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Everything you needMy wife I chose our last apartment based largely on the fact that the other tenants' complaints that the landlord never stopped by or cared much about the condition of the property. This was a welcome change from the pair of knit-picky, nosy, voyeuristic landladies we endured during our first years of marriage. However, that meant that minor home improvements were up to me if I wanted them done in a timely manor.

Most of the outlets in the apartment were so worn out that lamp cords would fall out the moment my hand let go. At best walking across the floor caused lights to flicker and the radio to shut off. Fortunately, fixing the problem is as easy as homemade sin and dirt cheap (so you don't have to worry about investing much pocket change into someone else's property).

All you need to do the deed is a 39¢ outlet from the hardware store (or Walmart's hardware dept.) and a #2 ("regular" size) flat screwdriver. Most electrical outlets are designed to accept both flat ( | ) and Philips ( + ) screwdrivers so if you have a Philips grab that too (it can be easier to use) but it's not necessary. A novice should expect to spend about 15 minutes from start to finish.

First, make sure you have access to the breaker that controls the electricity to your apartment. If you have access to the breakers for more than your own apartment you might knock on some doors in case you flip the wrong breaker or it affects neighboring apartments. If you have access to the breakers (legally you should) then plug in a light to the outlet and turn it on (use tape if necessary). This will be your signal that you found the right breaker. Now start trying breakers. If they're labeled go by the labels and if not proceed in an order that makes sense to you. Turn off one breaker and check to see if the light turned off. If it didn't that was the wrong one. Return to the panel, turn that one back on and try the next one. It is fairly important that you try breakers one at a time so the rest of your apartment and/or your neighbors aren't without electricity any longer than necessary. Once the light goes off you're in business.

Note: If there are six flights of stairs between the outlet and the breakers get a friend (at least someone who doesn't want you dead) to help and use your cell phones to find the right breaker. If there is any chance that someone might see the switched off breaker and turn it on again for you (just to be helpful of course), consider taping a note of warning to the panel.

With the right breaker off, unplug everything from the outlet and remove the faceplate (the slotted screw in the center). Now unscrew the two screws going through the metal tabs at the top and bottom of the outlet (you can use a Philips here). The outlet is now free from the box and can bee pulled a little ways out of the box.

Take some time to note which wires are connected to which side of the outlet. Black should be connected to a brass colored screw (or at least that side if it just sticks into the backside of the outlet) and white should be on the side of the silver screw. That's the rule but if it's arranged opposite and the outlet didn't blow up any electronics or cause other oddities before, don't swap sides now!

If the wires are attached on the side, unscrew the wires from one side (sometimes there are two per side) and attach them in the same manner to the corresponding side of your new outlet. Then do likewise with the other side.

If the wires disappear straight into the back of the old outlet you can usually remove them with a little twisting back and forth while you pull. This method of wiring is legal and done often but frowned upon by many electricians because they tend to slip out after a while. Pull out the wires from one side. To rewire the same way simply push the wires into the back of the new outlet on the corresponding side. To wire it the "right" way simply bend the exposed part of the wire around the shaft of your screw driver to make at least a 180º loop, loosen the appropriately colored screw on the new outlet, place the looped wire around the screw and tighten. Now do the other side.

Now unscrew the ground wire from the end of the old outlet and attach to the new one. If there is no ground wire (i.e. really old construction) then the metal tabs on either end will perform the same function when they're attached to a metal box.

Your new outlet is now wired! Screw the new outlet to the box just like the old one and replace the faceplate. Go flip on the breaker, plug in a light, and admire your handiwork!


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