Your old electrical outlets can be upgraded for convenience and for the safety of your family, as well as your sensitive electrical components. Upgrading your outlets is relatively simple, and requires only basic hand tools and a minimal comfort level when working with electricity.
Protect your family with a GFCI outlet
Wet or damp areas, such as bathrooms, basements, and outdoor locations, pose a risk of electric shock or electrocution if you use a traditional electrical outlet.
A GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlet detects fluctuations in current that result from inadequate grounding caused by water exposure, and will shut off power to the outlet.
The outlet will then need to be manually reset by pushing a reset button. If unsafe conditions are still present, the GFCI outlet will shut off repeatedly until safe operation is restored.
Installing a GFCI outlet
All you will need is a GFCI outlet and an open outlet cover plate. You can't use your existing cover plate because the reset button is in the center of the GFCI outlet. Both of these can be found at your local home improvement store.
You'll also need both a flat and Philips head screwdriver, so if you lack either type, buy it while you are at the store.
You will need to turn off the circuit breaker to the existing outlet. If your breaker panel isn't clearly marked or you're otherwise unsure of your breaker selection, plug an appliance into the outlet and switch off breakers individually until the appliance is turned off.
When you are sure that the power is off, remove the cover plate with the flat head screwdriver and the upper and lower outlet screws with the Philips screwdriver. Pull the outlet from the outlet box inside the wall.
You will see either one or two sets of three wires attached to the outlet. Disconnect them from the side terminals with your Philips head screwdriver, keeping the wires separated.
If one set of wires is present, connect them to the upper "load" section of the GFCI outlet. Connect the back wire to the gold terminal, the white wire to the silver terminal, and the green or copper wire to the green grounding terminal.
If a second set of wires is present, connect then to the bottom "line" section of the GFCI outlet in the same manner. Push the new outlet into the outlet box, tighten the securing screws, and attach the new cover plate.
Turn on the breaker. The reset switch may need to be pushed for initial use.
Protecting your electrical components with a surge protector outlet
Surge protectors keep sensitive electrical components such as laptops and televisions from being damaged or destroyed by electrical power surges. While you might already have surge protectors in unsightly power strips, you can convert your existing outlet to a surge protected outlet and toss the dust collecting power strips.
Follow the same installation procedures as for a GFCI outlet. The surge protector outlet will not have "line" or "load" printed on the outlet, but the connection sequence is identical. You will also need an open cover plate for this type of outlet.
Protecting your sanity with a USB outlet
You can save precious outlet access and still charge multiple cell phones and tablets with a USB added outlet. These outlets have either one or two USB ports in their center, and well as the traditional electric receptacles. You will also need an open cover plate for these models.
Installation procedures are the same for USB enhanced outlets, and they are priced according to charging speed.
If you feel uneasy or unsure about working with electrical components, a residential electrician can explain your options and install them where they are most needed. A commercial electrician would be best to consult for workplace options, as electrical code regulations may differ in commercial installation.