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Electrical 101: Replacing an Electrical Outlet

Does the thought of attempting an electrical project on your own give you anxiety? While most electrical repairs are best left to the professionals, there are a few simple procedures that even a novice can take on. Replacing light fixtures and light plates – even rewiring lamps are very basic tasks that can be completed without any previous experience. All they require is a bit of patience, attention to detail and strict adherence to safety guidelines.

One of the easier DIY electrical projects most anyone can take on is replacing an electrical outlet. Sometimes an outlet will short out and need to be replaced. Instead of calling a technician, try changing it out yourself. Note: Make sure that before you attempt any electrical project that the power has been turned off! If your breaker panel is clearly labeled, turn off the breaker that routes the power to the outlet. If it isn’t clearly labeled, and the outlet isn’t working, you can use a multimeter to test whether or not there is power.

How to Use a Multimeter

The tools and materials are few and the actual project shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes of your time.


  • Screwdriver (Phillips or flathead)
  • Long-Nose Pliers


  • Replacement Outlet(s)

There are three kinds of outlets, though the one you’re replacing is probably the most common (a grounded outlet):

  • Ungrounded Outlet – These are generally found in older homes and also referred to as two-pronged outlets (because they are missing the third slot used for grounding).
  • Grounded – This is the modern three-prong design found in most houses.
  • Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) – This outlet was specifically designed for areas exposed to water or moisture. Outlets in the bathroom, by the kitchen sink and water spouts are protected by a built-in breaker that automatically shuts off the power when it detects the current is flowing along an unintended path (such as water).

If you live in an older home with only two-pronged (ungrounded) outlets and wish to replace them with a three-pronged design for convenience, this is possible. You will be able to use the outlet for power with a three-prong plug. But understand that you will need a technician to change the outlet into a grounded vehicle. The outlet won’t be any safer, but it will be more versatile.

Now, if you have a two- or three-pronged outlet that you would like protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter, this is possible. In general you will want to replace the current outlet with whatever type is already in place, but switching to a GFCI is beneficial in certain locations of your home.

Replacing an Outlet

  • Make sure that the power is off.
  • Unscrew the faceplate.
  • Remove the screws securing the actual outlet in its box.
  • Gently pull the outlet from the wall (the wires will give). Pull it out far enough for you have sufficient work space.
  • There will be two colored wires connected: white (neutral wire), black (hot/power wire). The wiring might also include a green wire (or sometimes simply copper wire, which is the ground wire). (SEE PHOTO BELOW)
  • Unscrew the terminal screws and undo the wires.
  • Inspect the old receptacle to see if the break-off tab that connects the two sets of terminals (on either side) has been broken off. If it has, break off the corresponding tables on the new outlet.
  • Carefully attach the wires in the box to the new outlet in this order:
  1. If the wiring in the wall includes a ground wire (green or copper), affix it to the green grounding screw on the new outlet first.
  2. Attach the white (neutral) wire to the silver-colored terminal screw.
  3. Attach the black (hot/power) wire to the gold-colored terminal screw.
  • Gently push the new outlet into place and screw it into the box.
  • Attach the cover plate.
  • Restore power and test the outlet.

We trust that your first foray with an electrical project goes well. But remember, most electrical projects should be handled by professionals. If you ever need assistance with a project or repair Universal has the experienced technicians who can help! Whether it’s a light installation, an inspection or something more involved, we have the tools and the expertise to get it done right! Call us today at (713) 364-0226 and we’ll set up an appointment.