Wire and Install an Outlet

Safety First! Turn Off the Power

As with any electrical installation, the first step is to turn off the power to the circuit that you’ll be working on before wiring and installing an outlet. Check first to see that the circuit is on with an electrical tester and then turn the circuit off. Double-check that the circuit is now dead and then you may begin the installation.

How To Strip Romex Wire Sheathing

There are a couple ways of stripping the outer sheathing of Romex wire. One is to use a razor knife. Carefully start the cut about six inches from the end of the wire. Make the cut in the center of the wire, but don’t cut too deeply. Because the bare ground wire is located in this area of the wire, it’s the safest place to make the cut without nicking the insulated wires.

Cut Off the Excess Sheathing

Using side-cutting pliers (Dikes), carefully cut the excess outer sheath coating and filler paper from the wire. Try and make a clean cut all the way around the wire if possible. Be sure not to cut into the insulated wire coatings of the black and white wires.

Stripping Wire Conductors

In order to make proper electrical connections to an outlet, you first must strip the appropriate amount of wire insulation from the wires. To do this, use wire strippers by selecting the proper sized wire size on the stripper gauge. If you’re stripping NM 12-2 wire, then you’ll use the #12 wire setting. Place the stripper over the wire at about 3/4″ from the end of the wire. That will usually give you enough wire to make the connection.

Making the Ground Connection

This is a great example of how a ground connection should look on an outlet. You’ll notice that the wire was bent in a half-moon shape using the hole in the wire strippers. The open end of the wire should always be installed to the right. This is because as you tighten the screw, it will turn in tighter towards the screw threads as you turn the screw in a clockwise location. If you were to turn it the opposite way, the loop would open up as you tighten the wire and the connection wire could come off of the screw.

Making the Neutral Connection

Depending on the type outlet you’ve selected to install and the brand name, the neutral connection may be different from the one I’m showing here. This neutral connection has slots that are tightened with the screws mounted on the side of the outlet. Notice that the white wire (neutral)is connected to the silver-colored terminal.

Other outlets will have only the screws on the side to connect to. If so, connect the wires as you just connected the ground wire. That is, with the wire loop opening facing the right, connect it to the screw and tighten in a clockwise motion.

Making the Hot Wire Connection

The black wire (hot) connects to an outlet on the brass-colored terminals. If you were to look at the face of the outlet, this connects to the smaller straight slot of the outlet. Look at how the insulated portion of the wire butts up to the back of the outlet. You should not have bare copper wire showing here for fear that it will short out to the box or another wire. Like the neutral wire, you may have to wrap the wire around the screw on the side.

Attach an Outlet to a Box

Before you can install an outlet into a box, there a few things to be aware of. First, bend the wires in such a manner that they will fold back into the box opening easily. Try a dry run by pushing the outlet into the opening to see if there is enough room for the outlet to be installed without pinching the wires. Install the outlet with the ground connection up (preferred method) by screwing the two mounting screws provided on the outlet into the box.

The reason behind this is that if a cord is plugged into the outlet and something would happen to fall down on the exposed parts, or Heaven forbid, your child would have a paper clip or something, and slide it down onto the terminals, the ground wire is on top. This would make the circuit short out and likely save the child from electrocution. Scared, yes!

Install the Outlet Cover Plate

Installing electrical outlet cover plates are the easiest part of this project. Place the cover over the outlet and tighten the screw. Do not over-tighten the screw or the cover may crack! Use a level to be sure that the cover is plumb and looks good.

Turning On a Breaker

When the outlet is installed, go to your breaker panel and turn the circuit back on to the circuit you’ve been working on. Take a tester and see if the circuit is working properly. You should read somewhere around 120 volts from the hot to neutral connection and also from the hot to ground connection. If so, you have successfully installed an outlet!

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