Inside an Electrical Outlet


A cracked, loose, or (ouch!) shocking electrical receptacle is a candidate for replacement. But before you head out shopping for a new one, know what to ask for and how to connect everything safely.

Homeowner Know-How

 Illustration by Harry Campbell

A cracked, loose, or (ouch!) shocking electrical receptacle is a candidate for replacement. But before you head out shopping for a new one, know what to ask for and how to connect everything safely.

Warning: Before you do any repairs on a receptacle, turn off the power at the breaker box.

Receptacle

 Illustration by Harry Campbell

Replace if any part of face is broken or it doesn’t grip plug’s prongs firmly. Make sure amp rating embossed on face of receptacle doesn’t exceed amp rating printed on cable.

Contact Openings

 Illustration by Harry Campbell

Different shapes ensure appropriate plug prongs are matched to hot, neutral, and grounding wires.

Terminal Screws

 Illustration by Harry Campbell

Safest points of wire connection. (Push-in terminals, or “backstabbers,” on back of receptacle are not as secure.) White wire always goes to one silver screw (it doesn’t matter which one), and black wire to one brass. Swapped wires or loose screws will cause shorts or shocks.

Grounding Screw

 Illustration by Harry Campbell

Connects to bare grounding wire to help prevent electric shocks.

Mounting Strap

 Illustration by Harry Campbell

Holds receptacle flush with outside of box.

Nonmetallic Cable

 Illustration by Harry Campbell

Also known by trade name Romex. Plastic jacket contains black (hot), white (neutral), and bare copper (grounding) wires that connect to circuit-breaker panel.

Steel Outlet Boxes and Armored Cable

 Illustration by Harry Campbell

In older homes and some cities, steel outlet boxes and armored cable are the rule. In this case, the receptacle is grounded to the box, which in turn is grounded by the cable’s metal sheath. Wrapping electrical tape over the terminal screws prevents them from touching the box and short-circuiting.

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