When you have electrical outlets located in areas that can be damp, such as the bathroom, kitchen or laundry room, you risk getting shocked when using those outlets. Having grounded outlets is important, but you can still get an electrical shock if something plugged into the outlet gets wet. A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet shuts off the electricity before it can harm you. Here are the steps to replace your old outlets with safer GFCI outlets to prevent the risk of electrical shock.

Materials You'll Need for This Project

  • flat-blade screwdriver
  • wire cutters and strippers
  • flashlight

From the home improvement store, for each outlet you wish to replace, you'll need:

  • a GFCI outlet
  • a decorative cover plate

Removing the Old Electrical Outlet

  1. Turn the power off to the outlet you wish to replace at the circuit box for the house.
  2. Remove the decorative cover plate.
  3. Loosen the two screws that hold the outlet in the junction box.
  4. Pull the outlet out of the wall with the wires behind it.
  5. Cut all of the wires off as close to the back of the outlet as you can.

Installing the New GCFI Outlet

  1. Strip about half an inch of insulation from the ends of the three wires coming out of the junction box.
  2. Secure the green wire to the green or copper colored screw on the back of the new outlet.
  3. Push the stripped end of the black wire into the hole in the back of the new outlet marked "Hot".
  4. Push the stripped end of the white wire into the hole marked "Neutral".
  5. Push the new outlet into the junction box with the wires behind it.
  6. Tighten the two screws that hold the outlet in the junction box.
  7. Put the cover plate over the outlet and secure.
  8. Turn the power back on to the outlet.

Testing the New Outlet

  1. Plug a small appliance into the outlet, such as a fan or hair dryer.
  2. Turn the appliance on.
  3. Press the button marked "Test" on the outlet.
  4. The appliance should go off.
  5. Press the button marked "Reset".
  6. The appliance should come back on.

It's a good idea to test these outlets regularly like this to make sure they still work correctly.

Problems You Might Encounter

There are a few situations where you'll want the help of an electrical contractor like B Electric Inc to finish the job safely.

  • There is no ground wire in the junction box. An electrician will need to run a ground wire to the outlet for safety.
  • There are more than three wires in the junction box. The outlet may be controlled by more than one switch. Have the electrician sort the wiring out for you.
  • The color of the wires is different than the standard black/white/green. An older home may have non-standard wiring, or a previous owner may have used incorrect wires. An electrician will check the wiring and replace it with the correctly colored wires required by local building codes. 
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