Simple Electrical Repairs That Can Save Your Home (And Possibly Your Life)

There are some very simple electrical issues that the average homeowner may see as minor and commonplace, but can actually be dangerous both to the home and its occupants. Fortunately, these problems can be eliminated with a minimal amount of skill and cost. All you need to do is respect (not fear) the power of electricity and follow a few simple, but important, safety rules.

Sparking or ungrounded outlets

if you live in an older home with ungrounded outlets, which have the two slots for plunges but no round port for s ground prong, you may be tempted to simply use an adapter that allows a grounded plug to be used in the outlet. You may also have one or more outlets that spark and crackle occasionally when a plug is inserted. This could be caused by a loose wire or a defective outlet.

All of these conditions expose the home to the risk of an electrical fire and the residents to electric shock or electrocution., and all you need to do to remedy the situation is to install a new outlet at a cost of less than one dollar.

Removing The Old Outlet

Before you begin to remove the existing outlet, you will need to obey the primary rule of electrical work, which is to shut off the power to the area in which you will be working. 

You will need to shut off the circuit breaker that controls the flow of power to the outlet. If you are not sure which breaker to choose, plug a working appliance into the outlet and turn off each breaker individually. When the correct one is chosen, the appliance will shut off. When the power is off, you will remove the cover plate that hides the outlet by removing the center screw, then loosen the upper and lower screws that hold the outlet inside the gang box in the wall.

You can then pull the outlet from the gang box and disconnect all wires by loosening the terminal screws that hold them in place. You will see either two or three sets of different colored wires. Keep all wires separated.

Installing the new outlet.

If you have only one set of three wires, loop the bare end of the black wire in a clockwise direction under the top brass colored terminal screw, then tighten the screw securely. Connect the white wire to the top silver terminal  and the green or copper colored wire to the single green terminal at the top of the outlet.

If a second set of three wires is present, connect the second black wire to the bottom brass terminal, the white wire to the bottom silver terminal, and the green or copper wire to the single green terminal along with the first ground wire. Push the outlet into the gang box in the wall and tighten the two securing screws, then replace the cover plate.

Outlets in wet or damp areas of the home

Even if you have a standard grounded outlet in a wet or damp location such as a bathroom or basement, your family is in danger of electric shock or electrocution. You should replace it with a GFCI outlet. A GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlet shuts off automatically when it detects subtle variations in electrical current, which may indicate faulty grounding. The GFCI outlet cannot be reset until the dangerous conditions have been resolved.

You can install a GFCI outlet in the same manner as a traditional outlet. The top section will be marked "line" and the bottom section "load" but the wiring connections will be the same.  However, you will need to replace your old face plate with an open face plate, which leaves the reset and test buttons in the center of the GFCI outlet exposed. 

A GFCI outlet and open face plate will be a little more expensive, but less than thirty dollars, a small price to pay for your family's safety. If you're not comfortable doing the work on your own, talk with a local electrician.