How to Change an Outlet Receptacle.

In: Kitchen Tutorials

How-to change an outlet receptacle without zapping yourself or frying your hair!

change your outlets yourself graphic with aqua letters on white subway tile with gray grout and white outlet receptacle

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I realized that when I would tile my backsplash with glittering white subway tile, the drab almond outlet receptacles just weren’t going to be okay.  I needed to change them.  
Uh oh… Electricity is scary.  Especially when you need to touch things that could zap you.
I am not an electrician or anything close to that.  The most I’ve done that relates to electricity is plug in my hair dryer.  Even then, sometimes I get a little nervous because I’m standing over my sink, with the toilet a couple feet away.  
What if I get an arm cramp, dropping my hair dryer in the sink causing a huge crash, in turn scaring the bejeezus out of my dog who is sitting at my feet making her jump up pulling the hair dryer cord with her until it ends up in the toilet ELECTROCUTING EVERYONE IN THE BATHROOM!
Yes, my brain works this way.  I think about this stuff.  Crazy chain thoughts.  Anyway, I happen to have a Father-in-law and a Brother-in-law who are electricians.  Like real ones.
After an early Saturday call to FIL, (that’s what I started calling my sweet Father-in-law during a Sake Sangria filled game of Apples to Apples) I felt pretty confident that I was indeed NOT going to electrocute myself if I changed my outlets.  Therefore, I’m going to show you how to do it too!  Not only that, I’m also going to share how to use these nifty spacers to pull the outlets out a bit to fit flush with your tile.  If you like that kind of thing.
Almond outlet receptacle
Almond outlet receptacle before changing.  Wouldn’t look all that great with gleaming white subway tile. Eh?
What you are going to need:
  • White 20a/125v outlet receptacle – check the voltage on your current receptacles before buying new ones.  Mine are 20amp/125v
  • Plastic Outlet Spacers – These are the same shape as the ones I used and same price.
  • Longer screws than the ones that came with your new outlet plate- I needed 1″ screws.
  • White Outlet Plates to match your new outlets.
ideal outlet spacers and white outlet receptacle
Step 1:
TURN OFF POWER TO YOUR KITCHEN.  Then test to make sure the outlets have no power going to them.  I used our baby monitor and a voltage meter to check.  I’m nothing if not thorough. ha.
Step 2:
Remove existing outlet plate.  Then remove the 2 screws holding the receptacle into the wall box.
Step 3:
Here are some things to stick a pin in and remember- 
Black=hot (another word for “will zap you”)  White=neutral Green=ground.
Remove wires in this progression:
1. Black
2. White
3. Ground-Remember what wire this one is- mine was grayish, but I took it off of the green screw.
Step 4:
Now you are going to install your new receptacle.  Put wires back on in this progression:
1. Ground– attach to the green screw on the bottom.
2. White– attach to the silver screws.
3. Black- attach to the brass/gold screws.
removing black wire from gold/brass screw
Removing Black wires from gold/brass screws
Removing white wire from silver screw
Removing White wires from silver screws.
Removing ground wire from green screw
Removing Ground from Green screw.

This is the same method if your changing out a GFCI outlet- Here are the important things to remember-
  • Make sure you attach the same wires on your current GFCI outlet that are on the “LOAD” screws, and the same wires that are on the “LINE” screws.  Don’t mix them up.
  • I would take one off of the existing outlet and put it onto my new one before moving on.  Then, I knew which wire was which.
Now if you do not need any spacers, just screw your new outlet receptacle back into the box, add your outlet plate and BOOM! Your done!  Don’t forget to turn your power on.
But if you are going to need a little space, read on…
Step 5:
Now your going to have to figure out how many spacers you need so your tile will fit behind the plate and your outlet will be flush.  You can do this by measuring, but in my case, I measured wrong and ended up doing it the long way.  I tried one spacer at at a time, held the plate on, held the tile to the wall to see if it fit, then kept adding until it did.
Adding spacer to outlet receptacle
Step 6:
Now that you know how many you’ll need- I needed 5 which ends being 5/8″.  The screws that came with your new receptacle are not going to fit this length.  You need to break out the big boys for this job.  Mine are 1″ and worked great.
outlet spacers on screws
The bottom is the screw that came with the new receptacle, the top is the 1″ screw I bought extra.
Step 7:
Place the spacers on the screws like so… and simply screw the receptacle in place.  Turn on power before your milk goes bad.
white outlet receptacle with tile fitted behind it.
Tile fits perfectly behind the outlet receptacle.  Sorry, about the grout, but here’s a sneak peek of my tile!
This project seemed really scary, like zapping and frizzy hair scary, but in reality, it was so simple and I felt really good when I was finished.  I conquered a fear.  As I blow dried my hair this morning, I realized something- I shouldn’t be afraid of being electrocuted if the dryer falls in the toilet- I’ll just shut the lid.
I’m the only one in the house that does.