How To Update Your Outlets (Step By Step Pics)

While our sunroom mojo was still running on high from accomplishing our most daring painting task to date, I quickly followed up with two small electrical updates to the room. The first is seemingly minor, but to us makes a world of difference in making a room feel new: updating outlets. It’s something that was especially helpful in a room like our sunroom where the off-white outlets just look dirty against the white trim.

A basic new outlet and cover plate can run you as little as $2-3 so it’s not a pricey update – even for an outlet-riddled room like ours (there were nine in here). And the task of replacing them is pretty straightforward too. Maybe a bit tedious, but certainly not backbreaking. So I actually put together a little graphic tutorial for easy reference if anyone else wanted to update some outlets in their home. I’m not a trained electrician so I can’t say this is an expert how-to or that it’ll work for every home out there, but so far it has served us quite well.

Switching out all 9 outlets – plus two switches – took me a little over an hour. But it made the room feel a couple decades newer to our eyes (we’ve heard of folks who spray paint their outlet covers but you can’t spray the actual outlets so in our world it was worth the $25 that we spent to update all of the covers and the outlets themselves in one long-lasting fell swoop). Oh and for anyone looking to sell, this is one of those things that’s pretty straightforward and inexpensive but is actually good for resale (it makes the whole room feel updated and even more crisp when it’s combined with fresh paint on the walls).

Now on to my less successful electrical project in the room: adding a light to the ceiling fan.

This room has no lights in it. So just as it’s sun-filled during the day, it’s pitch dark at night. So when my mom enlightened me that they sell kits to add lights to existing ceiling fans we immediately had our game plan in mind (which included this vintage-ish Ceiling Fan Light Kit found at Home Depot).

I was pretty stoked about the price of the add-on light fixture ($20) and the schoolhouse style was pretty decent too. So in my excitement I kinda sorta might’ve skipped over the directions and started taking the fan apart to see how it connected (after turning the power off to the room). It was quickly apparent that this colorful mess of wires didn’t match up with the simple black and white wires that the light kit came with.

Convinced I had purchased the wrong kind of light kit, I returned it to the store and brought a picture of my wire situation to show the lighting lady at the store in hopes that she could point me in the direction of a kit that worked for my fan.

Well, after a short discussion (that uncomfortably involved the word “nipple” a lot) she informed that I did in fact have the right kit, I just wasn’t following instructions correctly (oops). Apparently I was supposed to pop out the small cover on the bottom of the fan (see below)…

…and connect the black and white wires on the kit to the two corresponding wires in the fan. I just had missed them because they were wrapped up in a plastic bag which, had I looked more closely, was labeled “for light.” Duh.

With renewed confidence I started piecing the light and fan together. I started by screwing the light fixture’s, um, nipple into the fan cover…

…and securing it in place with a nut.

Then – in what promised to be the easiest electrical connection I’d ever done – I simply plugged the wires from the light into the ones on the fan (blue into black was correct according to the instruction I had finally cracked open).

Certain I had done things right this time, I twisted the fan cover back into place and flipped the power back on.

And nothing happened. The fan would turn on, but not the light. I pulled the chain a few times to make sure it had switched on. I flipped the switch at the wall back and forth. I disconnected and reconnected the wires a couple of times.


After some Googling I found a few other things to try. First was buying another kit from the store, just in case the one I had gotten was a bum one. Nope, still didn’t work. Then I saw somewhere that I should try hardwiring it by exposing the wires (i.e. cutting off the provided plugs) but that didn’t make it any better.

So after all those attempts (and a couple of extra trips to the home improvement store) I’ve determined that the issue is not with my light or with my fan – it’s at my ceiling. I must be one of the lucky homeowners where the original fan installer opted not to connect the wires for the light up there, figuring they weren’t going to be used since he was just installing a fan without a light kit.

So this is where Sherry and I officially called the project a bust. Sure I could buy a taller ladder or rent a scaffold to help me access the wiring that’s 12 feet up in the air, but that seemed a bit extreme for what we assumed would be a quick and easy (and inexpensive) project. So for now, here’s our solution:

Yup, it’s a floor lamp stolen from the bedroom (since we noticed that we never turn it on in there thanks to an overhead light along with two bedside lamps). Not quite as elegant of a fix as true overhead light would have been – and who knows if we’ll properly wire things down the line – but for now it works.

What sort of electrical adventures have you guys been up to lately? Did anything go super easily (cough-outlets-cough)? Or did something turn out so hot (cough-stupidfan-cough)?


  1. says

    Great tutorial on updating outlets! This is a bit odd, but I can remember installing outlets for the first time when I was about 10 years old… my carpenter Dad was remodeling our home and was awesome about letting me help. Those lessons have definitely come in handy over the years!

  2. Melissa says

    I updated all of my switches and still have the receptacles to replace on my lovely beige 80’s style switches and receptacles that are original to my home. Of course that’s after running through the attic adding a power wire to install new ceiling fans in all of the bedrooms and living room. Just as an adder note, when wiring electrical devices such as switches and receptacles, always turn the wire around the terminal screw in a clockwise direction (the same direction you turn the screw when tightening)- it is a code requirement. =)

  3. says

    You guys totally read my mind this morning! As I was blow-drying my hair, I was wondering how in the world I get rid of the ugly cream colored switch plates in our home. Half are white, half are cream.

