Basic: Install Electrical Outlet

First, turn off the power (click off the breaker)to the specific thing you’ll be working on at the main service panel (left) and make sure everyone knows not to turn it back on until you are done. This should be “step 1” to everyhome electrical repair you do. The page glued to the door of the breaker box (called a “service panel” by the pros) lists the breaker number and corresponding outlets, area or appliance. Once you’ve rechecked to make sure the power is off, remove the screws on the wall plate or fixture base and “look inside” the box.

Observe the mounting screws holding the actual switch or outlet in place. When you have removed those, gently pull the unit toward you (see image below) and note how the wires are connected. Now test the switch, outlet or light fixturebefore touching anything with your fingers, using your neon light voltage tester, to make absolutely sure the power is off. If you’ll be working with the wiring, you may want to know the electrical wire size you will be dealing with also.

A small piece of tape marking each wire and the corresponding screw or attachment is a good idea. When you install (electrical outlet terminals, light switches, etc.) anything, they will need to be reconnected exactly as you disconnected them.

The image (right) shows a switch with screw-in terminals. Light switches and outlets have a couple of ways of securing the wires to the working unit. Some simply plug into small holes on the back, which can be released by pushing a small flat head screwdriver in the adjacent small rectangle hole and pulling the wire.

The line drawing (left) shows connection to a switch with its own wires attached by twisting wire nuts (those small colored plastic “caps”) on to both those and the wires coming out of the wall. These are usually dimmer switches. When you install electrical outlets or switches, regardless of how they’re attached, make sure they’re tight with no bare wire exposed. As long as the power is off, though, these things should be as safe as any other remodel project.

Replace the new unit and, before you even put it back in its box and screw it down, check it by flipping the breaker ON. If everything’s okay, flip the breaker OFF, put it all back together, switch the power back on and admire your handywork! Keep focused on the job and conscious of the details.

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