Replacing a Grounded Plug

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I have always been that guy. If someone leaves a cord laying out on the floor, a plug unplugged, my foot finds it. Stepping right down on it, I’d almost always ensure that that plug becomes totally unusable.

We have a space heater we use in our living room; this is the room where we watch TV. My girls, and the wife included, love to pull this space heater over in front of them as they hang on the couch.

This puts a cord, and further a plug on the floor, in a natural walkway – right in front of me. Now, skipping ahead, and as you probably know where I am going – Replacing a Grounded Plug – you know the one with three pins on it.

Replacing a Grounded Plug

Tools: Wire Cutters, Wire Strippers, Phillips Head Screwdriver. Optional: Slotted Screwdriver, Utility Knife.

Supplies: Replacement Plug ($2-$6 @ the home center)

Grounded Replacement Plugs Options

Prep: Small appliances or their cords may indicate what kind of wire you are dealing with. My space heater had it clearly marked on its cord – 14 AWG. After looking at a few options at the local home center, and while drawn to a replacement designed for a vacuum cleaner, the larger plugs (above) seemed more appropriate. All were rated @ 15 amp/125 Volt.

space heater cord 14 gauge electrical wire

Make sure your appliance is unplugged before beginning work.

Steps:

– Separate the repair plug from its outer housing. For me this meant unscrewing 3 #1 Phillips Head screws on the plug’s face and pulling upward. I also removed the clamp at the base of the plug as to allow cord to pass through more easily.

grounded plug disassembled

– Once confident that the replacement plug will work, snip the gimpy plug off. I used my Klein Side Cutters for this (our review of them here), but any number of cutting tools will work.

(You can see – the ground on our heater’s plug had been broken completely off.)

broken ground plug

– Work the outer housing of the replacement plug down the cord’s length. This is obviously important as not to forget about it. It also provides a great gauge for how much of the cord’s sheath must be stripped.

– In lieu of strippers that can span the cord, use a utility knife and working very carefully cut the cord’s outer casing with a lengthwise slit. I cut back about 1 ½”, exposing a black, white and green wire. To remove the outer sheath. I did a circle cut around the cord, again with the utility knife, and whittled the black sheath away.

cutting cords sheath with utility knife

– Depending on how the terminals are oriented inside the plug, strip about 5/8” from each of the individual wires. (Again, I was working with 14-gauge, stranded wire.)

replacement plug terminals

– As with standard outlets, your ground wire goes to the green screw, your white wire goes to the silver screw and black goes to brass. This may not be different for different replacement plugs: I started with the ground and inserted each wire into the appropriate terminal. Tighten terminals down by hand using a screwdriver.

making connections on plug

– Once comfortable that wires are firmly set, slide the outer housing back up to mate with the plug. With my replacement, this meant re-aligning the screws on the face and tightening them down.

lining up set screws

– To finalize the connection with the cord, tighten down all accessory screws. My replacement was fitted with something of a clamp. I tightened the two screws on either side of the cord firmly and evenly.

tightening cord clamp

Bonus Coverage: Reinforcing an Old Work Electrical Box

Being in an old house, almost all of my electrical boxes are old work boxes. Being in an old house, many walls also having both paneling and plaster, standard old work boxes aren’t always effective.

old work electrical box coming away from wall

One side effect of stepping on a plugged-in cord can be, well … pulling the electrical box from the wall. The outlet, which usually only receives the heater that I describe in this post, was beginning to also show signs of overheating and/or arching. This had to do in part to the fact that my heater’s plug lacked that ground pin and because the outlet itself had been tugged on a handful of times, causing it simply to wear excessively. (I’d look over in some cases to find the heater’s plug half hanging from this outlet.)

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Warn Electrical Outlet

All made worse because the old work box had begun to free from its position in the deep wall.

driving a drywall screw into the corner of an old work electrical box

To help eliminate problems there, I not only replaced the outlet (easy enough operation), but also drove a short drywall screen into the wall on either side of the inside of the box. I picked this tip up from my electrician and it is extra effective if you are like me and have paneling or plaster to screw into.

old work box reinforced with drywall screws

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That’s it, hope it helps. ~jb