Switches & Receptacles: How to Replace or Upgrade a Switch or Receptacle

Electrical Tools on a dropcloth

It's not unusual for a switch to be flipped on and off tens of thousands of times before it malfunctions. When a switch does finally wear out, replacing it is a simple job. Or you may want to replace a simple toggle switch with a dimmer. This section shows how to replace common residential switches and presents other switches that meet the needs of special situations. These handy devices, such as dimmers and motion-sensor switches, are just as easy to install as basic switches.

Projects in Switches & Receptacles

Working in a box
Receptacles have no moving parts and can last even longer than switches, provided they are not abused. Replacing one is just as easy as putting in a switch.

Always turn the power off and test a receptacle for power before you remove the cover plate. Once the box is open, test again for power. We've included information in this secton showing how to safely open boxes to reach a switch or receptacle.

You'll need to use the tools and skills shown in other sections on this site. To complete these projects you should be able to strip wire insulation, splice wires, and connect wire ends to terminals.

Wires inside a box may be short, and space may be tight. To make working in the box easier, pull out the device and straighten the wires. Take your time.

A mistake could force you to cut a wire for a second or third time, making it even shorter. If you do need to lengthen a wire, use a pigtail.

After you have pulled a device out of a box, examine the wiring before you loosen terminal screws. If you do not understand the wiring, you may find it explained in this section. If the wiring is complicated, tag each wire with a piece of tape as you unhook it. The tag tells you where the wire should be reattached. Take photos of the wiring as you work for reference. Work methodically to ensure a safe and successful installation. Call in a professional if you are still confused.

One Hour or Less

Three simple projects to cross off of your to-do list -- just print these instructions and begin!