How to install an electrical receptacle - electrical outlet wiring procedure:
Starting here, this article series describes how to choose, locate, and wire an electrical receptacle in a home. Electrical receptacles (also called electrical outlets or "plugs" or "sockets") are simple devices that are easy to install, but there are details to get right if you want to be safe.
This article series explains eletrical receptacle types (also referred to as wall sockets, outlets, or "plugs" by non-electricians), receptacle grounding, connecting wires to the right receptacle terminal screws, electrical wire size, electrical wire color codes, and special receptacles for un-grounded circuits.
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Our photo at page top illustrates other wire connections shown out of the electrical box and thus is not an example of a proper electrical outlet installation.
Article series contents
We use the proper term electrical receptacle to describe the "wall plug" or "wall outlet" into which you will insert a two-prong or three prong plug to connect an appliance, lamp, etc. Technically in the electrical code, an "outlet" is any place in where you provide a junction box and electrical wires to which something can be connected: a light fixture or an electrical receptacle, for example.
With a few simple tools, electrical wiring of an electrical receptacle is not difficult, but there are a few details to get right in order for the electrical receptacle to be safely installed.
Why might we need to add an electrical receptacle in a building?
We summarize the electrical connections for wiring up a receptacle just below. Wiring details for electrical "outlets" properly called electrical receptacles, are at CONNECTION DETAILS.
On a conventional 120-volt "two pronged" electrical outlet that accepts grounded plugs (two prongs plus the rounded center ground connector prong), your circuit will have three wires:
Reader Question: what do I do with the screws to which no wire is connected on a conventional "plug" (wall receptacle)?
At the end of a circuit, I'm only using 2 of the 4 screws on a conventional plug. What should I do with the 2 unused screws? Should they be screwed all the way in? Or left partially unscrewed? Or does it matter? - Chris Rasko 7/8/12
Reader Question: how to wire up two different circuit-powered receptacles in one electrical box
Channing, re Hooking up a Pair of Receptacles in One Electrical Box:
That's a perfectly acceptable use of the second pair of screw terminals you see on the receptacles.
However a better practice when wiring up a quad-plex of electrical receptacles is to place left and right or upper and lower receptacles on separate electrical circuits - thus reducing the chances of overloading the circuit when many things are connected simultaneously. There are two approaches: you can wire the left and right duplex receptacles each to different individual electrical circuits, or you can wire the upper and lower half of the pair of duplex receptacles to different electrical circuits.
Wiring a Split Receptacle to Two Different Electrical Circuits
If you choose to wire the upper and lower duplex receptacle openings to different circuits, we call this the "split receptacle" wiring method, because we are splitting the individual duplex receptacle upper and lower connectors onto two different circuits.
Our photo (left) shows an electrical receptacle that is being wired to a single circuit. The white neutral wire is connected to the silver screw (left side of our photo).
If we were wiring this electrical "outlet" as a split receptacle, we'd want to feed the upper and lower halves of the device from two different electrical circuits.
To do so we'd have to break away the "breakaway" connecting tab pointed to by our orange arrow.
Daisy Chaining Receptacles in Separate Electrical Boxes
If your two receptacles are in different locations and thus in different electrical boxes, your circuit that wires the second or "downstream" receptacle can be powered by those same extra terminal screws on the first or "upstream" receptacle. You'll need to run a wire from the first receptacle through the wall into the second electrical box of course.
Wiring Electrical Receptacles on a Single Circuit In Parallel
In some jurisdictions electricians to not "daisy chain" receptacles in the same box together by using the second pair of screws on each one. Rather the circuit enters the box and using twist-on connectors, short pig-tail wires are connected to each receptacle at the proper screws. This approach requires a larger electrical box as it will contain more connections, connectors, and so needs more room.
Because electricians often pull a multiwire circuit where they plan to split receptacle circuits within an individual electrical box while sharing a neutral wire, be sure to ake a look at multi-wire branch circuit wiring information and hook-up details
Reader Question: Which end of electrical outlets go "up"? The ground hole should be up, down, or sideways?
