How to Move and Install an Electrical Wall Outlet

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If you want to learn how to move an electrical outlet without hiring a licensed electrician, you’ve come to the right place! I needed to move an electrical outlet from one side of the wall stud to the other, read on to learn step by step how to do it! Please note that I am not an electrician and if you are uncomfortable with electrical work then please consider hiring one.

As some of you might know already, I did a major DIY project in my daughter’s bedroom recently. I used some old cabinets to make a gorgeous built-in window seat with storage on either side. You can check the whole thing out here. Both my daughter and I are really excited about how it all turned out! 

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Why I needed to Move the Electrical Outlet

Of course, no DIY project ever gets done without at least one headache. For my daughter’s built-in window seat, the problem was the existing outlet where the window cabinet met the other wall in the corner. The outlet would have been covered by the cabinet, and needed to be moved. 

I thought my first idea of just closing up the outlet and drywalling over it was great! I wasn’t going to use it anyway. Unfortunately, our professional electrician informed me that it is illegal and dangerous to do that, so it was not a good idea at all. This meant it had to be moved. 

I am a big fan of DIY (obviously!), but I confess that electrical projects make me uncomfortable. I have changed light switches, but this is a whole other scale. We had our electrician at our house to replace a couple of outlets in the kitchen, and I asked him if he would have time to move the outlet in the bedroom while he was there. He had the time, so he moved it up for me while I was out.

Unfortunately, when I went to check on everything after I got home, I realized that the outlet was still going to be in the way in the new location. I decided to be brave and do it myself since I was pretty sure all I needed to do was move the outlet straight across to the other side of the stud it was already attached to. 

I don’t think I would have attempted this if it had meant adding new wiring and moving it to a different wall or something like that, and I definitely wouldn’t tackle electrical repairs myself, but this felt easy enough to handle.

Before I get started on telling you my experience, let’s do a little FAQ session here! I’m sure many of you are like me and think that electrical work is a little scary and daunting. Before committing to a project like this, here are some reasonable questions to ask yourself. 

Can you replace an electrical outlet yourself?

My answer to this question is yes, or we wouldn’t be here right now! If you follow the proper procedure, read all instructions, and respect the power of electricity at all times, it is absolutely possible for you to replace an outlet yourself.

I would suggest first doing a little bit of research on your own home and on electricity in general before getting started.

Older homes have different issues than newer ones. For example, see if you’re dealing with a 15-amp circuit or a 20-amp circuit (never install 20-amp outlets on a 15-amp circuit). Are you dealing with 12-gauge wire or 14-gauge wire? Do you need GFCI outlets? What do the different wire colors mean? None of these are difficult topics.

You can learn enough about your own home very quickly to ensure you make the best decision for your situation.

Can you wire a standard outlet wrong? 

The answer is of course, yes! There’s always the possibility of making a mistake in any DIY project. It is possible that you could connect the wrong wire to the wrong place, strip too much or too little of the rubber casing off the wire, or incorrectly attach the ends of your wire to the outlet itself, to list the most common examples of what might go wrong.

My advice is to follow all directions and instructions and test with an electrical outlet tester when you’re all finished. Then troubleshoot if necessary. 

Should you hire an electrician to move and replace an electrical outlet?

HUGE disclaimer here: I am not a certified electrician, and doing electrical work can be risky. You should hire a qualified electrician if:

  • You do not feel confident in your ability to turn off the appropriate breakers
  • You don’t have the right tools to check that there is no voltage flowing through your outlet before you begin to work on it, or
  • You just aren’t sure you can get the electrical wires back to where they need to go

Tools and Materials You Will Need to Move an Electrical Wall Outlet: 

If you are feeling overwhelmed by options, you can buy everything you need right here. These are all the tools I used myself for a successful DIY electrical outlet move!

The list includes my very favorite Ryobi battery powered work light, which you will need once you turn out the power in your workspace. It can be handheld or hung from above, it is extendable, and it has different options for how it throws light. All the tools on my list will get the job done right!

 Let’s get started! 

How to move an Electrical Outlet to a New Location

First thing, and this is important, so listen up: go to your electrical panel and TURN OFF THE CIRCUIT BREAKER. It’s very important that there is no electricity running to the outlet while you’re working on it.

If you aren’t 100% sure that you’ve turned off the right breaker, turn the main breaker off. That way there is no live electricity anywhere in your house. Working with a hot wire could lead to very serious consequences.

