Every year, thousands of homes catch fire, hundreds of lives are lost and millions of dollars are spent rebuilding burned-out homes. In many cases, it's older wiring that's the culprit. But there are also occasions when a bad or broken outlet shoulders the blame. This article will go over some of the signs to look for if you think you may have a bad outlet and how to easily replace it so you don't become a victim of an electrical fire.
Electricity is an impressive thing when you stop and think about it. It really is incredible how man has developed this unique power supplying system. Yet it remains an incredibly delicate and dangerous system. When everything is properly wired and all the connections are tight, the system can function for years with no problems. However, if there is a loose connection in the mix or if something gets incorrectly wired, look out--sparks will fly, literally.
Signs of Problems
There are a few simple things to look for when trying to determine if you have a bad or broken outlet. The first thing, of course, is external evidence that the outlet may be broken. The face of the outlet is made from plastic, so over time, it can crack or chip. Also, if the outlet looks burned or has what looks like scorch marks above the outlet, then you know it's time to change it.
Besides the visual problems with an outlet, there are some things to look for when plugging in an appliance or light. Within each of the outlet's "slits" are two pieces of copper that the prongs on the electrical cord slide between when it is plugged in. The prongs are held in the outlet by means of the pressure applied by the copper pieces. Over time and through plenty of use, these copper pieces begin to spread wider and wider apart, thus allowing for a weaker hold on the prongs. You may find your electrical cords halfway out of an outlet, or sometimes simply falling out altogether. Another example of poor connectivity is when you plug in a lamp and it flickers whenever you touch the plug or cord.
If you've experienced these conditions with one or more of your outlets, never fear--you can easily replace the old outlet with a new one and it will only cost you a couple of dollars and a few minutes of your time.
Step 1 - Turn off the Power
The first step when replacing any electrical component is always to turn OFF the power to the outlet at the circuit breaker inside the main panel. Turn your voltage tester on and probe the outlet's terminals to ensure that the circuit is off. Make sure to check both the top and the bottom of the outlet, because sometimes a duplex outlet can be divided and fed from two different circuits.
Step 2 - Remove Face Plate and Old Outlet
Use your screwdriver to unscrew the faceplate and remove it. Next, unscrew the two screws holding the broken outlet to the box within the wall. Carefully pull the outlet out of the box. Once again use the voltage tester to probe the side terminal screws to ensure the circuit is dead.
Step 3 - Remove the Outlet
Unscrew the wires from the sides of the outlet. If you're dealing with older wiring and the wires aren't noticeably black or white, an easy tip is to look at the screws on the side of the outlet. Usually, the "hot" side has darker colored screws, while the neutral side has lighter colored terminals.
Step 4 - Inspect and Prep the Wires
Once the wires are removed from the outlet, throw the old outlet away. Inspect the wires for any nicks or scorch marks. Also check to ensure the insulation is still in good shape and not brittle and hard. With the wire strippers, cut off the exposed wire and then strip away about 3/4-inch of insulation. Use the hole on the wire strippers to form a half-circle with the exposed copper wire.
Step 5 - Wire the New Outlet
Make sure the screws on the new outlet are unscrewed enough to fit the wire underneath them. Wrap the black wire over the screw on the "hot" side of the outlet (remember it gets connected to the darker screws) and tighten it down. Follow the same instructions for the white wire. Wrap a length of electrical tape around the outlet so that all of the terminals are securely covered.
Step 6 - Install the Outlet in the Box
Use the screwdriver to screw the top and bottom screws of the outlet back into the wall box. Screw the faceplate back onto the outlet and clean up any debris left behind.
Step 7 - Turn on the Power
Turn the circuit breaker back on and probe the new outlet with the voltage tester to ensure it's wired properly. When plugged in, the tester should read anywhere from 115 volts to 120 volts in most cases.
That's all there is to it. You now can fix one of the most common electrical problems in most homes, and you don't need to pay a fortune for an electrician to do it for you. You just saved a bundle and made your home a much safer place at the same time.