Can the outlet be installed any way? For example ground hole facing up, down, or sideways? thanks, - Anon
Anon, the position of installation of an electrical outlet won't affect its operation and should not normally affect its approval by the electrical inspector.
In some areas I see the outlet installed with the ground connector always "up" as in our photo at left, though to me that's less attractive than the position shown in our electrical outlet photo at far left.
I've also seen arguments expressing the OPINION that the position of the grounding pin connector might help resist the tendency of a plug to fall out of its connection. That's nonsense. If a plug is falling out of a receptacle, one of the two objects is worn or damaged and should be replaced to assure a safe, mechanically secure connection.
Reader Question: can I connect a pigtail from multiple hot, neutral, or ground wires over to a receptacle
I have 2 receptacles that are both side and back wired, 3 hot and 3 neutral wires. I eliminated one receptacle (capping the 3 wires together) but want to keep the other. Is it safe to just run a pigtail from the 3 wires to the receptacle? - Greg
When wiring multiple boxes in series, how do you connect both incoming and outgoing ground wires to the back of the receptacle? With 12 ga. wire, only one wire will fit under the green screw (and not very tightly, at that - there's no washer or clamp.) - Bob M.
Yes, Greg, that's a common practice. Be sure that your junction box is big enough to contain all of the wires and twist-on connectors. Details about back-wired electrical devices (receptacles & switches) are
Bob, similar to Greg's question, I see two approaches to hooking up the ground wire in junction boxes and at electrical receptacles.
Watch out: while the electrical receptacle ground may also be electrically connected to the metal strap that mounts the receptacle to the junction box (photo at left), and while the junction box may be metal, do not rely on the receptacle mounting screws and receptacle strap-to-box contact to serve as the grounding connection.
It's easy for the receptacle mounting screws to be deliberately left loose or to work loose - making that ground connection unreliable. Use a ground wire.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: how to wire up a pair of re
Question: what is the minimum height that indoor house wiring must be above the ground or floor level?
When running wire for a basement, is there a min height the wires must be off the ground? Not the outlet box, but the wire running through the joists. Justin Sheppard
No, Justin. But if there is the slightest danger that wires will be nicked by someone driving a nail into a stud though which the wires are run be sure to use steel plates to protect the wire where it passes through the studs. Simple nail plates are available at any building supplier.
Question: how do I get rid of a four-way switch
Wanting to get rid of a four way switch not sure what wires to remove in order to remove the switch. I have three switches to control one light in my kitchen is this what they call a four way switch? Any help would be very helpful - Jim
Jim, once you've got more than one electrical switch installed to control a single device - such as a kitchen light - all of the switches and wiring can be installed using three-way switches. The wiring details are right on the package.
Question: When wiring an electrical receptacle, what do I do with the red wire? Can I ground it?
I have a 3 wire (Black, White, Red and ground) feeding a outlet and I want to add another receptacle to run further down the line. The line out is 14/2. What do I do with the Hot Red wire? Can i attach it to the ground. - Rick
After capping off the red wire, can I extend the line to the next plug by following the diagram above and adding the black and white wires to the respective second screw connections?
You see, the wiring has already been installed by the builders and they left the boxes without receptacles so all I have to do is connect them to the. I don't know why the extra red wire is there. It was done over a year ago. I want to finish the connections. It runs 14/3 and then 14/2. That's why I have the extra red.
Reply: how three-wire circuits or multiwire branch circuits with a common neutral (and ground) are used and wired
Rick often electricians run a 3-wire system into a building area using two hot wires and a shared neutral, to permit providing two circuits in an area while having to pull just one wire to the area. But to sort out how your wires were connected and are being used requires some expertise, visual inspection, and testing using a VOM.
Take a look at multi-wire branch circuit wiring information and hook-up details at MULTI-WIRE CIRCUITS.
Question: how do I install multiple electrical outlets (receptacles) along a wall?
putting in more than outlet on along a 12ft wall - Mike Tucker
Mike, if your comment is a question of how to put in more than one outlet along a 12 foot wall, yes it's perfectly permitted to exceed the minimum number of receptacles along a wall.