    Thanks, I’ve found my next weekend project :)

  4. says

    I really want someone to invent a light that mounts on the ceiling, runs on batteries, and is controlled by a remote (a remote that can attach to the wall and look like a switch would be icing on the cake).

    is this so hard?!?!?!

    if you find one of these in me


    the girl with no overhead lights in her bedroom and a CEMENT ceiling

    PS- you just get a wire tester thingy. would have told you right away if the outlets were live or if your light wires got any power when the power was on

    • says

      Ooh that would be smart! Who’s up for the task of inventing that?

      Oh yes and we have a wire tester thingie but it wasn’t clear to us if we had just shut off the wrong power or had the wall switched in the wrong direction (there are a bunch of mystery light switches in there) so we didn’t know if the wires just weren’t getting power from switches being off or on – or if it was a wiring at the ceiling thing. Hope that makes sense!


    • heyruthie says

      there is something that you can plug anything in to that makes it be controlled by a remote. the remote is then wall-mounted. IKEA also sells battery powered lights that could probably be mounted (hung?) on the ceiling, or adhered with double-sided tape in some way. Or you could buy a battery powered lamp/light online. So, you buy the light. Buy the remote thingy. Mount the lamp/light, plug the light in to it, and voila! it would take a little shopping around, but all the items you want are avaialble–you’d just need to buy the light and the remote separately.

  5. Debbie says

    I think I have white outlet covers but now I feel like I should check just to be sure. I guess I haven’t paid that much attention! :-P Thanks for the photo tutorial. This seems like something I can handle!

  6. Vanessa B. says

    Hilarious. Nothing bugs my husband more than those beige outlets and outlet covers. I guarantee he has 10+ sets sitting in the garage. Apparently that’s just in case any of the white ones he has installed for every.single.outlet in our house decides to turn beige again.

    And, thank you, I will now think of you in the unfortunate case I have to discuss nipples with a sales associate at Home Depot. Weird. :)

  7. Emily says

    My husband and I have replacing our old outlets with fresh white ones, too. Our problem arose in the kitchen. When we took the plate off the outlets on the outside wall, we discovered that someone had sprayed insulation around the outlet, inside the electrical box. We can’t get the outlet out. Somehow we’ll have to chisel the insulation to the point we can take it out? Or take out the electrical box altogether?

    We were short on time, so we just screwed on white outlet plates and moved onto other rooms in the house. We’ll tackle the kitchen outlets some other time.

  8. Ali Miller says

    We actually just replaced all of our kitchen outlets and light switches as well as ceiling vents in the whole house this weekend. What a quick difference. And you can only imagine what the original 1970’s outlets and switches looked like in a kitchen. Yuckeroonies.

  9. says

    Did you just pick up the outlets at Lowes? Anything specific to look for?

    We just painted our kitchen a gray color and need to update our beige outlets but aren’t sure where to start but this guide is a great start!

  10. Kristen H says

    The above poster is right – you guys sooo need a little giant! I got mine at Costco – a housewarming gift from my mom. LOVE that darn thing!

  11. says

    So glad you posted steps for the outlet change- is it similar for a light switch?

    Backstory (and sorry it’s long):
    My husband and I have been afraid to switch out our bedroom dimmer switch (the whole electrocution thing scares us) without really knowing proper steps. We knew enough to shut the power off but the connecting which wire to which…is very MacGyver-dismantling-a-bomb type of scary. We’re too stubborn to call an electrician for this, so basically, we sit in the dark.. NO not really. We have bedside lamps bit the switch controls recessed lighting in our ceiling & our ceiling fan… both of which haven’t been used in.. cough.. a year ;) Any chance for help? :)

    • Kathy says


      defintely use their tip about doing one wire at a time! I took all the old wires out first and then had to try and remember where they went in the new switch (verrrrrry tricky!)

    • Linda says

      What I did was actually take a picture of the outlet after I unscrewed the plate to my local Ace and begged the guy to tell me what to do. My master bath had an light switch with three separate switches (over the sink light, light in the shower, separate fan)and was done in the 80’s so had sort of one long wire. Did not look like the diagram in my new switch box. Thank goodness, the Ace man pretty much drew out exactly what I had to do, told me where it was safe to tape, how to wrap the wire to meet code, etc. And, yes, it worked!!!!

      So, Ace truly is the friendly place – might be worth a visit just to strengthen your resolve!

      Sadly, turns out all the outlets are actually hard wired (which apparently was fine to do in the 80’s). I admit I’m still scared of hard wiring and am embracing my inner beige, but I’m happily replacing all the switches with the more modern Lutron switches. And, the beige actually looks fine with my walls, so not horribly upset.

  12. says

    When the light over our kitchen table burned out one day I did what any sensible person would do and changed out the bulb. Well, the light was still not working. I told my husband about it and we continued to eat in the dark for many months until one day, at a family gathering, my dad tried to turn the light on. Of course, he took it upon himself to figure out why it wasn’t working properly. After disassembling the whole fixture to check every wire in it and the switch, he decided to put a new bulb in. Turns out, I had replaced the burnt out bulb with another burnt out bulb. Go me.

  13. says

    One day I’d love to paint the fixture in our living room, but the room is 2 stories tall, so I dont think I’ll ever be getting my husband to take it down for me haha. We are actually hiring painters to do that room because we are both afraid of heights haha.

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