With all of the plugging and unplugging, wall sockets can take a beating that can result in them working loose or simply breaking. You can call an electrician to fix them, but the task is really a very simple one as long as you take the proper simple precautions.
Throw the Breaker
Before you even touch the outlet with a tool, the first thing you should do is turn on all the lights in the house and then find your breaker box. When you open up the breaker box, you should see a bunch of switches and a guide of some sort that has parts of the house labeled. Read the guide to figure out which switches control power to which parts of the house.
If you don’t have a guide, you can make one by throwing one of the small switches and then going back through the house to make a note of which lights or appliances have lost power. Using this technique, you can map out how each breaker switch controls the power circuits in your home.
Once you’ve identified the breaker switch that controls power to the circuit that the socket you need to replace is on, make sure it’s in the off position. Head back into the room with the socket and double check that all the other sockets or lights in the room have also lost power by flipping light switches and trying to plug in simple appliances to verify that the lights and the sockets are on the same circuit that has been disconnected.
Remove the Broken Socket
Wall sockets are most commonly covered by a rectangular plastic plate. This plate typically covers the hole in the drywall through which the socket extends. With whatever type of screwdriver is appropriate, unscrew the plate and pull it free. If the socket itself comes out with the plate, that’s ok. If the plate comes off separately from the socket, you’ll need to unscrew whatever screws are holding the socket into the drywall.
Once you have the socket free of the wall, pull it out so that you have some slack and some of the wiring extending out of the wall. If you have a camera phone, it’s a good idea to take a picture of how the wires connect to the socket for reference. There will be at least two wires, one black (hot) and one white (neutral). There may be a third bare wire for grounding, but don’t worry if it’s not there.
The next step is to remove the wire contacts from the socket. To do this, you’re going to have to hold the socket with one hand while you unscrew the contacts to free the wires. When you take hold of the socket, grip it by the plastic frame and make sure to keep your fingers clear of the wires and terminals. Throwing the breaker should have disconnected the power from the socket, but even experienced electricians sometimes make mistakes so it’s best to play it safe.
Unscrew the contacts to free the wires. When one wire is freed, grip it by the rubber coating and bend it so that the exposed wire points away from the others. When all the wires are disconnected, you can dispose of the broken socket.
Install the New Socket
The steps to install the new socket are simply the reverse of removing the broken socket. Wrap the wires from the wall around the correct screw terminal and use the screwdriver to tighten the terminals. Look at the packaging of the new socket or read the labels on the socket body to determine which terminal is black/hot, white/neutral, and bare/ground.
Once all the wires are connected to the proper terminals, replace the socket into the wall by feeding the wire bundle back into the wall first and then screwing the socket back into the drywall frame and replacing the plate covering.
Test Your Work
With the socket replaced, plug in an appliance and throw the breaker back to the ‘on’ position. If the appliance is powered on, you did it correctly! If not, double check that you threw the correct breaker. If your appliance still stays off, return the breaker switch to the ‘off’ position and remove the socket to check the wire terminals to make sure that they didn’t come loose while you were putting the socket back in the wall.