Household Electric: Fix A Broken Wall Power Outlet

Broken or inoperable wall outlets can be one of the most dangerous items needing repair in the home. Yet, they are relatively simple to repair or replace.

What is a wall power outlet?

A wall power outlet is the two or three prong receptacle used to plug in appliances such as a lamp, toaster, coffee maker, or vacuum cleaner. Included in this type of repair or replacement are the light switches installed in the wall.

In reality the repair of the outlet is normally that the wires are improperly connected to the unity; the repair is more often the replacement of the outlet. The replacement parts are inexpensive and available at any Home Improvement or Hardware store and take the bare basic knowledge of electricity.

Tools needed to complete this task are as follows:

1. Rubber gripped screwdriver (either blade or Phillips head). Blade is the standard flat edged tip and Phillips is semi-pointed with for edges to the point.

2. Rubber gripped needle nose pliers (preferable) or standard household pliers with rubber coated handles or grips. (Note: use rubber grip tools to prevent receiving an electrical shock)

3. Roll of electrician's tape

4. A circuit tester, this is a small unit that has three lights in one end (one red and two yellow) with a three prong plug on the other, on the face is a gauge to tell if all the wires are correctly attached. This, also, can be bought at any Home Improvement or Hardware store.

Sometimes the repair that need be done is just a simple change in the order the wires were attached. Plug the circuit tester into the outlet and see if the wires are attached in the proper sequence. DO NOT remove the cover plate or attempt any repairs or replacement yet. Leave the circuit tester plugged into the outlet.

Locate the main fuse or circuit box for the building; usually it is on the outside of the house or in some locales in the basement. Remove the fuse or turn the circuit breaker to "OFF" for the room where the outlet is located, check that the right fuses or breaker was picked by looking to see if all the lights are out on the circuit tester. If still not sure, you can plug a lamp into the outlet and test to see if the light goes on or not. Before doing anything further, be totally sure that there is no electrical current to the outlet for your safety.

Once assured there is not electrical current to the outlet, remove the circuit tester and then the cover plate over the outlet. You will find that the unit itself is held in place by two (2) screws on the top and bottom of the actual outlet attaching it to a box-like housing in the wall. Loosen these screws evenly a few turns at a time of each until the unit is disconnected from the box. Easily pull the unit out and away from the wall so all the screws that have wires attached are exposed and visible. Loosen these screws and detach the wires bending them away from each other so that they do not touch one another. Remember which side of the unit each wire was attached.

The screws on the new unit will be nickel plated on one side and brass on the other, also you will find one that is coated "GREEN," this is for the ground wire. Attach the ground wire (twisted fine copper wires not insulated) to the green screw. If there is no ground-wire in the existing box or unit, attach a length (3-4 inches) of copper wire to the screw at one end and attached to the box at the other. Some boxes have a screw for this, if not wrap the end of the wire around one of the mounting screws against the box. You must ground the unit to the box for safety.

Continue to attach the remaining wires, usually two, white and red, or red and black, or black and white. Red is always the "HOT" wire and the other neutral, if black and white the white is neutral. Re-attach these wires in the same order that they were attached to the original unit if they were properly attached in the first place. DO NOT install in the box at this time.

Replace the fuse or turn the breaker to the "ON" position in the main power box. Return to the outlet and plug the circuit tester back in and verify that all wires are attached correctly according to the light indicators in the tester. If they are incorrect, make note of what changes are needed and once again turn off the main power to the unit. Make the corrections in the wire attachment and then wrap the unit with electrician's tape around the unit covering the screw heads and any exposed ends of the wire to keep them from making contact with the metal box. If these make contact with the box the wires may spark or short when the power is turned back on and my damage the new unit.

Last, fold the excess wires into the box with care and attach the outlet to the box with the screws provided. Replace the cover plate and turn the power back on.

NOTE: If the outlet is located in the kitchen near the sink or in the bathroom you must use a GFI (Ground Fault Interrupter) unit. This type unit has a built in circuit breaker so that if water comes in contact with the plugs it will trip the breaker rather than short out the wires. In some locations this is mandatory.

As you see this is not a tough household repair job to tackle. Good luck and be safe.

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