Today I want to share yet another “electrical basics” post with you. This one is super simple, but it’s one that a few of you have asked for specifically — how to wire an electrical out. If you’ve never installed an electrical outlet before, and have been afraid to take that face plate off and see what’s under there, I think you’ll be surprised at how easy this is.
And since this is probably the most common situation you’ll find, I’ll be demonstrating how to install an electrical out in the middle of a circuit.
First and foremost, before doing anything with switches or outlets or lighting or any other electrical thing, you need to be sure that the power is switched off at the breaker box. If you don’t know how to do this, or don’t know which circuit breaker feeds what area of your house, or you don’t know how to use a circuit tester, DO NOT PROCEED.
After you’ve switched the circuit breaker off, always be sure to test the circuit with a circuit tester.
In my particular case, I didn’t have to do any of that because none of the wiring for this room has even been wired to the breaker box yet. If I go into the closet where my breaker box is, I just have five wires for the five circuits for my studio hanging down inside the closet from the attic, and none of them are anywhere near the breaker box yet. Wiring those to the breaker box will be the last step. Anyway, moving on…
I’ve explained this before in a previous post, but to refresh your memory, a circuit is simply a series of outlets and/or switches that receive their power from one circuit breaker in the breaker box.
The circuit I wired last night is the this one, where the wire comes from one circuit breaker in the breaker box in the guest bedroom closet, travels across the attic, and goes to the outlet labeled #1. From there, it goes to #2, and #3, and so on.
And in the pictures on this post, I’ll be wiring the outlet labeled #2 in the photo above. So it’s receiving it’s power from the outlet #1, and then sending power on to outlet #3 in the circuit.
In the junction box, I have two wires. As I explained before, I always label my wires, so you can see one says “power in” (meaning it’s coming from outlet #1) and the other says “power out” (meaning that it’s heading to the next outlet in the circuit, outlet #3).
The first step is to strip the yellow sheathing off of the wires, and I use this tool for that…
The circled areas are specifically for stripping this outside sheathing off of 14/2 and 12/2 wire. My wire is 12/2, so I use the larger one.
I try to cut the sheathing as far into the box as possible, which generally leaves about an inch or so of the sheathing visible in the box.
And once the yellow sheathing is stripped off (the wire cutters cut it very easily, and then you just pull it off), there are six separate wires exposed — two black, two white, and two bare copper.
The outlets that I use are these labeled “back and side wire outlet.”
When working with 12-gauge wire, I use these exclusively. They cost a bit more than the cheap outlets you can buy in the bulk contractors packs, but these save so much time and are a lot less work because under the terminal screws, they have these little metal plates…
If you have an outlet that doesn’t have those little metal plates under the terminal screws, that means you have to bend the ends of your wire into little hooks or loops and wrap the wire around the screws. That’s not a big deal when dealing with 14-gauge wire, but it’s such a frustrating headache when dealing with 12-gauge wire.
So I opt for these outlets that have those little plates/clamps under the screws. This allows you to simply insert the wire straight under the plate/clamp and tighten the screw. No having to hook the wire and wrap it around the screw. This is so much easier, and such a time saver!
So back to the box, I cut the excess wire off so that what’s left is about four inches of wire sticking out past the front of the box. That gives me a total of about 7-8 inches of wire to work with.
That’s a guesstimate. It might be a bit more or less than four inches past the front of the box. Just keep in mind that if you cut them too short, you’re kind of up a creek, and it’ll make things really difficult to wire. If you leave them too long, it’s hard to get all of that wire tucked in the box when you’re done.
Next, I use the same wire strippers, and use these smaller areas to strip the individual wires. There’s one for 14-gauge wire, and one for 12-gauge wire. Mine is 12-gauge, so that’s the one I used.
I stripped about 3/8 inch from the ends of the wires.
You do not have to guess at how much to strip from the ends of the wires. Every single outlet or switch that you purchase will come with a strip gauge on the back of the outlet or switch (or if it’s not there, it’ll be inside the packaging) telling you exactly how much you need to strip for that particular outlet or switch.
With the wires cut and stripped the appropriate amount, I’m ready to wire up the outlet.
On one side, you’ll find silver screws. Those are the neutral terminals that the white (neutral) wires go to.
On the other side, you’ll find brass screws. Those are the terminals where the black (hot) wires will go.
So on the right side, where the brass screws are, I simply insert the stripped ends of the black wires underneath those metal plates/clamps, and tighten the screws to hold the wires in place.
Remember how I labeled my wires (i.e., power in, power out)? I always put the one labeled “power in” on top, and the ones labeled “power out” on bottom. That way I always know which direction a particular wire is going, and there’s no confusion if I need to get in there and do something in that junction box at a later date.
And then repeat that process on the other side with the white wires going to the silver terminals.
And again, if you don’t purchase the outlets with the little plates/clamps under the screws, and all you see are screws there, then you just have to form a little loop in the end of the wire and wrap it around the screw. Such a pain. 😀
So now I have my black (hot) wires connected, and my white (neutral) wires connected. That just leaves the ground wires.
I like to use these push-in connectors, which you can use in place of wire nuts. Because again, working with uncooperative 12-gauge wire makes me want to cuss, so I’ve found that these make the job so much easier than all of that twisting and screwing on wire nuts.
I start by attaching the two ground wires together using a push-in connector.
That connected the ground wire from the wire coming into the box, and the ground wire from the wire leaving the box and going to the next outlet. But you’ll notice that that did nothing to actually ground the outlet because there’s still nothing going to the little green screw on the outlet.
So to remedy that, I cut a small piece of wire about six inches long…
…and I inserted one end into the push-in connector to create what’s called a “pigtail.”
And then the other end of that pigtail gets connected to the green/ground screw on the outlet.
That screw doesn’t have a plate/clamp on it, so I generally do go ahead and make a hook in the end of the wire and wrap it around. But I noticed that it has a little area that my cheaper outlets don’t have where the wire can easily slip in and be held very tightly when the screw is tightened. There are no specifics on the written instructions that come with this outlet about this, but I tested it by pulling very tightly on the wire and it seemed to hold perfectly like this. While this seems to hold very securely, I’d recommend creating a bend at the end of the wire and wrapping it around the screw.
And then the outlet is ready to be screwed into place in the junction box. This is probably the hardest part of the whole process if you’re working with 12-gauge wire. I’m telling you that those things just do not want to bend and cooperate, so it might take a bit of gentle wrestling to get everything in there far enough to get the outlet screwed onto the junction box, but just be firm but gentle, and a little patient, and it’ll get there.
But that’s it! Wiring an electrical outlet is really so simple! And once it’s all wired and screwed into place, you can turn the circuit breaker back on and test the outlet to be sure that it’s all working properly. Easy peasy! And of course, you’ll want to add a face plate to finish up the job. I’m not going to do that right now because the drywall guys are still taping and mudding, and when they’re done, I’ll be priming and painting. I’ll add face plates when the walls are finished.
I was also going to show how to wire a light switch today, but this post got a little long. So I’ll save the switch wiring post for later.