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How to change a plug socket

Person unscrewing a plug socket so they can change it.

Replacing your old plug sockets with new ones is a quick and easy way to modernise your house and add new functions like USB sockets. Alternatively, you may need to replace a damaged or scorched socket.

The question is, where do you start?

Read on to find out what equipment you’ll need to replace your electrical sockets safely, and how to replace each socket with minimum fuss.


Table of contents

  1. Important safety message
  2. Looking for something specific about plug sockets?
  3. How to replace a plug socket
  4. What is a USB plug socket?
  5. How to plan and prepare for fitting a plug socket
  6. How to replace a damaged socket
  7. Fitting a flush mount to a stud wall versus a solid wall
  8. It’s no shock—not all of us feel comfortable fitting plug sockets!
  9. FAQs

Important safety message

It’s important to remember that any electrical work should be carried out by a skilled electrician, who has the right level of training and experience. By ensuring that the right risk assessments are carried out hazards can be avoided and work can be completed as safely as possible.

Looking for something specific about plug sockets?

Jump to the following sections to find what you need, fast:

How to replace a plug socket

First, you need to plan and prepare. What kind of replacement plug sockets do you want and what kind of equipment will you need? What kind of safety precautions should you take? Let’s dive in.

What are the two main types of plug sockets?

These days, electrical sockets can be surface or flush-mounted.

Image showing the difference between flush sockets, which sit level with the wall and mounted sockets which rest on the surface.The traditional surface-mounted white box sockets are definitely easier to fit – you screw the box to the wall, with the cable run in and the faceplate attached. However, flush-mounted sockets look more modern and are less prone to accidental damage because they don’t stick out of the wall so much.

Choosing a more modern electrical socket

Flush-mounted sockets are available in a range of sizes, colours and finishes, with some more modern designs also featuring USB ports and Wi-Fi extenders.

What is a USB plug socket?

A plug socket with two USB ports, which is an option when you change a plug socket.

Do you often find yourself searching the house for a USB adaptor plug? Or maybe you have to unplug other chargers or your bedside lamp to charge your phone at night… You may even have charger wars going on with your partner or children! If this is you, a USB plug socket or two could be a game-changer in your household.

USB sockets are easy to fit and are great replacements for your existing double sockets, as all you have to do is fit it. They’re exactly the same size and can be bought from most DIY and electrical shops

Are USB plug sockets safe?

USB sockets are just as safe as any other electrical socket. You must never take risks with electrical safety, always purchase a reputable brand and ensure it has a BSi kitemark and CE logo.

If you have any doubts or queries or don’t know what to do after checking the packaging, then it’s best to contact a professional electrician who is registered with an electrical certification scheme. Don’t gamble with electrical safety.

Check your local building and electrical regulations

Please also bear in mind that electrical installations and alterations are subject to local building and electrical regulations that you must comply with. You can check the regulations in your area at Electrical Safety First or on your Local Authority website.

How to plan and prepare for fitting a plug socket

The steps to fit the different types of sockets (including USB sockets) are as  follows.

Safety first

Never attempt to do work on your electrics unless you know for sure that the circuit is electrically dead – legally only qualified and capable individuals  should carry out this type of work.

For each of the below tasks, follow these safety steps in turn and double-check you’ve done them before you carry out the work:

  1. Switch off your mains power at your fuse box/consumer unit (it’s usually under the stairs, or high up near the front door)
  2. Open the cover and you will see a row of fuses or Micro Circuit Breakers. Select the correct fuse and switch it to the ‘off’ position. Select the current fuse or circuit breaker either remove the fuse or turn the mini circuit breaker to the off position
  3. If you have removed a fuse keep this on your person, if you put the switch of the mini circuit breaker into the off position this should be locked off in the off position, to prevent it from being accidentally turned back on
  4. Using a suitable voltage indicating device, confirm that the circuit is dead by undertaking a check for self-isolation. This can be found by visiting the Electrical Safety First website, best practice guidance 2.

Wiring safety

Always check the manufacturer’s instructions before you fit a new socket, as different makes and models could have different fitting requirements.

However, as a very basic general rule, while you’re mounting your new electrical socket, if your wall cable doesn’t reach the terminals of the new socket without straining, never ever pull it. In this case contact a qualified electrician.