The wiring system is unchanged except that in some cases I recommend installing two different circuits and alternating which outlet is served by which circuit. That avoids overloading one circuit if you are plugging in lots of devices in one area.
Question: Is 14/3 wire ok to use to wire between the light switch and the light? What about an electrical outlet on the same circuit as the ceiling light fixture?
is it okay to use 14/3 wire for power to light to switch to receptacle?
Watch out: we do not wire fixed lighting fixtures such as ceiling lights on the same circuit as electrical receptacles ("wall plugs"). If one of the two circuits should be switched off by a circuit breaker (perhaps detecting a fault or overcurrent) we want the other circuit to remain on so that room occupants are less likely to be left in darkness.
Question: how is an electrical outlet wired to the electrical panel?
how do wire the outlet plug to the electrical panel - Anon
Anon, the electrical circuit that powers an "outlet plug" or receptacle is connected, usually through building walls, ceilings, or floors, from the first receptacle in the particular series back to a fuse or circuit breaker connection in the electrical panel. The fuse or circuit breaker, by its connecting mount in the electrical panel, receives electrical power from the income electrical service.
Question: connecting 14-3 to 14-2 wires & to the junction box
How do you connect 14-3 to 14-2 to a junction box - Moe.
Moe, twist on connectors are used to connect the incoming and outgoing hot, neutral, and ground wires, and a single pigtail length in that same twist-on connector can connect the ground to the local junction box.
Watch out: when mixing 14-3 and 14-2 wires on an electrical circuit.
If the 14-3 wires are the hot wires entering the box, and if only 14-2 is leaving the junction box, cap off the unused (typically the red) hot lead.
Do not just bond it together with the outgoing hot wire in the 14-2 group. Making that mistake would short two hot leads together, would be improper, unsafe, and a fire or shock risk.
Question: how to fix loose electrical receptacles in a ceramic tile or glass mirror wall wall
Is there a way to repair electrical outlets on finished (glass and ceramic tile) walls that were not installed properly without damaging the tile? The outlets and the covers pull away from the wall when the electrical cord plug in removed?
Question: I don't have enough wire to lower receptacles on the wall
I recently moved into a 3 1/4 story home, and I have a basement that I am trying to finish with drywall. The room is down to the studs and the electrical receptacles are about 4' up the wall. The Romex wiring is stapled, and there isn't enough wire to lower them. It is way to much work for me to replace all of the downstairs wiring right to the breaker box, so I'm wondering if it is possible to add onto the existing wires and attach wire screws or marrets within the walls before I start adding drywall, or whether I should add some kind of junction box to contain the marreted wires in between. My building code stipulations would differ in some cases because I live in Canada, but I just want to do the job right, and I do not want to take the chance of having any fire hazards, as I also have small children. - Dave 2/10/12
Reply: if you have to move an entire string of electrical receptacles complete re-wiring is faster and cheaper than adding a splice box for every device.
Dave,. you are correct to be careful about moving outlets or any other device when the existing wires are too short. The temptation is to just splice on an extension and bury that in the wall or ceiling: an illegal, improper, unsafe as well as really aggravating approach.
The proper approach is to add a junction box at each splice - we never splice 120/240V wires without including them in a box. You can reduce the wiring work a little by using plastic boxes instead of steel - avoiding having to also connect the box to the ground wire.
The proper approach also means that you don't then bury any of these splice-boxes in the walls either. Each box has to be brought to the surface and covered.
The result is a lot of work and expense and an ugly wall with an extra junction box and blind cover all along the wall over each of the now moved or lowered electrical receptacles.
Frankly I figure that especially as you've already got the wall open to the studs, if there are more than one or two receptacles to be moved you'll probably find it is actually much less total work to re-wire the entire circuit, allowing proper lengths of wires for each box. You might carefully remove and re-route the existing wire lower in the wall or you might buy all new electrical wire - depending on the age and condition of the existing materials.
Watch out: when removing wire that appears to be in good condition, if you nick the insulation you've created a new hazard.
