Connecting an Electrical Outlet Receptacle

Electrical outlet
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  • 01 of 06

    Preparation for an Electrical Outlet Installation

    120 volt outlets are most commonly found in the 15 amp variety using 14 gauge wire but also come in a 20 amp version for heavier circuit loads using 12 gauge wire. Photo from 2014

    In this tutorial, you'll learn how to easily install a new electrical outlet receptacle in a single-gang wall box. Boxes come in styles designed for new construction, as well as style for remodeling or retrofit applications, known as old work boxes. This tutorial shows connecting a new outlet receptacle in an old work box that has been installed in an existing wall

    An electrical receptacle is a ubiquitous electrical device that we use every day in our homes and work. It is designed to receive an electrical plug for lamps and other appliances, and in residential use, outlet receptacles are typically either 120-volt models (shown) or 240-volt models, such as those that are used for window air conditioners and other appliances. 120-volt receptacles are typically designed to receive a three-prong grounded plug, each with different sized blades. The rounded hole receives the ground blade, the narrow slot receives the hot blade and the long slot receives the neutral blade of the plug. 20-amp outlets also have a notch in the neutral receptacle slot for use with certain plugs on appliances that draw higher amperage. 

    In older homes where there may be no circuit ground wire, the receptacles may be only two-slot models, without the grounding slot. When updating these receptacles, it's a good idea to use a GFCI receptacle, which improves the safety of the outlet in a situation where there is no ground wire. 


    Before you start installing an outlet, it is critical that you first find the branch circuit breaker or fuse in your electrical service panel that feeds the receptacle you will be working on, and then turn off the power to the circuit wiring. The circuit breaker you turn off, or the fuse you remove will be rated for the proper amperage rating of the circuit. The markings on the circuit breaker or fuse will tell you if it is a 15- or 20-amp circuit, and therefore whether to install a 15-amp or 20-amp 120-volt outlet receptacle. (15-amp circuits require the use of 14-gauge conductor wires, while 20-amp circuits require 12-gauge conductor wires.)

    Once you have the right outlet for the job, the branch circuit is turned off and the electrical wiring is prepped for outlet installation, you are ready to proceed.

    Difficulty Level

    • Easy

    Needed Tools and Materials

    • 15-amp or 20-amp outlet receptacle
    • Needle nose pliers
    • Outlet cover plate
    • Flat blade and Philips-head screwdrivers
    Continue to 2 of 6 below.
  • 02 of 06

    Connect the Ground Wire to the Receptacle

    Ground wire
    Install bare copper ground wire to receptacle by attaching to the green terminal screw. Photo from 2014
    1. Bend the last 3/4" of the bare copper ground wire in a "J" or "U" shape, and place the wire under the head of the green ground terminal screw on the receptacle, so that the wire end is looped clockwise around the screw.
    2. Tighten the loop with needle nose pliers so it's a little snug over the screw, then tighten by turning the screw clockwise, making sure the ground wire is firmly tightened under the green screw head.

    Tip: To maximize safety, electricians connect the wires in a certain sequence: first the ground wire, then the neutral wire, and finally the hot wire. When disconnecting an outlet, reverse the order, removing the hotwire first and the ground wire last. 

    Continue to 3 of 6 below.
  • 03 of 06

    Connect the Neutral Wire

    Fasten the white neutral wire to the silver colored terminal screw. Photo from 2014
    1. As in the previous step, bend the end of the white "neutral" wire in a "J" position and wrap the end of the "J" looped under the head of the silver-colored terminal screw in a clockwise direction.
    2. Fasten the neutral wire to the outlet by turning the silver-colored terminal screw clockwise, making sure the wire is firmly tightened under the head of the screw.

    Tip: Examine the screws carefully: the silver-colored screws MUST connect to the white neutral wire. The brass-colored screw is for the black hot wire. 

    Continue to 4 of 6 below.
  • 04 of 06

    Connect the Hot Wire

    Fasten the hot black wire to the brass colored terminal screw. Photo from 2014

    Fasten the last wire—the black "hot" wire—to the brass terminal screw in the same manner as the previous wires, by placing the "Hot" wire under the head of the brass terminal screw and turning the terminal screw clockwise, making sure the wire is firmly tightened under the head of the screw.


    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Secure the Outlet to the Electrical Box

    Fasten to box
    Fasten the receptacle to the electrical box. Photo from 2014
    1. With the conductors, all fastened to the outlet, gently bend the wires into the back of the box, deep enough so there is room for the receptacle to fit.  
    2. Gently push the receptacle into the box, holding the metal mounting strap. 
    3. Fasten the outlet to the box by threading the long fine thread screws that came with the outlet into the screw openings on the box. This will usually require a Philips-head screwdriver.
    Continue to 6 of 6 below.
  • 06 of 06

    Install Cover Plate

    Cover plate
    Fasten finish cover plate. Photo from 2014
    1. Once the outlet is installed in the box, test for proper operation by turning the power to the circuit back on at the electrical service panel.
    2. If the outlet functions properly, install the finish faceplate to the outlet. This will usually require a flat blade screwdriver.