How to install a new outlet

With a little common sense – and a lot of caution – you can save money by installing electrical outlets yourself.
Most of the money you spend on this project pays the electrician. Depending on local ordinances and laws, you may be able to bypass that person entirely. Be sure to check before you start this project: the fines for code violations probably cost more than following them.

DON’T GET TOO EXCITED – THINK AHEAD!:

-Do a walk-through of your home with a pad and pencil or pen, taking note of every outlet that needs to be installed or replaced. Don’t forget to include the plates that cover the outlets. Most are plastic, but some are brass or metal.

-Note the type of outlet you want. This includes specific colors as well as plug designs. You don’t want to wire a dryer plug into your bedroom – unless, of course, you want your clothes dryer next to your bed.

-Find the right tools for the job. You’ll need:

Wire strippers
A pair of pliers (to bend the wire around to fit the screws)
Screwdrivers (a Phillips and flathead)
A circuit tester (to make sure you’ve done the job right)

TO THE HARDWARE STORE, O MIGHTY AMATEUR ELECTRICIAN!

Now that you have the list of parts and tools you’ll need for this job, you can go to the hardware store and make your purchases. Home-improvement warehouses are also good places to shop, if only because the prices are a little lower.

Note: it doesn’t hurt to buy an extra outlet, just in case you miscounted or accidentally break one. It’s also nice to have a spare in the junk drawer or toolbox in case you need to replace it later.

Also: be sure that you buy the right parts. If your house is wired for 110 volts, then you need outlets capable of handling that current. This is usually the case, but it doesn’t hurt to be sure – especially if you’re not excited about putting out electrical fires or trying to reset thrown circuit breakers in the middle of the night.

BOLDLY APPROACH THE BOX!

Because you’re dealing with enough electricity to flash-fry an elephant (or at least give it a good shock), you have to be VERY CAREFUL while you’re doing this job. You may be excited about doing this, but that’s no excuse for forgetting basic safety rules.

-TURN OFF THE POWER before you attempt ANY work with the electrical system. This can be accomplished by throwing the main circuit breaker, which kills all power to the house. You can also turn off the inside breaker (usually somewhere in the master bedroom) tied in with that particular circuit. Or, if you REALLY want to be Mr. Safety, you can kill them both. There’s nothing wrong with being extremely cautious.

No matter what route you choose, though, YOU MUST BE SURE THAT THE POWER IS OFF BEFORE YOU BEGIN WORKING ON THE NEXT OUTLET. Most wiring jobs don’t divide your house by rooms. You can have an outlet on one wall that’s dead because you turned off the breaker, but the outlet ten feet away from it can still be live. Use your circuit tester to be SURE it’s safe to open it up and work on it.

Now that you’ve protected yourself against accidental electrocution (and a lot of torment from your friends), you can begin the real work: changing the outlets.

It’s simple, really, because all you’re doing is removing a few screws and switching out one part.

-Unscrew the faceplate with your screwdriver. This is probably a job for the flathead. Be sure to store the screw someplace safe – a coffee mug usually works as long as you’re careful not to kick it when you get up to move to the next outlet.

-Remove the screws holding the outlet plug in place. With a little prying from the flathead screwdriver, you should be able to GENTLY dislodge it from its place and get it out without damaging the wall (or yourself).

-Remove ONE of the wires leading to the outlet. Run that wire to the new outlet plug, in the same location. You’re doing this one at a time so that you’re sure to put everything in the correct place.

-Repeat until all the wires are in place and tightened. If some or all of the wires are uncooperative, use the pliers to GENTLY re-bend the looped ends so that they’ll fit snugly.

-Screw the new plug into place. Don’t bother replacing the plate just yet; you still have to test this plug to make sure it works.

-Move on to the next outlet and repeat.

-When you’re finished with all the plugs, turn the electricity back on and go around with your circuit tester. If they all register the same voltage, then you’ve done your job correctly. Turn the power back off before replacing the plates. You don’t want your screwdriver to slip into the plug with the electricity running full-tilt.

Depending on your area, you may be required to have an electrician inspect the job you’ve done. A phone call to City Hall should answer the question.

If not, then enjoy your handiwork.

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