Question: electrical outlet height requirements
I was looking at some height requirements on electrical outlets this is a very informational site.
Jerm, in the article above at HEIGHT above FLOOR for OUTLETS we give the data you want. Let me know if anything is unclear.
Question: how do I wire a switched electrical receptacle?
I have double receptacle that has 3 wires coming in: one being the main power wire; one is incoming which feeds another receptacle, and the 3rd wire will feed a single pole switch. How do I wire the receptacle and then, how do I wire the single pole switch with 2 incoming wires? - JMS 6/3/12
JMS I don't have a perfectly clear idea of what you are wiring, but it may help to simplify: using a twist on connector and additional short wire lengths, the incoming hot and neutral can then be connected to receptacles in the same box, and any outgoing hot and neutral join the same twist on connectors.
Question: what do I do with a third white wire attached to the side of the old receptacle when I'm moving them
I have changed several receptacles in my 1994 home, but this time when removing the receptacle from the wall I see a third white wire attached to the side of the old receptacle. Can you explain to me what this third neutral wire is? - DW 6/12/12
DW, it is just too dangerous to claim to know what wiring connections someone has made in a building that is unseen and untested.
It would be common for an additional white wire connected to an electrical receptacle to be carrying the neutral line to another receptacle downstream. In other words the incoming neutral is connected to one terminal and the outgoing neutral is connected to a second screw that is electrically common with the first.
Check for a second hot wire also present in the same box.
Question: what do I do with the screws to which no wire is connected on a conventional "plug" (wall receptacle)?
At the end of a circuit, I'm only using 2 of the 4 screws on a conventional plug. What should I do with the 2 unused screws? Should they be screwed all the way in? Or left partially unscrewed? Or does it matter? - Chris Rasko 7/8/12
Question: can I add an electrical outlet on the wall where there is already a light switch?
I would like to wire in an outlet on the same wall where there is currently a light switch. Can I run wires from the light switch to power the outlet?The light switch is a 2 way switch. thank you. - Marv Walker 7/10/12
Well yes, maybe, sort-of.
Because a light switch is indeed switching a hot wire to the light, you've got power at the switch location. But depending on how the building is wired, you may not have an acceptable neutral wire, and in some still older circuits you may not have a safe ground wire.
Provided that you know how to work on electrical wiring without getting killed by electrocution, you (or your electrician) will open the switch box, carefully pull the switch assembly out enough to inspect for additional wires that may be present, and then use a VOM or DMM or even a simple neon tester to determine what wires are present.
To add a receptacle you need a proper hot, neutral and ground wire.
Watch out: if the "hot" wire in your light switch is on a 3-way circuit you may not always have power at your add-on receptacle.
Question: armor around wire through concrete?
I am running a new 15A outlet into the back of a bookcase in a 50 year old house with updated electrical. The wire runs out the back of the retrofit box and down through the concrete foundation into the crawlspace to a wire I plan to splice into. Do I need to put armor around the wire run through the foundation? It goes through open air for about 2 feet and there is no way to secure it to anything.
You need to look at the type and rating of the electrical wire to determine if it is permitted to bury it in concrete or not.
Question: AmI allowed to add one more outlet onto an existing string?
I have an existing outlet being used for lamps I wanna run one more outlet shares from the hot on is it okay? - PHantum 113 8/1/12
Question: I am trying to hook up two receptacles from a single line pair
I’m attempting to wire two separate receptacles from one (line) wire, not in-line one after the other but effectively as a “Y” from a junction box with two load lines out (one to a north wall receptacle and the other to a south wall receptacle in my barn).
Using screw-on connectors, I connected the three black wires together; the three white wires together; and the three green wires to a pigtail screwed into the junction box. One receptacle works fine, but plugging anything into the other receptacle trips the circuit breaker. If this is not the correct wiring configuration within the junction box, what is the solution? - Robert 8/9/12
Question: is it legal to convert a split receptacle into two separate receptacles
Is it legal to change a spit receptacle to two separate receptacles? - Gord
Watch out about overloading the circuit however.
