Even without any experience, most people can safely take the DIY route when a wall socket or light switch needs replacement. Having wire strippers and needle-nose pliers will help, but the job can be done without any special tools.
Call a professional electrician if you discover crazy wiring, excessive damage, or if you cannot successfully shut off power to the wall socket or light switch.
Replacing a Wall Socket
Here are the basic steps to change a wall socket, or electrical outlet receptacle:
- Shut off power. Flip the breaker that controls the wall socket firmly to the off position and test to make sure power is off. You can plug in a small appliance to test for power, but to be safe you should use a voltmeter.
- Remove the outlet cover. It will pull off easily after you remove the two screws.
- Unscrew the wall socket from the receptacle. Pull the socket out; it will be dangling by the wires.
- Take pictures or make notes to remember the wiring. It can vary depending on whether there are more outlets further down the circuit, and whether the outlet is controlled by a wall switch.
- Look for a metal tab connecting the two screw terminals on either side of the wall socket. It may be broken off or intact. On your new socket, leave the tab in place or break it off with pliers to match the old socket.
- Disconnect the wires. If the wires are wrapped around screws, loosen the screws little and the wires will come off. If the wires are inserted into slots, push a small flathead screwdriver into the slot and pull gently on the wire. A separate ground wire will also be wrapped around a (usually green) screw.
- Wire the new socket. Curl the copper ground wire around the screw terminal. Then connect the white wires to the socket before connecting the remaining wires.
- Secure the new wall socket to the receptacle and replace the outlet cover. Turn the power back on and test with a small appliance like a lamp.
If you have trouble removing wires from the old wall socket, you can cut them with pliers. Then strip some insulation from the wire (using wire strippers or a utility knife) so you have bare wire to connect to the new wall socket.
Changing a Light Switch
Light switches are basically wall sockets with a toggle switch instead of outlets. The wiring will be a little different, but the process closely resembles changing a socket.
- Turn off the power and test by touching the terminal screws with a voltmeter.
- Unscrew the switch cover plate cover and the switch.
- Loosen the screw terminals and remove the two wires. Most homes will also have a ground wire to remove. If the wires are fed straight into a slot in the back of the switch box, you can pull them out using a screwdriver head for pressure as necessary.
- Connect the wires to the new light switch. Feeding a wire straight into a slot can be difficult and result in a loose connection; you can always curl the wire around the screw terminals directly for a strong connection.
- Secure the light switch into the wall and replace the cover. Test the switch to make sure it’s wired correctly. If the on/off function is backwards, you connected the wires to the wrong terminal.
Be safe and best of luck! And remember that you can always call a professional to stay safe and ensure a perfectly functioning wall socket in the end.