Is my wiring pre-2004?

If your wiring is pre-2004, these are the wires you’ll find inside:
(L) Live = Red
(N) Neutral = Black
(E) Earth = Green and Yellow

Colour coding diagram for wires.If your wiring was done after 2004, the wires you’ll find inside are:
(L) Live = Brown
(N) Neutral = Blue
(E) Earth = Green and Yellow

This is also the same colour coding that has been used for UK appliance cords for many years.

What tools and materials will I need to replace a plug socket?

  • Insulated screwdriver
  • Voltage indicator
  • Pipe and cable detector
  • Hammer action drill with masonry bits
  • Wire strippers
  • New double socket
  • Wall plugs and screws
  • Green / yellow sleeving if required

How to replace a damaged socket

A scorched socket is often caused by overloading or a loose connection in a plug. Don’t plug any appliances back in without solving this problem first or it will happen again.

Never attempt to do work on your electrics unless you know for sure that the circuit is electrically dead—legally only qualified and capable individuals should carry out this type of work.

Before undertaking work please review the safety first guidance at the top of this article.

Step 1: Unscrew the socket faceplate and pull the faceplate forward

Once you have confirmed the circuit is dead, unscrew the socket faceplate and gently pull the faceplate forward. You’ll need enough slack in the wires behind to be able to completely flip the socket down so that the back surface is accessible.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, stop here, screw everything back properly and get a professional to do the job. If all is well, move on to the next step and keep the screws in case the new ones don’t fit.

Step 2: Loosen the screws at the terminals and free the wires

Image showing a plug socket with the wires being unscrewed from the terminal.

Step 4: Cut back the cores and strip the ends

If the insulation has been heat damaged, and you have enough cable, cut back the cores and strip the ends, leaving 5mm of copper on each wire exposed.

Step 5: Cover the earth core wiring

You’ll need to cover the earth core wiring with an extra length of green and yellow wire sleeving if it’s exposed.

Step 6: Earth the metal back boxes

The metal back boxes must be earthed, so run a short length of earth cable between the earth terminals of the backbox and the faceplate.

Step 7: Connect the live wire to the live terminal (L) of the new faceplate

Step 8: Connect the neutral wire to the neutral terminal (N)

Step 9: Connect the earth wire to the earth terminal (E or 🜃).

Step 10: Fully tighten the terminal screws

Be careful – if you tighten too much, you can shear through your copper wire.

Step 11: Fit the new faceplate

Being careful not to trap any of the wires between the socket and the socket box, fit the new faceplate. If the new screws don’t fit the old box, re-use the original screws you kept to one side. Be careful not to over tighten your screws – you don’t want to crack your new socket’s casing.

Step 12: Test it

Undertake suitable and appropriate testing of the new socket to ensure that a sound pathway to earth is available.

Fitting a flush mount to a stud wall versus a solid wall

If you are replacing a new plug socket there are big differences in how you do this according to the wall surface.

Start by checking if you’re fitting into a solid wall or a stud wall, put on some protective goggles and follow the appropriate steps.

Before undertaking work please review the safety notice at the top of this article.

How to fit a flush-mounted socket to a solid wall

To flush mount a socket in a solid wall, you’ll need to cut a recess into the plaster and the masonry behind it.

Tools you will need:

  • New socket & recess back box ready to go
  • Goggles – it’s dusty work
  • Pipe and cable detector
  • Pencil
  • Small spirit level
  • Hammer action drill with a masonry drill bit
  • Masking tape (if your drill doesn’t have a depth stop)
  • Club hammer and bolster
  • Dustpan and brush
  • Wall plugs and roundhead screws
  • Wire strippers
  • Screwdriver
  • Socket tester

Once you have your tools ready to go, simply follow these steps:

Step 1: Test for hidden pipes and electrical cables with your pipe and cable detector

Step 2: Isolate the relevant circuit at your fuse box and safe isolation

If the coast is clear, isolate the relevant circuit at your fuse box and safe isolation to make sure the circuit is dead (triple-check this).

Step 3: Mark out where you want to fit your mounting box

Get your new socket’s mounting box, a pencil and your spirit level ready. Then hold up your mounting box in the position you want it and use a spirit level to get it level. Now you can draw around the box on the wall.

