Electrical DIY projects are frequent in most households, for example, replacing light bulbs and re-attaching a loose wire connection on an appliance. Another good but less common example is replacing a faulty outlet. However, a certain amount of skill and know-how is required to minimize the risk of:
- damage to the outlet
- damage to the electrical structure
We all know the frustration and inconvenience when an outlet fails. If the outlet stops working, fixing it should be easy and quick. This guide will assist you in narrowing down the fault origin. If the fault lies within the outlet, follow this step-by-step guide to replace an electrical outlet with four wires. Also, below are the required items you will need.
Step #1: Troubleshooting The Failed Outlet
First, identify that it is indeed the outlet and not the appliance that is faulty. Does the appliance work when plugged into another outlet? Second, check the breaker box as it sometimes happens that the circuit breaker trips.
Lastly, to determine that you are on the right track, answer these questions.
- Did you identify your specific outlet as having four wires, and the replacement has the same?
- Does the cover plate match the new outlet?
In addition, before you start this DIY electrical project, check if your local building codes will allow you to do it yourself or if they require a professional electrician.
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Step #2: Turn Off The Electrical Power
This step is crucial for safety. First, turn off the power to the faulty outlet by switching off that circuit on the breaker box. It is always best to check the electric current using a voltage tester, which you can find on Amazon, or a similar device for safety reasons.
NOTE: Alternatively, you can switch off all switches, including the main switch. You should complete this project within an hour or so.
Insert the meter probe into each outlet slot to use a multimeter or voltage tester to measure the voltage. When the outlet is working, it should give a reading of about 120 volts. If there is no reading, there is no power, and it should be safe to disconnect the faulty outlet.
Step #3: Remove The Outlet Cover Plate
Use a screwdriver to unscrew the holding screws on the cover plate. Then remove the cover plate to get a full view of the open outlet in the wall socket.
HOT TIP: Keep the screws somewhere safe and close by as you will need them later to replace the cover.
Step #4: Unscrew The Outlet To Loosen It from Its Base
Again, using a screwdriver, unscrew the top and bottom screws of the outlet to detach it from the wall mounting. Keep the screws safe where you can find them again, not all new outlets come with attaching screws, you might need the old ones.
Step #5: Pull The Outlet From The Wall Socket
Although the power is off, always be careful when touching electrical wires or connections. Pull the outlet from the socket as far as possible without overstretching the wire connections. Now is an excellent time to use the voltage tester to make sure!
Step #6: Confirm The Faulty Outlet Type
Next, match the faulty outlet with the replacement and identify how many wires it has. If you count the ground or earth wires, there should be four or six wires total. Therefore, two cables with two or three wires each.
For a GFCI outlet with six wires, connect four to the GFCI outlet using pigtails. Then, attach the pigtails to the relevant screws on the new GFCI outlet.
There could be two black and two white electric wires, meaning the outlet could have other outlets before or after it in the same circuit. Therefore, check the faulty outlet to see if the black or white wires are joined in a pigtail or not. Some outlets will receive current from one side and distribute it again to the other side.
NOTE: If you see more wires or cables, you probably need a different outlet, and it will be best to consult an electrician.
Step #7: Disconnect The Faulty Outlet Electrical Wires
If you are ready to go, disconnect the electrical wires on the faulty outlet with a screwdriver. But first, draw a diagram or use your smartphone to take a snapshot of the current connection method. This memory tip will make the connections to the new outlet much easier.
When installing a GFCI outlet with four wires, the same rule applies. As with any outlet, live wires are incoming power. With GFCI outlets, the LINE connections are incoming, and the LOAD connections are outgoing to optional other outlets downstream. Remove the old outlet once all the wires are disconnected.
HOT TIP: It never helps to try to memorize the wire connection method, trust us and take a photo!
Step #8: Examine The Electrical Wire Ends
The next few steps are the trickiest, and you must keep a cool head. First, remove the wire-attaching screws and examine the copper ends of the electrical wires. Make sure there is enough bare length to allow a successful connection to the new outlet. Next, use a wire stripper like this one on Amazon, to lengthen it by removing more wire insulation.
For GFCI outlets, strip the wires again if needed, and connect them to the outlet’s “line” terminals. Some situations do not require a ground wire, but when installing GFCI outlets, you must follow and adhere to the local and national GFCI codes.
Step #9: Connect The Neutral Electrical Wires To The New Outlet
The next step is to connect the new wires to the new outlet using a screwdriver or needle-nose pliers. Typically, the wire colors are as follows: white or neutral electrical cables must go to the silver attaching screws. It is generally on the same outlet side as the ground screw and represents the neutral side of the circuit.
