How To Properly Install Electrical Receptacles and Light Switches

Do you like to save money by doing things around the house yourself?

If you are trying to replace your own receptacles and switches, here are some tips:

When removing old receptacles, note the color of the wires. There should be 2 colors; black and white. Often, there is a third wire, a bare ground wire. You will most likely find that there are 1, 2, or even 3 black and white wires at each receptacle. Connect the black wires to one side of the receptacle, and the white wires on the other side. Most often, 2 or 3 wires of each color are connected to the screws on either side of the devise. There are 2 screws on each side. If there are 2 white wires, then place each wire under one screw. Same on the black side. If there are 3 of each color, often times, the third wire will be doubled up under one of the screws.

If your receptacles were installed after 1970, a new type of connection method was introduced on light switches and receptacles. This “new” idea was called stab-lock or speed wire devices. Stab-lock devices have holes in the back of the device instead of side screws. Some have both screws and holes. When the new homes were initially wired, stab-lock devices made production time fast. Electricians were expected to squat, strip the wire ends, stab them into the holes, slam the plug into the box and jump to the next one. Production was the name of the game. It still is today and the very same method is still being used.

Stab-lock connections are the number one cause of electrical service repair calls. If one single wire becomes loose at the stab hole, every outlet, light, every electrical device beyond that loose stab-lock hole goes dead. It is the same concept as your old Christmas tree lights. If one bulb is bad, everything downstream of it is out too.

If a customer says to me “The breaker is still on, but there’s no power”. There is a high probability there is a loose stab-lock somewhere in the circuit.

Our method of installing switches and plugs is different from the methods used in new construction and takes more time, however you will never have problems caused by loose connections in the devices. Here’s what we do: we physically twist the white wires together. Then we do the same for the black wires. It is important to use good lineman’s pliers. Then, we twist a single white and black lead wire about 7 inches long into each splice. Now, the circuit is feeding through to the next outlet without having to have the device installed to carry the wires through.

  • We recommend that you never use the stab-lock holes.
  • Place the single lead wire under one of the two screws on either side of the receptacle.
  • Black wire on the gold screw
  • White wire on the silver screw

It doesn’t matter which one, upper or lower, as long as black is on gold and white is on silver. This is the correct polarity installation. And this is also why one of the prongs on your cord is slightly larger than the other. It prevents you from plugging the appliance in with reverse polarity. The circuit will never open now even if you remove the plug from the wires.

When you install the receptacle, make sure the ground hole is on the bottom. When it’s on the top, that is an indication that the receptacle is operated by a light switch. The third hole, or the GROUND, connection is the green screw that is attached to the metal frame of the receptacle. That’s used for the connection of the bare ground wire.

If you are replacing receptacles, and you come across one that has both a black and a red wire on the gold screw side, this is usually an indication that one half the receptacle is always live and the other half is operated by a light switch. In order to separate the top half from the bottom half, you have to break the little metal bridge on the GOLD screw side of the plug between the top and bottom. If you break the metal bridge on the silver, or white wire side, you have killed the neutral to the remaining outlets on that circuit. Do not break the bridge on the silver screw, or white wire side of the devise. When reinstalling light switches, you are usually only dealing with 2 wires. One goes on the top and one goes on the bottom. If any wires are doubled up on one side of the light switch, meaning more than one wire under one screw or stab-hole, twist those two wires together and tail off with a single lead wire just like the receptacles.

Although many homeowners feel comfortable doing minor electrical work themselves, please remember that electricity is extremely dangerous and you should always turn off any circuits before working on them. Never work with live electricity. Check to make sure the power is off before doing anything. Sometimes power is still flowing through wires even though the breaker is off. That is not supposed to happen but sometimes occurs due to improper wiring done by non-electricians. You should always double check and make sure there is no power to a wire before touching it. We always suggest calling a licensed electrician for all electrical work but if you are going to do something yourself, you can save a lot of aggravation and expense in the future by doing it correctly.