Step 4: Use a masonry drill to make holes within the outline

Now take your hammer action drill, fitted with a masonry drill bit and make a number of holes within the outline to a slightly greater depth than the depth of the mounting box. Some drills have a depth stop that you can set to the required depth. If you don’t have this you can wrap some masking tape around the bit to show you where to stop.

Step 5: Chip out the plaster and masonry

Next, take your bolster and club hammer and start chipping out the plaster and masonry, cutting down to the depth of the holes you drilled.

Step 6: Clear away the debris

Use your dustpan and brush to clear away all the plaster debris. Now check how the box fits.

Step 7: Mark the position of the box with a pencil, and drill holes

While holding the box in place, mark the position with your pencil. Now drill the holes and put in the wall plugs.

Step 8: Knock out access holes, ready for the cable

Carefully remove the knock out access holes and insert the proactive grommet and insert the cable through the access hole.

Step 9: Make the final connections as explained above

Step 10: Fit the faceplate

Step 11: Go to your fuse box and switch the power back on

Take suitable and appreciate testing to ensure electrical safety.

How to fit a flush-mounted socket in a stud wall

The easiest way to flush-mount a socket into a stud wall is with a cavity fixing box. It sits against the face of the wall and has either rotating or spring-loaded lugs that press against the back of the plasterboard to help you position the socket more easily.

Before undertaking work please review the safety notice at the top of this article.

Tools you will need:

  • New socket with cavity fixing box
  • Stud detector or hammer
  • Pencil
  • Spirit level
  • Screwdriver
  • Pad saw or plasterboard saw
  • Socket tester

Now that you have your tools, it’s time to get started.

Step 1: Check where the studs are with your stud detector

If you don’t have a stud detector, tap the wall gently with a hammer handle and listen for the hollow sound to change when you tap over the framework.

Step 2: Check the area for hidden pipes or cables

Now check the area is free of hidden pipes or cables with your pipe and cable detector.

Step 3: Isolate the relevant circuit at your fuse box and safe isolation

If the coast is clear, isolate the relevant circuit at your fuse box and safe isolation to make sure the circuit is dead (triple-check this).

Step 4: Mark out where you want to fit the box

Hold the cavity fixing box in the place you want it, using a spirit level to keep it level, then draw around the box in pencil.

Step 5: Push and twist your screwdriver through the wall inside the pencil outline

Now get your screwdriver and push and twist it through the wall inside the pencil outline at diagonally opposite corners, to provide a guide for your pad saw or plasterboard saw blade.

Step 6: Start your saw at one of the holes and follow the box outline to cut out the shape

Step 7: Push the cavity fix box into the hole you’ve made

If the box fits snugly in the hole, push it in, feeding the cable through the opening.

Step 8: Push in or turn the securing lugs so they grip the rear side of the plasterboard firmly

Step 9: Connect the wires and fit the faceplate

Step 11: Go to your fuse box and switch the power back on

Take suitable and appreciate testing to ensure electrical safety.

And that’s it! You should now have the electrical socket you chose in place.

It’s no shock—not all of us feel comfortable fitting plug sockets!

We cannot stress enough that if you aren’t comfortable tackling a technical DIY job like this, leave it to a professional electrician.

FAQs

Can you change plug sockets yourself?

If you’re renovating your house and want a more refined look in your home, you’d be surprised how different your home looks when you’ve changed up the plug sockets. It’s a simple job to DIY because it’s using an existing fitting, so it’s within the powers of a beginner DIYer, as long as you’re super safety-conscious.

How can you tell if a socket is a spur?

A spur socket is an extra socket that has been added to an electric circuit. It usually has three cables – a ring main in, ring main out, and the spur going out.

socket diagram - cable-diagram

Do I need a qualified electrician to change a socket?

No. If you’re just changing the style of your electrical socket or switching to a USB socket, it’s a simple enough task for a confident, beginner DIYer to do.

Before undertaking work please review the safety notice at the top of this article.

Is it easy to replace an electrical outlet?

It’s easy to replace an electric socket if you’re replacing like for like e.g. simply changing the style of the sockets. If you need to move the socket eg from surface mount to recess, then it’s a much more involved task and you will need to cut into the wall.

 

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