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.

Nothing.

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)?

Comments

  1. karen little says

    P.S. I also meant to say that we paint the return air vents the same color as the wall as it makes those large pieces of metal (grates) blend lots better. We have one over our guest foyer closet so it looks loads better than if we’d left it to match our white trim. Enjoy getting your sunroom fixed-up!

  2. Nicole says

    Thank you!!! This was perfectly timed. We worked our bathroom and laundry room this weekend & updating all of the outlets are next on the list to finally “finish” the rooms.

  3. joni says

    loving all those pillows especially the ikat-ish ones! i might have missed something – did you ever mention where they are from? or are they from the book project where you paint the pillows?

  4. Alli says

    My husband replaced all the outlets and light switches in our house when we moved in. Amazing how a small thing like that can make a house feel so much newer! Paint helped too, I swear they matched the paint to the ugly beigy-yellow light switches, so that definitely had to go!
    Our biggest disaster had to do with a ceiling fan too! We replaced a dated looking ceiling fan with a large 4′ diameter fan that looked better and had better air movement. We found out the bolts to attach it to the ceiling were not long enough and quite inadequate. How did we find out? When it came crashing down to the floor a day later! Thankfully we were able to box it up and bring it back to Lowe’s and they gave us a new one. We also hit up the hardware aisle for longer screws!! It’s still up there to this day thankfully. :)

  5. says

    I am master at the outlet switch-a-roo but the fan is way too intimidating for me.

    My hubby installed our little man’s fan/light combo…it was super cute, with space ships that flew in a circle and the earth was the light….after all his work he realized the he accidentally reversed the wires so when you click on the fan switch (on the wall) the light goes on and vice versa. I thought there would be cursing but he just dropped his head and started to undo the screws…:-( What a pain!

    Great job -can’t wait to see what you do with the brick.

  6. Allison says

    Thank you so much for the tutorial. My new house has all cream colored outlets so this will be super handy. I’ve printed it out and saved it for when we decide to tackle the outlets. A million thanks :)

  7. says

    Switching outlets is a challenge in our house because the wiring is so tight. There’s almost no give, so it’s easy to break a sweat holding onto the wiring for dear life one centimeter from the wall. But we have to do it since there have been multiple melted outlets, random breaker outages, and other electrical mishaps. This house is one big sparky mess.

  8. Sassy says

    I was mostly just looking at the pictures and thinking “they did put a light bulb in, right?” (It’s early here).

    I’m with the folks who don’t like ceiling lights on their fans. They are emergency lights as far as I am concerned. It is just uncomfortable lighting especially coming from up that high…on the other hand, my husband loves them. I tend to use uplights behind plants and furniture to try to light up a room like yours (especially with all those outlets).

    Love reading about your adventures.

  9. sjaustin says

    The ceiling fan lights in my dining room kept blowing bulbs, so I disconnected the light kit and took it to Lowe’s to get a replacement. I couldn’t find any that would fit, and the guy who was trying to help me told me that because of its age I might not be able to find a replacement at all. I ended up getting rid of the ceiling fan and replacing it with a semi-flush fixture. Installing that was a lot of fun, because it was one where the glass went on before attaching the fixture to the box. So I had to hold the heavy glass with one hand and do the connections with the other.

    Your outlet tutorial is great! Almost all of mine are old and dirty looking. Over time that off-white seems to get yellower and yellower.

  10. Jessie says

    You guys should get a Circuit Alert! They sell them in hardware stores or on amazon. It looks like a little pen, and you hold up to any sort of outlet, wire, or whatever, and it beeps if there is voltage coming through/near whatever you’re holding it against. You could use it to tell if you have any live wires (so you could just hold it up to those black and white wires to see if there is a current running through it). It could save a lot of headaches in the future :)

    • says

      Oh yes we have one and even used it but we weren’t clear on why the wires weren’t getting power (was a mysterious wall switch the wrong direction, was the pull chain not pulled so the light would switch on, etc). So many variables, so we didn’t know the problem was at the ceiling for a while!

      xo
      s

  11. says

    So much wiring. So so much wiring. We aren’t done yet. We still need to wire up the downstairs bedroom and livingroom. We are so waiting for the point we can finally get that drywall up. As pain in the butt drywall is to install, it will be nice to be at that point!

    http://tinyurl.com/cgtbubg

  12. says

    We’ve had our own ceiling fan drama over here too. Went to install a ceiling fan and the color of the wires from the ceiling didn’t match what was listed in the fan directions. We played around with different options and gave up at the point that the only way the light can be on is if the fan is on high. lol We’ll get back to fixing it once our necks recover from the first experience.

  13. says

    I tried a similar outlet switcharoo in this blog post:

    http://suburbanfervor.com/2012/09/13/lemme-upgrade-you-part-2/

    Except, my lightswitch inexplicably started turning on the fan and the light and the fan switch does nada. AND my outlets are super old and have the wires sticking out of the back (larger fire hazard). AND there are 6 wires instead of 5. So I’m pretty much lost.

    I FEEL YOUR ELECTRICAL PAIN (especially that time I electrocuted myself)…

    …Here’s a hot tip. If you have a lightswitch and an outlet in the same electrical box it does not mean that they are powered by the same circuit.

  14. Amanda B says

    New white outlets and switches are the icing on the cake for a re-done room. I always save that update for last, as a “reward” for all the hard work of painting, decorating, etc. :)