Replace Plugs In Lamps And Other Electronics

Replacing a plug on an appliance is a safe and easy way to extend its life.

Replacing a plug to a lamp or, for that matter, any other appliance, is not much more complicated than replacing a light bulb. It is much safer because most people do not unplug the lamp when replacing a light bulb. When replacing a plug, it cannot be plugged in, so there is no worry of electrocution. You certainly do not need a degree in electrical engineering to rewire a lamp. All you need are a few tools, knowledge about the way things are wired, and some basic know-how of what makes things work. You can save both time and money by not having to haul your appliances to the repair shop when a part that costs less than two dollars will solve the problem.

First, we will start with a lamp as an example because it is a wonderfully simple device and we are all familiar with them. You turn on the switch, and you get light. When there is no light, change the light bulb. If it still does not work after changing the bulb, there is a break in an electrical connection that needs to be repaired. The following will describe what the electricity is doing, how it gets to the light bulb to make it work, and how to diagnose and solve the problem easily and safely.

There are two types of energy, potential and kinetic. Potential energy is just that - a potential for doing work. Kinetic energy is energy that does the work. Imagine a boulder on top of a hill. It represents potential energy. However, if that boulder starts to roll down the hill, the potential energy starts converting itself into kinetic energy, slowly at first, and then faster as the rock picks up speed. This kinetic energy can be used to do work, probably destructive work in this case. Electricity works in the same way.

Electricity is nothing more than a stream of electrons, running through wires on the way to your house as potential energy. This potential energy is converted to kinetic energy as soon as you turn the switch on. The energy is induced to do useful work, but here is where precautions need to be taken. Although the human body is a poor conductor of electricity, it can hurt and even kill. Always unplug an electrical appliance of any kind before doing any tinkering at all. Common household current found in the United States is dangerous because it very similar to the electrical rhythms that motivate the heart. This can fool the heart into thinking that the external electricity is the motivator, and when it is gone, the heart will stop.

With a lamp, the electricity sits in the wall socket until the lamp is plugged into it. The electricity then flows up the power cord to the switch. When the switch is turned on, electricity flows through the filament in the light bulb, heating it up. This produces light. If there is a break in the system at any point, electricity cannot get to the filament and there is no light. Breaks occur at connection points 99 times out of 100, so this is where to go first. Connection points are when the wires are cut and then connected, usually with screws, to either the plug or what is called the lamp holder, the place the light bulb screws into.

Since electricity causes vibration, it is not uncommon for one or more of the screws in the plug to have simply worked loose. When you unplug anything, you should do it from the plug, not by pulling on the electrical cord. When the cord is pulled, this places strain on the plug, and this may cause the plug to fail.

An important point to remember is that electricity's main goal in life is to get into the ground. If the appliance has a plug with three prongs, that means it needs to be grounded. This is an important safety feature, one that should not be disabled by pulling or cutting the third prong off. If a wire comes loose inside an appliance with a grounded plug, this ground pin sends the electricity down into the ground instead of letting it spark a fire or shock you. If you need to plug a grounded appliance into an ungrounded outlet, go to the hardware store, spend the two dollars for an adapter, and follow the instructions on the box.

The last new word that you need to learn is polarity or polarization. The electricity from the wall outlets is alternating current, which means that the electrons alternate between negative and positive charges. This is done for a variety of reasons, but, basically, it is cheaper and easier for the electric company. If you look at a non-grounded, two prong plug, you will see that one of them is fatter than the other. Therefore, the plug will only fit into the outlet one way, maintaining polarity. That means that the positives stay positive and the negatives remain negative. In a perfect world, the fat prong is positive, but people do make mistakes, so it more important that polarity be maintained and that you make no assumptions. Always verify with your own eyes. In general, lamps made within the past few decades do not require grounding, but we shall include them in this discussion for completeness, and to make it easier to apply these lessons to all appliances.

If the lamp does not work and changing the light bulb does not fix the problem, the plug is the first suspect. One definite sign is fraying around the plug itself, in which case it should be unplugged and replaced immediately. Another clue is when you jiggle the electrical cord and the light works intermittently, makes sizzling sounds, or gives off an ozone-like smell. Once again, unplug and replace the plug immediately. Plugs of all shapes and sizes can be purchased at your local hardware store fairly inexpensively. Ask a clerk if you are not sure what type you need exactly, but a good generalization is to get one that looks like the one off the faulty appliance.

If the plug that needs work has screws visible, you may not need to replace the plug. More likely, though, it will be plastic formed, meaning you will need to cut it off and discard it. If there are screws, simply unscrew the plug until you can get to the wires and then skip down to the next paragraph. If not, using a pair of wire cutters, cut about one inch away from the plug. With a matte knife, make a nick in the webbing between the wires, and then pull them apart for about six to eight inches. Then, with a wire stripper, carefully strip about one inch of the insulation away from the wires. If they are stranded, give them a quick twist in a clockwise direction.

There should be some difference between the wires' insulation. Usually one will be smooth and the other ridged, but sometimes colors are used. In either case, the goal is to maintain polarity. On the plug, one pin will have a gold screw and one will have a silver screw. The ridged or black or red wire goes to the gold screw or the fatter pin - this is positive. The smooth or white wire goes to the silver screw or the skinnier pin - this is negative. If there is a ground, it will be a green wire and the screw will be green and the pin rounded. If you need to wrap the wire around the screw, do so in the same direction that you need to turn to tighten the screw as this will help lock the wires down. These simple tips, if followed regularly, will become second nature, and polarity will be a snap to maintain.

Another useful and easy to remember rule when unpacking your new plug from the hardware store is that there are no spare parts. There will be a piece with the pins that actually go into the wall with screws to attach the wires. There will be some sort of cover to insulate the bare wires, and usually this will fit in only one way so that all the screw holes line up, so do not try to force it. If you look carefully, it will become apparent how things are supposed to line up. In many cases, there will also be a strain relief, two pieces of plastic that screw together and keep strain from pulling the wires loose from the screws. If you take the extra minute to install this piece, you will greatly extend the life of your plug.

In a final note, there are plugs on the market which require no screws, but simply snap down on the wires, driving a copper lead through the insulation with a sheath that snaps on to insulate. This is purely a matter of personal preference, but I find this connection to be a bit tenuous. I am not completely comfortable with it because it is all too easy to inadvertently step on the power cord and put excessive strain on the plug. This is even more important if you share your home with pets or small children because, being lower to the ground and closer to the outlet, stand a better chance of being shocked.

So, as you can see, changing a plug really comes down to a few easy steps. Take the old plug off, if there is any damage to the power cord, cut it away, and replace the plug while maintaining proper polarization. By following these steps, you can remain assured that your appliance will function properly, and you will save the time, expense, and hassle of having to haul your appliances to and from the repair shop. After a little practice, this repair should take you no more than ten minutes and cost no more than a few dollars.

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