How To Install an Outlet

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Installing an outlet, installing a receptacle, how to install an outlet

How To Install an Outlet

You probably found this page because you are looking to install or replace an outlet right?

That’s awesome and we’ll show you here how to do it the right way in just a few steps.  However, you should always have a professional electrician inspect your work before buttoning it up, this stuff is serious and can be dangerous just like anything else in life not done correctly.

Firstly, an “Outlet” is technically defined as a hole in the wall of your house with a wire sticking out.  Many times it is in reference to a receptacle; a “receptacle,” which is what we’re going to be installing is the device that electrical appliances are plugged in to.

Enough talking, let’s do it:

1.) Ensure that your circuit breaker that supplies power to the area you are working on is in the off position.  You will need a “tick tester” like the one in the picture below to do this.  This is very important and please take this seriously, if you are not a professional electrician do not attempt to change the receptacle when the power is on.  As little as 1/1000 of an Amp can kill a human if current crosses the thoracic area.

I’m going to assume you have a receptacle that has been removed or that it is a new box and you have the insulated Romex coming through the box at least 6″.  Feel free to click any of the pictures below to get a zoomed view.

Installing an outlet, installing a receptacle

2.)  You’ll see three colored screws on your receptacle. Each color screw corresponds to a wire color and function. Let’s make this easy:

  • Gold Screws = Black Wire (Hot leg, the wire supplying power)
  • Silver Screws = White Wire (Neutral wire, the wire bringing the power back to the panel)
  • Green Screw = Bare copper or Green wire (The ground wire)

Installing an outlet, installing a receptacle, how to install an outlet

2.) If you’re replacing a receptacle, there is always the possibility that  the wire colors that you see in your old receptacle do not correspond to what I have just listed above.  For example, you may have a red wire on the gold screw.  There are a variety of reasons this may have been done on purpose but for the scope of this “how-to,” put the wires on the new receptacle just as you see them on the receptacle you’re replacing.  Now would be a good time to take out your smart phone and snap a picture of how the old receptacle is wired.


3.) If you’re using new wire, strip the tips about 5/8″.  You can always trim it if you strip too much.   Now you will be bending the wire to fit around the receptacle screws.  Needle nose pliers and wire strippers are great for this.  Side cutting pliers (“dikes”) may also be used but take care not to damage the tip of the wire.

You’ll want to make sure that the “hook” you create is just big enough to fit around the screws of the receptacle.  Not the head of the screws, but the shaft.

Installing an outlet, installing a receptacle, how to install an outletInstalling an outlet, installing a receptacle, how to install an outlet

4.) For safety purposes, we’re going to start with the ground(Bare copper or green), then the neutral(White), and lastly the hot (Black).  Work the hooked wire onto the screw.  You’ll want the open end of the wire to be situated in such a way that as you tighten the screw, the hooked wire will also tighten down.  If you are looking at the screw from above, this will always be to the right (See Below).

Installing an outlet, installing a receptacle, how to install an outlet

5.) Repeat this process for each of the three wires.

6.) Now its time to put the receptacle into the box.  Technically, according to the National Electric Code (NEC), there is no “correct” way to insert a receptacle in terms of ground up or ground down.  Personally, and I think professionally also, it is wise to fasten the receptacle with the grounds facing up (see below).  Why?  Good question, if the device you have plugged in wriggles out a bit, you will have some of the metal on the male plug exposed.  Now suppose something falls on this that is conductive in nature such as a metal picture frame.  If it hits the hot and neutral at the same time, the circuit will short out and could present a potentially dangerous situation.  If that same object falls and hits the ground pin of the male plug end on the way down, there will be no short, just a broken picture frame.

Installing an outlet, installing a receptacle, how to install an outlet

7.) To facilitate this process, bend the wires accordion style behind the receptacle.  If you have a 20A receptacle (12G wire) or many wires on the receptacle this will be more difficult.  Patience and tenacity are key here, try not to be too rough with the wires and don’t damage the jacket of the wire with a sharp object when trying to push them in, even the tip of pliers can damage the jacket.

8.) Screw the receptacle into the box so that it is flush with the wall.  Sometimes, this can be tricky, you want the receptacle to be flush with the wall when you put the cover plate on.  You may have to adjust the depth of the receptacle so it will fit just right with the cover plate.

Installing an outlet, installing a receptacle, how to install an outlet

9.) Screw on the cover plate.  Be careful with this part, if the cover plate is not nylon it may break if you tighten the screw to much.  If the plate doesn’t fit well, don’t force it, take it off and adjust the receptacle screws and position of the receptacle.

Installing an outlet, installing a receptacle, how to install an outlet


That’s it! You’ve done it, feel free to leave a comment or ask any questions you’d like.  Thanks for reading!


Ray Prucha

January 30, 2016at 12:49 am

This takes me back to 1983 when you and Philipe taught me how to wire up a receptacle…. Wow where has the time gone…Excellent article! I hope you are doing well… I am, thanks, in part to your guidance early in my career. You were a great mentor! Oh yeah, I still do grounds up too…
Ray Prucha


April 28, 2016at 9:19 am

Thanks for sharing up–to-date on this subject! I find it is very informative and very well written one! Keep up on this quality!
Commercial electric company


June 6, 2016at 4:11 am

Electrical codes restrict the number of lights or outlets that can be connected to one circuit. Typically, you can have no more than eight lights or outlets on a 15-amp circuit. To determine the amp rating of a circuit, just look at the number on its breaker or fuse in your main electrical panel. Turn off the circuit and test light switches and other outlets to determine exactly which lights or outlets are on a given circuit.


August 22, 2016at 4:41 pm

Hosting, there is no maximum number of receptacles you can have on a circuit. Please cite where you found that in the NEC. You also can not accurately determine the ampacity of a circuit via the labeling on the circuit breaker, many times an incorrectly sized breaker is installed. If you want to learn more about this I recommend reading through the National Electric Code.


May 9, 2017at 4:48 pm

Hello! Cool post, amazing!!!


May 18, 2017at 8:05 pm

If you don’t want your exterior outlet location limited to where you have interior outlets, you’ll have to tap into another electrical circuit.

June 14, 2017at 3:35 pm

If a 12-2 cable is run from the panel to the outlet, then a 20 amp circuit breaker is the largest that can be installed to protect the circuit.

August 5, 2017at 5:12 pm

Unless the homeowner is knowledgeable in home electrical systems, the installation of outlets is not to be considered a “DIY” project.

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