Question: I've lost electrical power to the whole room after testing power at the light switch
I've lost elec to the whole room.
I tested the wiring at the light switch.
If I turn the switch off I get elec to the switch,If I turn it on I get no elec.to the switch. I've lost electricity to the whole room - Dave
Dave, your wiring or perhaps the switch itself is unsafe; sounds as if it's shorted. Leave the circuit off until the wiring has been traced, lest you start a fire or zap someone.
Question: which way is "right side up" for electrical outlets - more views
One comment regarding 'inverted' outlet mounting (ground up, vs down).
Reply: secret codes are confusing
Question: converting 2-prong to 3-prong grounded electrical receptacles on a two-wire system
I'm changing out 2 prong receptacles to two prong + ground receptacles on a two wire system. The boxes are metal. Is it acceptable to screw a bare wire to the box with a self tapping screw and hook to the ground screw? Do I need to check to make sure the box is grounded, if so, what is the best method? - Ben 10/9/12
Watch out: no, what you propose is improper and unsafe even though it would "appear" to work. To add a grounding conductor or "ground wire" to a two-wire circuit you need to add a physical wire. The dangers of using the existing metal box and BX or armored cable for the ground path (I know that it's tempting) are several:
That path, which relies on numerous parts that can often be loose, is unreliable: the path is from the new grounded receptacle's internal grounding connector through a rivet to a metal strap on the body of the receptacle, through mounting screws through the receptacle's mounting ears, through a threaded hole in the metal receptacle box, through a metal BX connector which itself relies on at least four parts to be secured to the metal box, through a set screw from that connector into the armored cable, and through god knows how many more sets of these parts down the entire remainder of the electrical circuit.
That path also is not intended to carry current, and should it do so in an emergency, someone touching the BX exterior could be electrocuted.
Finally, the receptacle manufacturer provides a ground screw on the receptacle that is intended to be connected by copper wire to a ground wire, parts and codes being ignored if you try using the box and its wire as the ground path.
On an ungrounded electrical circuit you should install only two-prong, ungrounded receptacles - that is code compliant and that also lets users know that there is no reliable electrical ground present.
Question: are receptacles wired after a GFI receptacle OK?
Are receptacles wired after GFI receptacles OK? - Denny 11/25/12
Watch out: When wiring a GFCI the incoming leads are connected to the LINE terminals and the downstream receptacles are connected to the LOAD terminals marked on the back of the receptacle. If the devices is not wired correctly it is unsafe and does not provide the intended safety protection from ground faults.
Question: how do I wire multi-way light switches so that all switches can be "down" or "up" when the lights are all off.
How should multiple way light switches be wired so that when all switches are down/up the light is off? Only some of the two-way switches in the house are working that way. With the 3-way and 4-way there's always one switch that has to be opposite the others.
Jim this is one of my favorite questions - thanks. Because a circuit with two or more "three-way" switches installed can be turned on or off from any of the switches on the circuit, it is impossible to wire the circuit so that when the circuit is "OFF" all of the switches are in a predictable position, say "down" (which we like to use to mean "off").
Imagine that all the switches are "down" and the lights are off (which is a possible case). Someone turns the lights ON at switch #1.
When someone wants to turn that light OFF, IF and ONLY IF that very same switch (now in the "up" position) is used, then by definition they are going to be using some other switch (now in the "down" position). When that "other" switch is used to turn lights off, it was "down" and is now switched "up".
You can't get there from here on a conventional 120V 3 or 4 or n-way lighting circuit.
Question: 3 plugs on one of my walls went out
Ok from everything I can tell I'm having trouble with trouble with 3 plugs on my outer wall has went out. I've did the common thing checked my breakers they are fine. Must not I have 2 switches in this room one on each wall but they do nothing I feel somehow those switches are connected to those 3 plugs. I've pulled the covers off each plug and noticed the wires are secured. I've flipped the switches in many combos with something plugged in and they still don't work at all. What can I do to fix it. I wanna avoid calling a electrician if possible. - Josh DeBerry 12/11/12
Start by checking fuses or circuit breakers. If there is no tripped breaker or blown fuse, I suspect a damaged receptacle, wire, or wire connector. Your electrician will track dowh the location of the fault. But if you know which receptacles were all wired on a given circuit, and with power on at the electrical panel, using a receptacle tester you can check to see if any of the devices on the circuit have power.
