Home Improvements

How to Safely Change Plug Sockets

There are few things worse than plugging in your phone to charge, only to realise there’s no power coming from the plug. While there are a range of possible causes of this problem, it’s easy to determine if your cable, plug, or socket is the issue. 

Cables and plugs can be switched out quickly, but if your socket is the main problem, then there’s no other option: you need to replace it. Luckily, replacing a socket is fairly simple to do if you’re careful. 

Keep reading for a step-by-step guide to change plug sockets in your walls.

Yellow background with a white two pronged plug. If it's not getting any power, it might be time to change plug sockets.

Installing Plug Sockets

Before you even touch your tools, you have to make sure the power source is switched off. You should never work on anything electrical while it’s still connected to a power source. The best course of action is to go to your DB board and switch it off.

Now you can unscrew your socket and gently remove it. Make sure you don’t pull, as it can rip the wires connected to the socket on the inside. If the faceplate and the fitting are two separate pieces, you can remove the faceplate as well.

Look at the screw holes. This will determine what kind of socket you can install here. If the screws are offset, you’ll find it difficult to install a new socket with parallel screw holes. Chances are, if you can’t find a cover with similar crew holes, you’ll need to replace the entire box or find a way to convert a socket to fit with your holes. 

This is where it’s useful to have a handyman do the replacements for you, as they have the skills and know-how to make anything you want work.

Black plug about to enter an American plug socket.

Prepare the Wires

You’ll see that the part of the socket you removed has wires connecting it to the part that stays in the wall. You can remove these wires by unscrewing them. Use a screwdriver with the right head to remove the screws and pull the wires out.

Since the wires have already been used in a socket, you need to prepare them for the new one. Use a side cutter to cut off the exposed wire and a few millimetres of the insulation layer. Then strip off a piece of the insulation so that you have a fresh piece of exposed wire. 

You can use a side cutter or box cutter to remove the insulation, but a wire stripper tool is the safest way to do this.

If there’s a stranded wire, you’ll need to twist it to secure it. The easiest way to spot these wires is through the visible small individual strands that make up the entire wire. Simply twist these strands to form a single wire.

Look at the colours of the insulation. Live, neutral, and earth wires are coated with different coloured insulations to help you identify them. 

It’s best to Google the colour combination you see, as they aren’t always consistent. For instance, the live wire can be blue or red.

Three different types of pliers in the bottom left corner of the image, on a wooden table background. Side cutter pliers are the most important if you need to change plug sockets.

Install the Socket

Now that your wires are prepared, and you know which colour refers to each wire, you can start installing your socket. Take a look at the back of your new socket. 

The different connections will be marked with the first letter of the wire that needs to be inserted into it. Insert the exposed wires in the right holes and tighten the screws.

Once your wires are all secure, you can replace the faceplate and screw it back into the back piece. You should be left with a brand-new wall socket that works like a charm.

European plug socket in a wall with a pretty zig-zag wallpaper.

Changing the Plug

Once you’ve changed your plug sockets, you might find that you need to change your plugs as well. Luckily, they’re also simple to change.

The first thing you need to do is decide what plug you need and buy the necessary materials. Just like with the socket, you have to make sure that all power sources have been isolated. 

In this case, as long as the plug is removed from the wall, you’re safe. This might sound obvious, but if you’re working on an extension lead, it’s easy to forget that the other end might be plugged in and live.

Close up of a power adapter with a switch, which is turned on. If you change plug sockets, always make sure all outlets and switches are turned off.

Remove the Old Plug

To remove the old plug, you need to snip the wires off with side cutters. Then strip off the outer insulation of the cable. You don’t need to strip too much; you only need to expose enough of the wires to rewire the new plug.

Once the wires are exposed, you need to trim them to the right length. The live (brown) and neutral (blue) wires need to be the same length, and the earth wire (green or yellow) needs to be longer. 

This is the configuration for a standard 3-pronged South African plug. Like above, it’s best to Google the colours as the colours are not consistently used.

Now that you’ve trimmed the wires, strip off the conductors to expose the copper. You’ll need to take off enough to ensure the wires can fit into the plug. This is all the prep work you’ll need to do.

When you change plug sockets, make sure you turn off the power at the DB board. Image of DB board switch.

Make Your Connections

Open up your new plug so that you can see the connections. Make sure to look at the plug from the back with the pins pointing away from you. The plug should make a triangle with a point at the top. This will help you put the wires in the right spots.

The live wire needs to be connected at the bottom right. An easy way to remember this is that the BRown wire needs to go to the Bottom Right.

The neutral wire connects at the bottom left. Just like the live wire, the way to remember this is that the BLue wire connects at the Bottom Left.

Finally, the earth wire connects at the top. If your plug doesn’t have three points, this is the wire that will be missing.

To connect the wires, place the stripped wires into the screw connectors and then tighten them. You want to make sure the connection is secure, as a loose connection can lead to a buildup of heat. 

Now that the wires are connected, you only need to close up the plug, and you’re done!

Voltage readers are a helpful tool to ensure power is off when you change plug sockets.

What’s the Deal With Switches?

If you’re contemplating changing a wall socket to one that has switches, you need to consider if it’s worth it. The benefit of a plug socket with a switch is that you’re able to switch off the current that flows in the plug socket. 

This can keep a faulty socket from sparking or causing a fire.

Unfortunately, the South African Bureau of Standards states that either all your sockets need to have switches or none of them must have switches. This means you can’t change only one socket to have a switch. For this reason, it might not be worth it to you to add a switch.

But if you do want the added safety of plug sockets with switches, it might be best to hire an electrician to change all your sockets for you. Changing one or two sockets isn’t difficult, but once you have to change them all, it isn’t worth it to DIY them. 

While you have an electrician on site, you might as well have them check out your home’s wiring and any other electrical issues you might have.

Plug socket with switch above each socket.

It’s Easy to Change Plug Sockets

Whether it’s because your wall sockets aren’t working properly, or you simply want a new look, it isn’t rocket science to change plug sockets. 

With a bit of patience and a steady hand, you can quickly change any socket or plug in only a few minutes. 

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