How to Change a 3-Prong Electrical Outlet

Updated on August 6, 2018
Though it might initially seem somewhat intimidating, you can actually learn how to replace your own 3-prong electrical outlets pretty easily without the need for an electrician.
Though it might initially seem somewhat intimidating, you can actually learn how to replace your own 3-prong electrical outlets pretty easily without the need for an electrician. | Source

At various times, electrical outlets in homes wear out, become outdated, go bad, break, get smeared with paint, or otherwise succumb to a host of other problems that necessitate their replacement. Luckily, replacing an electrical outlet is generally a simple task that one can do without the help of an electrician. And since most electricians will charge you $25 or more to replace an outlet in your home, it's a useful skill to learn how to replace them on your own when you can.

Don’t let this task intimidate you, though. I must have changed out 30 electrical outlets when we bought our home. Eventually, I got lazy and didn’t even cut the power off when changing them, since I was so used to replacing them. I did, however, get zotched a few times! But this guide will show you how to do it the right way through a handful of simple and easy steps.

This diagram should help you distinguish which pin is which. The bottom pin is the ground (copper), the slot on the right is the hot pin (brass/black), and the longer slot on the left is the neutral pin (white/silver).
This diagram should help you distinguish which pin is which. The bottom pin is the ground (copper), the slot on the right is the hot pin (brass/black), and the longer slot on the left is the neutral pin (white/silver). | Source

How to Change a 3-Prong Electrical Outlet

If you just follow these simple steps, you'll have changed your 3-prong electrical outlet in no time:

Materials

  • Any electrical appliance
  • Voltage tester (optional)
  • Wire cutters/pliers
  • Electrical tape
  • Phillips and flat head screwdrivers
  • New 3-prong outlet and outlet cover

Instructions

  1. Locate your fuse box and turn off the power to the outlets you will be replacing.
  2. Before beginning, use an appliance or electrical tester to make sure the power is in fact cut off.
  3. Once you confirm the power is off, remove the outlet cover with the correct screwdriver (dependent on your outlet). In each 3-prong outlet, you will see two parallel slots and a bottom pin. The bottom pin is the ground, the slot on the right is the hot pin, and the slot on the left (which is longer) is the neutral pin.
  4. Remove the screws holding the outlet securely to the metal junction box.
  5. Carefully pull the outlet out of the junction box it is secured in.
  6. You will see terminals on the back or sides of the receptacle. The brass or black screw is the hot wire and the silver or white is the neutral. You will also see a copper wire, which is the ground.
  7. Once you determine which wires are hot, neutral, and ground, begin detaching the wires one at a time.
  8. Attach those wires to the new outlet in their corresponding positions. (Since the power is off, you can remove one and then replace it on the new outlet as you work, so you do not get confused.)
  9. Once all wires are attached to the new receptacle correctly, wrap a 2- to 3-inch piece of electrical tape around the part where the wires connect to the terminals. Two layers of tape is fine. Pay attention to cover the brass screws well. Doing this will help protect the wires and serves as an extra safety measure. This can prevent short circuits if anyone ever jams things into the outlet the wrong way.
  10. Return the outlet to the wall and attach back to the junction box with the securing screws.
  11. At this point, you should turn the power on and test the outlet. If the power comes on when plugging your appliance in, congrats! You did a great job! If it does not, turn off the power again and repeat steps 1–11.
  12. Once everything is working as it should, replace the outlet cover and you're done!

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Rebecca

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