. You’ll see the light and hear a beeping noise if there is power at the fixture.
  2. Remove the existing cover plate.
  3. Remove the two screws that hold the outlet in place and pull the receptacle from the box.
  4. Loosen the screws on the sides of the outlet and disconnect the wires from the device.
  5. Now you’re ready to install the new outlet. A standard 120-volt electrical outlet has a hot side and common side. Black is hot and white is common, or neutral. The green screw is for the bare ground wire.
    • In some cases, you may have two sets of wires that come into the box. One set is coming from the electrical panel to the outlet, while the other set of wires continues the circuit to feed another outlet.
    • A standard 120-volt electrical outlet has two screws for connecting hot (or black) wires and two screws for connecting neutral (or white) wires.
  6. Connect the black wire(s) to the hot side. Use needle-nose pliers to bend the wire back 180 degrees to create a loop to place around the screw. Best practices suggest approx. 3/4 around the screw for the best connections.
  7. Connect the white wire(s) to the common side in the same manner.
  8. Connect the bare wire(s) to the green ground screw. As there is typically only one green screw on the outlet, you may need to use a wire nut to connect multiple bare wires to a single short wire and then connect the short jumper wire to the green screw on the outlet.
  9. Fold the wires carefully back into the box. Gently folding the wires like an accordion puts minimal stress on the wires and allows the new outlet to fit into the box.
  10. Install the top and bottom screws that connect the outlet to the box. Notice that the holes for mounting the outlet leave a little room to move it back and forth. Check that the outlet is perpendicular with the floor, so that the switch plate cover will be straight, and tighten the screws.
  11. Finally, install the new cover plate to the outlet by tightening the screw in the middle of the plate.
  12. Turn the power back on at the electrical panel.
  13. Check for proper operation with one of the voltage testers mentioned above.
Ryan Carpico

Ryan is a Registered Architect who earned a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Kentucky in 1998. His experience in a broad spectrum of architectural projects includes design and project management in multi-family residential, general commercial, and institutional projects. This architectural experience is balanced with a background in general contracting of residential and light commercial construction projects. Ryan’s knowledge and ability as both architect and builder enable him to address both the technical and practical sides of the comprehensive body of construction knowledge.

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