Before you start working, use your voltage meter to test the outlet and make sure there is no live power.

Open up the New Outlet Location

Next, I had to figure out if I could even move the outlet to the other side of the stud like I wanted to. My friend Kristy of @designingparkside has a lot of experience moving outlets around, so I Facetimed her and got her opinion!

She suggested I cut a new hole in the drywall on the other side of the stud where I wanted to move the outlet to, just to see what I was dealing with. We determined I was in the clear, so I went ahead and made the hole bigger. 

Removing the Original Electrical Box

Once the breaker is off, you can start working! Loosen the screws that hold the face of the outlet in the electrical box. 

Once the outlet is free and clear, take out the screws that connect the wires to the outlet. 

In my particular case, a four port wire connector was used, which is meant to be permanently in place. So I cut that off using my wire cutters, leaving the four wires loose. Depending on the style of your old outlet, you may have a different setup to take care of. In the end, you want loose wires with nothing attached to the ends.

Expose the Wire Ends

In order to reconnect the wires once they are in their new location, you need to expose the ends. So the next thing I did was use my wire cutters again. This time I used them to score the rubber coating and strip it off the end of the wire to leave it bare, not to cut it right through. You want to have about ¾” of bare copper wire. 

Now that the wires are loose and the end of each one is stripped, it’s time to pull them out of the electrical box from the bottom, so they are completely loose and ready to transfer to the next box location. 

Installing the Existing Box in a New Location

Once the wires are out, you can unscrew the box from the stud to move it. Then you want to secure that original box to wherever the new location is. In my case, this was just on the other side of the wall stud. Before you do this, make sure it’s at the right height and that you are happy with how it will look in that position on the wall. Once you start the next step, it’s hard to change it again! 

Check Building Codes Before Cutting into Studs

Feed the wires through the bottom of the box. I was fortunate enough to have a hole in the stud where the wires fit through, so it was easy for me to move them to the other side.

Make sure you know the building codes for your area regarding cutting holes in your studs if you need to notch out a hole for your existing wire to go through. Especially if you are working on a load-bearing wall, you need to make sure you do not compromise the structure of your stud. For example, where I am located it is code compliant to notch out 25% of a stud in a load-bearing wall if needed. 

If you do need to notch your stud, you will want to secure the wires in place once they are fed through with a metal stud plate/guard. 

Add New Connectors to the Wires

Now it’s time to put new connectors on the end of the wires! Basically, you are putting everything back together exactly how you found it when you started. All the stripped ends of the white wire go in one connector, the black wire in another, and the copper wire in another.

All you need to do to install these is push each wire all the way into the end of each connector space. If you have done it right, you won’t be able to pull the wire out again. 

Installing the New Outlet

Now it’s time to install your new outlet (also called a new receptacle, if you want to know)! For my project, I chose one by Leviton that has a USB port. If you have to move an electrical outlet you might as well make it as functional as possible, right?

Make sure you read the directions even if you understood how the old outlet worked, because they aren’t all the same. For this particular outlet, the top screw is for connecting the black wires and the bottom one is for the white wires.

Match the Wire Colors to the Terminal Screws

When mounting, examine the wire configuration and pay attention to the colors of your terminal screws. For most outlets, there will be three colors of wire attached to it.

  • Black wires are the wires that carry live voltage. They should be attached to the brass screw on the receptacle.
  • White wires are your neutral wire and should be attached to the silver screw terminals.
  • Bare copper wire (sometimes it is green wire instead) is the ground wire and one of these should be attached to the green screw on the receptacle. Another short grounding wire is used to connect the other wires to the electrical box.

First, I connected this short ground wire directly to the screws on the outlet. To do this, I used my wire cutters to bend one of the exposed ends into a hook shape, and then I put this hook around the loosened screw. Just tighten the screw and that’s all you need to do. Do this for all three wires you will use to connect the bundles of black, white, and copper wires to the outlet. 

Then, I used those ground wires to connect the four port connectors to the appropriate terminal screws.

Lastly, I shoved all the wires back into the box so I could screw the outlet in. This might have been the hardest part!

I tested it out at this point, and it worked! The new cover plate was installed and I called it done. I am feeling pretty proud of this because I had never moved an electrical outlet before, only changed them. It feels so good to conquer new things!

What’s your proudest DIY moment? Let me know in the comments!

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