Photo: RonGreer.Com (Shutterstock)
Homes built before the 1960s had different electrical regulations than we do now—including the fact that two-prong outlets were standard, rather than the average three-prong ones we typically see today. The third hole in our outlets basically helps protect against electrical surges and shock, and while two-pronged outlets aren’t necessarily a cause for concern, they can easily be upgraded without major rewiring.
Is it safe to replace a two-prong outlet in your home?
Although you can safely change out a two-prong outlet for a three-prong, it does not make the outlet grounded. As long as the outlet works properly, you can change it, but it should be labeled with a “No Equipment Ground” sticker. You’re also required to replace the old receptacle with a “Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter,” or GFCI, which protects the user from electric shock. In most cases, they’re placed in bathrooms and kitchens where the outlet is likely to come in contact with water and the outlet is triggered to shut off when it senses the threat of electric shock. As Safety Electricity explains:
The GFCI will “sense” the difference in the amount of electricity flowing into the circuit to that flowing out, even in amounts of current as small as 4 or 5 milliamps. The GFCI reacts quickly (less than one-tenth of a second) to trip or shut off the circuit.
Before you get started, make sure you know where the breaker is to cut the power. In the past, we’ve recommended shutting off the whole grid or circuit breaker just to be safe. The process should only take a few minutes, and your power will be back on in no time.
How to install a three-prong electrical outlet
Make sure you have these tools before getting started.
Once you have all of your materials in hand, go ahead and switch off the breaker and use the voltage tester to confirm there is no power coming to the outlet. If the meter detects electricity, you may have a bigger electrical problem on your hands and you should contact an electrician right away.
After you’ve confirmed the electricity is off, you can start replacing the outlet. Use your screwdriver to remove the faceplate around the outlet; underneath, you’ll find the mounting screws holding the outlet in place. Go ahead and remove those screws. (Feel free to wear rubber-lined work gloves.) Once the outlet is loose, pull it out of the wall to expose the two wires holding it in place. (Take this opportunity to triple-check that the electricity is off.)
Take your micro side cutters and cut the two wires attaching the outlet. You’ll now need to strip the wires according to the strip gauge measurement on the back of your GFCI receptacle. This gauge will tell you just how much of the wire casing to strip for the new outlet. Make sure only to strip as much as the gauge requires, otherwise you run the risk of having exposed wires in the socket.
Once you’ve stripped the wires, attach them to the corresponding voltage receptors. As Everyday Home Repairs instructs, “Gold goes to black, which is hot. And then white or the neutral line will go to the silver screw terminal.” You’ll take the black wire and put it under the gold plate on the outlet (all the way in, until no copper is showing) and screw it into place. Then take the white or neutral wire and do the same on the silver-plated side and screw it into place.
After this, wrap the black electrical tape around the outlet covering the sides completely. The tape adds another layer of protection from electrical currents. Make sure to cut the tape and not pull or rip to separate, as ripping the tape will cause it to buckle, and you want it to lay flat on the casing for a secure hold.
Watch Everyday Home Repairs’ video for detailed visual instructions:
Now you’re ready to secure the outlet into the wall and screw it back in place. After everything is replaced, go ahead and turn the breaker back on and test the voltage to ensure everything is working properly.