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Is it easy to change outlet covers?

Changing outlet covers may seem like a simple DIY task, but there are some important safety considerations to keep in mind. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know to safely change outlet covers in your home.

Outlets can become worn out or damaged over time. Replacing outlet covers is an easy way to update the look of a room. It’s also important for safety – cracked or broken outlet covers can expose wires and create a serious shock hazard.

While swapping out outlet covers is generally considered a straightforward DIY project, there are some key steps that should not be overlooked. Taking the proper safety precautions and following electrical codes is crucial when working with outlets.

In this article, we’ll cover:

– Why you may need to replace outlet covers
– Electrical safety tips
– What you’ll need
– Step-by-step instructions for removing old outlet covers and installing new ones
– Variations for different outlet configurations
– Code requirements

With a little bit of care and preparation, you can change outlet covers quickly and safely. Let’s get into the specifics!

When to Replace Outlet Covers

Here are some of the most common reasons you may need to replace electrical outlet covers in your home:

– **Cracks or damage:** Any cracks or damage in a cover plate can allow dirt, debris, and moisture to get into the electrical box behind the outlets. This creates a serious risk of electric shock or fire.

– **Worn or loose cover plates:** Outlet covers can become worn out over time, especially if they’ve been overtightened or loosened repeatedly. Loose connections can allow sparks and overheating.

– **Renovations:** If you’re renovating a room or updating finishes like paint or wallpaper, replacing all the outlets with new, matching covers creates a cohesive finished look.

– **Insulation reasons:** Swapping old outlet covers with new foam gasket outlets helps prevent drafts from coming in through the electrical boxes. This adds insulation and can help lower energy costs.

– **Safety updates:** Updating outlets to add tamper-resistant openings, ground fault protection, or other safety features brings older outlets up to the latest electrical code requirements.

– **Aesthetic improvements:** Even if your outlet covers are in good working order, switching them out for new ones can freshen up the style in a room. Decorative covers come in a wide range of finishes.

Replacing worn, damaged, or outdated electrical covers takes just a few minutes. It’s a simple upgrade that can markedly improve safety, insulation, appearance, and functionality.

Electrical Safety Tips

Outlet covers enclose electrical boxes and wiring, so safety should always be your top priority when replacing them. Here are some key safety reminders:

– **Turn off the power:** Switch off the appropriate breaker in the service panel before working on outlets. Use a contact voltage tester to double-check that power is off.

– **Use caution with moisture:** Don’t work on outlets that are wet or in very humid rooms. Never replace covers with wet hands.

– **Check wires for damage:** Look for cracked, loose, or frayed wires as you remove old covers. Any damage should be addressed before installing new covers.

– **Connect wires securely:** When installing new covers, carefully connect the wires to the terminals on the outlet. Tug gently to ensure they’re tightly secured.

– **Double-check covers fit snugly:** An outlet cover that doesn’t fit flush to the wall creates a potential shock hazard if moisture or debris get in.

– **Use screwdrivers properly:** Insert and remove outlet cover screws slowly and carefully with the appropriate sized screwdriver to avoid stripping.

– **Consult an electrician if needed:** If you see aluminum wiring, very old outlets, or have any other safety concerns, it may be best to have a professional replace your outlet covers.

Exercising caution and following safety best practices reduces the likelihood of electrocution or electrical fire when changing outlet covers yourself.

What You’ll Need

Changing outlet covers doesn’t require much in the way of supplies. Here’s what you’ll need to have on hand:

– **New outlet covers:** Choose covers that fit your outlets – 1-gang, 2-gang, decorator style, weatherproof, etc. Purchase a few extras in case any break.

– **Small Phillips head screwdriver:** A screwdriver with the right size head prevents stripping the screws.

– **Contact voltage tester:** This handy, inexpensive tool verifies power is off before you work.

– **Flashlight:** Illuminate the back of electrical boxes as you work.

– **Gloves:** Gloves protect your hands from sharp edges as you remove old covers.

– **Vacuum:** Use a vacuum to clear dirt and debris from electrical boxes before replacing covers.

– **Cutting tool:** For outlets on ceramic tile, a rotary tool may be needed to clear grout so the new cover sits flush.

– **Wood shims:** Place shims between the new cover and box to bring flush to the wall surface if needed.