Again, with a GFCI outlet, the white wire goes into the hole for the neutral line or the Silver LINE screw. Also, consult your diagram or picture and confirm it is the same as the faulty outlet.
Step #10: Connect The Ground Electrical Wire To The New Outlet
The ground wire usually is a bare wire without insulation or green and connects to a green grounding screw. Make a loop at the end of the ground wire to wrap it around the ground screw. While screwing it in, it will tighten the noose at the same time.
Also, the ground screws are primarily green and fit below the two white wires. For GFCI outlets, the bare ground wire connects to the green screw.
Step #11: Connect The Live Electrical Wires To The New Outlet
The black wires are the hot or live wires and typically connect to the brass or gold-color connectors. This connector is on the opposite side of the outlet; therefore, not on the same side as the ground wire connection. GFCI outlets are similar, the black wire goes into the black or brass line screw hole.
Depending on the outlet type, screw the hot wires to the connectors. Alternatively, press them into the holes in the socket. Then, tighten them securely.
Recheck your diagram or picture. Is it a match? Lastly, make sure that all the wire connections are tight and secure.
Step #12: Screw The New Outlet Back In The Wall Socket
You are almost there! Push the newly connected outlet back into the wall socket. Ensure that you guide the wires with the outlet while pushing them back. It is essential that the wires remain separated and do not get pushed up against other connections.
Next, find the two screws you kept safely after unscrewing the faulty outlet. Use them (or new ones) to securely fasten the outlet within the socket.
Step #13: Switch The Power Back On
Hold on: Before you do that, remember the cover plate is still detached. Do not touch wires or push your fingers or other objects inside the wall cavity.
It is unnecessary to look for rubber shoes. Take a few deep breaths to eliminate any nerves. If you followed the steps and used your diagram as confirmation, you can switch the power back on.
Step #14: Test The New Outlet
If you have a voltage tester, use it for the second time to ensure the connections are correct and the new outlet is working. You may also use a:
- night light fitting
- radio to test
If the voltage tester or light fails to show an electrical current, switch the power off again and start troubleshooting.
To test a GFCI outlet, plug a light or radio into the outlet and press the black “Test” button. Note the results and compare them to the following situations. To reset the outlet, press the “Reset” button to lock it into place, and the light or radio will switch on.
If the reset button:
- ejects and the light or radio turns off, the outlet is working fine
- doesn’t eject, there may be no power reaching the outlet
- ejects, but the light or radio does not go out, there may be a wiring problem
Step #15: Place The Cover Plate Back In Position
Lastly, use the initially kept screws and install the cover plate. Hopefully, before starting, you answered the three questions in the beginning, and the cover will fit perfectly in place.
#16: Connect The Appliance To The New Outlet
Connect the intended device or appliance to the outlet and test. Congratulations, you have completed replacing an outlet with four wires!
What Is A GFCI Outlet?
GFCI is the abbreviation for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter and monitors the flow of electrical current through a circuit. It will cut off the electricity if the power surges or shorts. They are relatively inexpensive (this 10-pack is great value on Amazon) and shared in modern households to replace older outlets.
GFCI outlets have a line and load wire set. The line set receives the incoming electricity, and the load set passes the power to other downstream outlets. In addition, it can protect other outlets receiving power from the GFCI outlet.
Troubleshooting Tips When The Replaced Outlet Is Not Working
So, you have replaced the old faulty outlet with a new one, but no current flows to the receptacle. There may be a fault with you replacing the outlet, or the original issue was not the outlet to start with. Following are a few typical troubleshooting tips to narrow the power fault down and identify the problem. Ensure the electric power or current is off before testing or troubleshooting.
- Make sure the problem isn’t with the appliance and test it on a different outlet.
- Check the breaker panel for a fuse that is not working or a tripped circuit breaker.
- There may be a loose connection; try tightening all the outlet electrical connections.
- Inspect the outlet for any heat damage, such as melted plastic.
- Call an electrician to assist.
Electrical Wire Color Tips
Mostly, green or bare wires are ground or earth, while white or gray wires are neutral. In addition, wires are hot or live are these colors:
Therefore, you should attach the neutral wire to a silver connection screw when connecting new wires to a new outlet. The hot wire connects to a brass terminal screw and the ground wire to the green screw.
A standard electrical circuit has a live wire that conducts the power from the source to the outlet. The neutral wire returns the power to the power source and the ground wire connects the device to the ground for excess electricity to have somewhere to go in the event of a short circuit. This protects the device and the surrounding area.
Most home electrical projects require detailed steps, so it is crucial to follow them accurately as safety is imperative. Both the older outlet models and the newer GFCI outlets are easy to replace and should be an everyday electrical household task. In addition, when you are unsure or doubtful, instead consult a professional electrician for advice.
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