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. Lindsay says

    This is slightly off topic, but my smoke detector was beeping and woke me up at 4am this morning, which was odd because we don’t have battery-operated ones – supposedly they’re all electric (see- it relates!). Anywho, I was wondering about the smoke alarms in your house. I assume Captain Careful is all for them, but have you guys found a way to be safe while still avoiding a decor eyesore?

    • says

      Hm maybe there’s a battery backup (so if you lose power it still works) and you need to change the backup battery? Hope it helps! As for our house, we have smoke alarms (and carbon monoxide detectors all over – we even have some wired to our alarm system so they immediately alert the fire dept. if they go off). We’re crazy about that stuff (especially since we got Burger and had Clara- we want to keep them safe so they’re worth the little round circle on the ceiling for sure!).


    • says

      Hardwired smoke/fire/carbon detectors have battery backups, incase the fire, weather, whatever else, knocks the electricity out. Those batteries should be updated just like a regular battery only alarm does. The beeping is the battery monitor saying they need to be replaced.

  2. says

    I really like it when you do these kind of posts….you guys have a way of making me think I could actually do something that I never thought I would :-) Just thought I’d let you know that because you are probably normal bloggers that wonder if people like posts that are a little different from the norm :-) Maybe?Like teaching us how to be electricians :-)

  3. Brenda says

    Is it bad that I’m kind of laughing at John for going back to the store before looking at the directions? But major bummer that it didn’t work out. I have a ceiling fan with a light in my apartment, and I love having an overhead light that I can turn on from the doorway. Sort of makes me wonder why they didn’t just do a fan with a light in the first place. Glad that at least the cover switch was successful.

  4. Annie says

    One of these days I’m going to try to change the outlet behind my tv, it’s covered in so much paint it looks smoothed into the wall. Ugh, 40 year old condo.

    nipple nipple nipple nipple nipple nipple nipple nipple nipple nipple nipple nipple nut

    I am 12.

  5. says

    This was a timely post, because we are currently planning to swap out our light-less ceiling fan in our bedroom for one with a light, and I never even knew a “light kit” existed! We might still just replace the whole thing, because in addition to not shedding light, it is brown and gold which clashes horribly with our new grey and white color scheme. But good to know there are options out there! Thanks for sharing!

  6. says

    Well, the white outlets do make a big impact. Too bad about the fan…I wouldn’t want to get any higher on a ladder either.
    I have two beige outlets in the kitchen, all the other new switches were put in as white, but these two need to be changed … so thanks for the tutorial! (although electrical work is kind of frightening to me… even this simple looking task)

  7. says

    Sorry about the ceiling fan light. I must say, I’m surprised to see that you dont remove the outlet plate covers when you paint. I always wanted to paint around them but my mom would get mad and make me remove them. It’s one more step but it’s also easier to paint since you dont have to cut in around all the outlets/light switches. Just stick some painters tape over the plug and roll right over it.

    • says

      I make a game out of it since I like to cut in (get right up on them but don’t get paint on them). Since we knew we were replacing them (and old yellowed ones are smaller than current ones) we knew no unpainted wall would show.


  8. Emily says

    I just did all of this in our newly wood panel painted family room. They were all brown and I changed them to white. We ran into a weird electrical situation with one of them, but it definitely pays off! I met you guys at the signing in Chicago and it was great. Thanks again!

  9. says

    I am beyond blessed to be married to a high voltage electrician, so I never feel bad about asking for anything that involved electrical :) No matter how many stink eyes I get!

  10. Sarah says

    Just curious is switching out the switch just like the outlets? I haven’t tried this yet but my parents have mismatched plates,outlets and switches – it drives me bonkers!!

    Thanks a bunch!

  11. says

    Love the white outlets!

    My husband and I bought our first house this summer and every outlet in the house was two-prong. And the worst part – the outlets were almond or black and the covers were either white or wrapped in the same faux woodgrain wallpaper that covered the living and dinning room walls.

    In the end we also switched out the dinning room dimmer switch which was the old school almond twisty knob with a fancy white slider switch. We also replaced the circa 70’s thermostat that popped out of the wall 5 inches with a $18 brand new Home Depot digital one.

    So many small and cheap fixes that really do make a HUGE impact!

    • KarenH. says

      Okay, I have the two prong issue, too. Can I switch them out for 3 prong without bringing in an electrician and rewiring the house? (please say yes, please say yes, please say yes, please say yes…..)

      Also, I think this house has every single ugly switch/outlet style/cover plate combination known to man.

    • Stephanie Phillips says

      KarenH, yes! My hubs converted all of our two-prongs over to three. Just ask the dude at Lowes for a quick lesson and then you also have directions with the outlets. And YouTube. Lots of resources!

    • lindsey says

      You can switch them out to 3, and a plug will work, but the third prong is for grounding. Switching the plug doesn’t automatically ground the wire. I believe each outlet has to be grounded, or the whole house is grounded.

      It is not something to worry about for small electronics, but you wouldnt want to plug a computer, fridge, vacuum, or other expensive/large item into an ungrounded wire.

      I am by no means an expert on any of this, but it is something I would ask an electrician about if you have an older home. My house was built in the 1940s and when we bought it nothing was grounded and we were still on fuses! Thankfully we have an electrician in the family who only charged for materials, for a new service wire, ground wire, and put everything on circuits.

      If you google a bit you can probably find someone to explain it better than me, but I did find this thread that might be useful:

    • says

      That third hole is not just for looks! The reason to have three pronged outlets is grounding. If something has a three pronged plug, it’s probably because it actually needs that grounding wire, so just replacing the outlets is a bad idea because it will imply that the wiring is up to a level that it is not, and it can put your electronics, etc. in danger, not to mention that electrical shorts can cause fires. If something goes wrong, either the thing you’re trying to plus in or the things around it will be fried. That being said, if you remove the outlet cover and find out there’s an unused (copper) grounding wire, then go for it.

  12. Amanda says

    Thanks for this tutorial! I rent a townhouse, and the owner painted not only the outlet covers but the OUTLETS THEMSELVES. So I painted my room (with her permission) a beautiful grey, but have all salmon colored outlets. If I can get her to approve the cost, I’ll go replace them myself!

  13. Kate says

    Our sunroom has the same issue of no lighting, we haven’t begun to tackle that room yet, but this article was a great “what to watch out for” so thanks.

    On another lighting note. We installed a lamp/fan combo in our bathroom this summer and realized after we did so that we could no longer have the lights on and also use the hair dryer…good times.

    After talking to his uncle whose an electrician, my husband was able to move the wiring for the bathroom (and the bedroom and the family room…yay old house wiring) to an open junction box that has more watts or volts or something so that it could handle us having more than one thing running at a time. Now, not only can I blow dry my hair with a light on, no one has to stop watching TV when I vacuum. Win-win.

    So if you live in a house where you have issues with blown fuses due to too many outlets on one breaker, check to see if you have an open one with more “juice” that you could switch everything. It’s made our home a much happier place!

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