With basic DIY tools, replacing outlet covers is a quick and easy upgrade. Now let’s go through the step-by-step process.

How to Replace Outlet Covers

Here are the key steps involved in safely swapping out old outlet covers for new ones:

1. Turn off power and verify it’s off
2. Unscrew and remove the old outlet cover
3. Inspect wires and outlet for any issues
4. Clean electrical box of any dirt or debris
5. Correct any problems found and install any new electrical boxes or outlets needed
6. Place new outlet cover over box
7. Carefully align holes and insert cover screws
8. Tighten down screws evenly
9. Turn power back on and test outlet
10. Replace any other old outlets and covers as needed

Let’s look at these steps in more detail.

Step 1) Shut off power to the outlet at the main service panel. Double check that power is off by touching a contact voltage tester or neon circuit tester to the outlet. The tester should not light up.

Step 2) Use a screwdriver to remove the cover plate screws. Place them in a secure spot for reuse later. Gently remove the cover plate and place it aside.

Step 3) Closely inspect the wiring to make sure no copper is exposed or that the insulation is cracked. Look for signs of burns or overheating on the outlet itself. Notify an electrician immediately if you notice any problems. You should not proceed if there are any issues.

Step 4) Use a vacuum with a soft brush attachment to remove any dirt or debris from the electrical box. Carefully pull out the outlet partially to vacuum behind it as well.

Step 5) Make any necessary repairs now such as replacing the outlet or box, upgrading to a ground fault outlet, etc. Follow instructions that come with any new electrical parts.

Step 6) Position the new outlet cover over the electrical box, aligning the screw holes. Press gently to fit it flush to the wall.

Step 7) Insert the cover screws into the screw holes and tighten them evenly with the screwdriver. Take care not to overtighten.

Step 8) Flip the breaker back on and restore power to the outlet.

Step 9) Plug in a lamp or tester appliance to verify proper functioning. Replace all other old outlets in the home as needed.

Always exercise great care when working around electricity and call in an electrician for any sign of damaged wiring. But when the electrical system is in good repair, replacing outlet covers is a very straightforward task.

Variations for Different Outlet Configurations

While the overall process is essentially the same, there are a few differences to note for some special outlet configurations:

GFCI outlets – Press the “Reset” button after installing a new ground fault circuit interrupter outlet cover plate to allow power to flow.

20 amp outlets – Use outlet covers specifically rated for 20 amp outlets. They have horizontal slots instead of vertical slots.

Decorative covers – For special decorative covers, ensure the new cover fully encloses the box and allows space for plugs.

Weatherproof covers – Covers on outdoor or damp location outlets need to form a tight seal. The gasket should be intact.

Metallic covers – Bond the outlet cover to ground when replacing a metallic electrical box cover per NEC requirements.

Jumbo size covers – On larger boxes for 30 amp dryer outlets or 50 amp range outlets, use a jumbo outlet cover.

Ring terminals – Some older outlets may have ring terminals instead of screw terminals. Use needlenose pliers to remove and attach the wires.

The main steps stay the same, but always inspect the outlet type carefully and get the proper replacement cover. Following the manufacturer instructions for any specialty outlets. Now let’s look at the code requirements.

Electrical Code Requirements

All electrical work, including changing outlet covers, must adhere to local building codes and the National Electrical Code. Here are some of the key requirements:

Code Requirement
NEC 406.5(A) Outlet boxes must be properly installed and grounded.
NEC 314.27(C) Outlet covers should fit flush with no gaps or openings.
NEC 334.30 Any outlet with exposed conductors must be replaced.
NEC 406.4(D) Covers must be correctly sized for the electrical box.
NEC 250.148 Metallic covers must be properly bonded to ground.

Consult your local building department for any questions about permit requirements. An inspection may be needed for certain electrical upgrades beyond routine outlet cover replacement.


Replacing worn or outdated electrical outlet covers with new ones is a fast and easy DIY project. To stay safe, always turn off power, use caution around electrical systems, and fix any wiring issues before adding new covers.

While outlet cover replacement is not complicated, you should still read the steps thoroughly and follow electrical codes. Taking proper safety precautions reduces the risk of electrical danger. Investing a few minutes in upgrading outlets and covers enhances the appearance of your rooms while improving safety and functionality.