\Since receptacles are most often wired in a daisy-chain or series circuit, the last one that has power tells you that the problem is between that receptacle and the next one in the chain.
Question: I need to add a light, fan, and fan switch to an existing bath - I can't find where to kill the power
very informative article thumbs up . I have a question Tough
I have one line with power coming into a box that will have one two way switch, one three way switch and one power line exiting. Is it proper to splice the incoming black wire to make 3 black wires by pig tailing with wire connectors and doing the same for the white wire and ground? - is it ok? 12/13/12
I'm sorry but I'm confused by the question. I think it's safe to say that in general it's common practice to use a twist-on connector to splice pigtails or individual wires at an individual hot or neutral wire where more connections are needed than fit with the original wire.
Just watch out to avoid violating the space or number of connectors permitted in a junction box of the particular size you're working on.
Electrical wiring are the devices that are used to generate electricity. There are different types of electrical wiring that are usually vary according to three factors - purpose, quantity of electricity to be carried, and location. All the above three factors are really very important while doing electrical wiring. - Bella Cruse, Dublin electrical contractor
Question: which circuit is better to use when adding a closet light
If I want to add light to closet, which circuit is it better to pull from? I have access to 120 plug and switches in outside wall facing away from closet that could be pulled into closet. Also, can you help explain the two different wiring configurations on my non GFI plugs. On two different plugs on different walls the plugs are 8 wire push in style (4 hot and 4 common), but the wiring configuration is different between the two plugs. One one all white and black are inserted in the bottom 4 connectors with tabs in place. On another same style plug, one set of 4 wires (2 black and 2 white) are inserted in bottom left row, and other set of 4 wires are inserted in opposite side top row. These plugs are not controlled by switches. Thank you. - Chris 12/30/12
In my OPINION, it's best to connect a closet light to the room lighting circuit if possible.
About your other question, I'm a little confused by the query, but in general, receptacles and switches often have more than one permitted connection point, such as under a screw terminal, on older devices via a back-wiring push-in connector (something we do not recommend using), or on newer devices a side-clamp operated by a screw.
In all events, regardless of which connection point you are using, receptacles and switches have a designated side or screw or connector set for the white (neutral wire) (typically the side that has a silver colored screw and that is marked NEUTRAL on the device) and for the black (hot wire) (typically the side that has a brass-colored screwed and is marked LINE or HOT or BLACKI).
Question: I'm installing a box extension but the top screw won't hold - it's stripped
I started installing a box-extender on a receptacle in my kitchen because I'm tiling my backsplash and need to raise the outlet above the tile. However, the top screw connecting the outlet and box wouldn't hold. I spent way too much time bent double under my cabinets trying to get it to bite, but when I finally gave up and pulled it out it was stripped at the tip (which was as far as it'd go in). I'm sorry to bother you with triviality, but I'm new to home renos and don't know what to do. Advice? - Julia 1/29/13
Reply: step by step tips for replacing a stripped electrical receptacle or switch box mounting screw or screw opening
If the problem is the screw itself is stripped, simply purchase a replacement screw or a hand full of them from your electrical supplier. These screws are a standard thread and length, but longer versions are available at any hardware store.
For the case you describe, if the stripped problem is the mounting hole you'll need to either enlarge and tap the hole for the next size larger screw, or purchase a clip-on adapter that slips over the stripped ear through which the original hole passed.
Taking care to move electrical wires out of the way of your drill bit, in a metal electrical box you can drill out the 6/32 screw opening to tap and accept an 8/32 screw.
For photos and step by step details on how to repair stripped electrical outlet mounting screws, see OUTLET BOX SCREW REPAIR.
Questions & answers or comments about how to install and wire electrical outlets or receptacles in buildings.
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
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