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Electrical outlet is a very common name for a receptacle. Many home improvement stores use the term “electrical outlet” when referring to a receptacle. Outlets are the points at which the electrical system are accessed (receptacle outlet or lighting outlet). A lighting outlet is an electrical box where a light fixture is mounted and gets power. A receptacle outlet is an electrical box where a receptacle is mounted and gets power.
The most common reason receptacles need to be replaced is because of physical damage. Rarely will a standard receptacle fail electrically (120 V and neutral present at the terminals, but not at the plug). If a receptacle is cracked or a plug is loose fitting, it is time for it to be replaced. When replacing a receptacle, consider replacing the cover unless it looks new or cleans up nicely.
There are three types of terminals on the back of receptacles and switches.
Wires incorrectly wrapped around terminals
The tools needed and the steps to take when replacing a receptacle may vary if the wires are wrapped tightly around the terminals of the receptacle to be replaced. The optional tools listed are for this condition.
Needle nosed pliers
The instructions on most electrical devices state that they should be only installed by a qualified electrician. Electrical101.com does not encourage people to do their own electrical work. The following instructions are for reference only.
A receptacle tester is plugged into the receptacle and the tester should show voltage is present (if there is no power at the receptacle, see “no power at plug end of receptacle” above). At the panel, power is shut off to the receptacle and the tester lights should turn off, verifying power is off. This tester will also be used on the newly installed receptacle to verify the receptacle is wired properly.
When a tester shows voltage is present on a receptacle at the plug end, it is easy to tell when power is shut off at the receptacle when shutting off the circuit breaker (voltage is no longer present at the plug end of the receptacle). It is difficult to determine which circuit breaker supplies voltage to a receptacle that has no voltage at the plug end. Unless it is known which circuit breaker supplies power to a certain receptacle, all of the circuit breakers may need to be turned off before the receptacle is removed.
Sometimes the plastic is broken just below the ground pin opening. This usually happens when a plug is yanked out improperly from the receptacle. As long as the plug fits snugly into the receptacle, and there is no other damage, the receptacle should not need to be replaced.