How to Wire Electrical Outlets and Switches

  • 01 of 05

    Mark the Three Way Switch Common Wire

    3-way switch common wire
    3-Way Switch Common and Traveler Terminals. © 2008
    Three way switches control a light fixture or outlet from two different locations. These switches have two "traveler" wires and a "common" wire.

    The trick in replacing an old switch is to mark the COM or common wire off the old three way switch before you replace the old switch so that you properly connect the COM wire to the new 3-way switch's dark or bronze screw terminal identified as COM. The COM wire is the one you have to install to a specific switch terminal screw. With...MORE the other two traveler wires it makes no real difference to which terminals they get fastened.

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  • 02 of 05

    Wrap Wires Clockwise Around the Terminal Screw

    stab in conectors
    Wrap wires clokwise around terminal screws as stab-in connectors can create loose connections. [sup]© 2008[/sup]
    Strip about 3/4" of an inch of insulation from the electrical wire you are connecting to the terminal on your switch or outlet. Bend the wire in a "U" shape and slip over the screw so that the wire end is wound clockwise over the screw. Tighten the loop with pliers so it's a little snug over the screw, then tighten making sure the wire is firmly under the screw head.
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  • 03 of 05

    Connect White Wire to Silver Screw Terminal and Black Wire to Bronze Terminal

    120 volt outlets typically come in 15 and 20 amp versions. © 2014

    It is critical to make sure you wire the outlet with correct polarity. Fortunately it is easy to do so. Just connect the white wire (neutral) to the silver colored screw or terminal and the black wire (hot) to the bronze terminal screw.

    What about the green wire or the bare copper wire? Well that one is ground wire and gets connected to the green grounding screw.

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  • 04 of 05

    Don't Use Stab-In Connectors in Cheap Outlets

    Stab-In Connectors Can Create Loose Connections. Use Terminal Screws on the Switch for Best Results. © 2008

    Cheap outlets have holes in the back that you insert a stripped wire end into to make a connection as opposed to a tight mechanical connection around a screw terminal. As easy as this is to do, don't.

    These connections are weak and can loosen as the devise is used causing problems like a short circuit or failure later on.

    Even the cheap outlets have screw terminals in addition to the stab-in connectors. Use the screw terminal connectors.

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  • 05 of 05

    Label "Load" and "Line" Wires on a GFCI Outlet

    GFCI Outlet
    GFCI outlet.

    GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlets have special terminals marked line and load. If the wires are providing power to extended outlets further down the circuit, the wires are connected to the "load" terminals. If the wires are for the hot and neutral incoming power wires, then they get connected to the "line" terminals.

    Marking the wires before you disconnect the GFCI outlet is a great way to avoid miswiring the outlet once it has been removed.