The electrical circuit receptacle, also called wall plug or outlet, is the direct interface between your appliances, lamps, home technology equipment, power tools, or any devise that uses electricity, and the electrical wiring in you home. Faulty receptacles aren’t just an annoying inconvenience; they are a serious safety hazard.
If you have basic handyman skills, replacing a receptacle can be done safely and quickly. This task can be daunting to the average homeowner but needn’t be if basic safety procedures are observed. The key is to do it systematically and safely.
There are usually three types of receptacles in most homes. The most common is the 120 volt duplex type. These are standard outlets having two places to plug in; each place having two slots and a grounding hole, that are connected to the homes 120 volt circuit. Another type found in many homes is the GFCI receptacle, which is a variation of the duplex type, and is used in kitchens, bathes, outdoors or anywhere that electrical shock is a serious hazard. These two types have a hot wire (black) and a common wire (white), plus a ground wire (green). Appliances such as stove tops, clothes dryers and air-conditioners usually require a 240 volt receptacle. This type of receptacle has two hot wires (red and black) and a ground wire. I suggest using an electrician for this type unless you are well versed on electrical procedure and safety.
The first step will be determining if the receptacle is indeed faulty. First, check the breaker (or fuse) in the panel box. If the breaker has tripped or the fuse has blown, reset breaker (replace fuse). (Be aware that the tripped breaker was probably caused by a defective device plugged into the circuit or a defective receptacle although sometimes a breaker is tripped when there are too many devises being used on that particular circuit causing and overload.) A volt meter can be inserted into the slots of the suspect receptacle to check for voltage. Or a test can be done by simply plugging in another devise such as a lamp or some other small devise that you are sure is working while plugged into another receptacle. You also want to be sure that the receptacle isn’t controlled by a switch on the wall somewhere. Receptacles that have either one of the plug-ins or both controlled by a light switch are pretty common, especially in newer homes.
At this point, if it has been determined that the problem isn’t with the device plugged into the receptacle, or a switch turning off the receptacle, it’s time to remove the receptacle. Be sure to switch off the breaker (or remove fuse) to cut power off to the receptacle before continuing. Remove the cover plate and screws securing the receptacle to the outlet box. It is recommended that you use a volt meter to make sure there is no voltage running to the receptacle at this point. Just touch the leads of the meter to the connector screws on each side of the receptacle. If voltage is still present then the wrong circuit breaker was switched off. Once you’re sure the power is off to the outlet, pull the receptacle out of the box.
Examine the receptacle to determine if there are any loose wires. If there is a loose wire, secure it back in place, turn the breaker back on and re-test. If there are no loose wires or the test failed, the next step will be to disconnect the receptacle. If the wires are plugged into the back, use a small slotted screw driver or similar object that can be inserted into the small opening beside the wire plug on the back of the receptacle. This will release the wire from the receptacle. If the wires are connected with the side terminal screws, loosen screws and remove wires. Attach the wires to the replacement receptacle. The black wire will go to the brass colored terminal (which is for the wider slot in the plug-in place on the face) and the white wire will be connected to the silver colored terminal of the receptacle. Now attach the green wire to the ground terminal on the end of the receptacle. Insure that the connections are tight. This is very important because a loose connection can cause an arc that in turn can be a fire hazard. Secure the receptacle to the box with the screws and put the cover plate back over the receptacle.
At this point, it’s time to turn the breaker back on (or put fuse back in place) and test the receptacle with the meter or an electrical devise. If you followed these steps correctly the new receptacle should work properly. If the new receptacle doesn’t work or trips the breaker, I suggest calling an electrician at this point because the problem is not likely to be the receptacle but a more serious problem in the wiring circuit.