How You Can Install a Three-Wire Exterior GFCI Electrical Outlet for Your Holiday Lights

There is a risk of getting an electrical shock when using an old-standard exterior electrical outlet for your holiday lights. Old-standard electrical outlets don't have a ground fault circuit interrupter in them, and if a short occurs, the power will continue to move through the outlet, meaning that you can get shocked. You should replace the old outlet with a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlet. This is something the average homeowner can do by themselves in about ten minutes. If you are going to be putting up outdoor holiday lights, here is how you can switch an old outlet out for a new three-wire GFCI outlet.

Turn Off Power

You need to turn off the power to the standard outlet before you start to avoid getting shocked or electrocuted. The best place to turn the power off is at the circuit breaker box. You should use a GFCI plug tester to make sure the right circuit breaker has been turned off. The plug tester has several lights that will light up when the electricity is flowing to the outlet, and they will turn off when the electrical flow stops.

Remove Old Outlet

Remove the screw for the cover plate for the old outlet and remove the cover. The outlet is screwed into the receptacle box with a crew at the top and bottom of the outlet. Remove the two screws holding the outlet in the box and take out the old outlet. Now, remove the wires connected to the outlet. If the outlet is at the end of a circuit, there will be only three wires to disconnect. One wire is white while one is black, and the third will be copper or green. If there are five wires attached to the outlet, you should stop and consult an electrician to make sure the outlet gets wired correctly.

Install GFCI Outlet

The wires on the old outlet will be hooked so they can wrap around the screws on the outlet. Cut off the hooked portion with a pair of wire cutters. Trim about a half of an inch off of the insulation on the white, black, and green wires (again, you might not have a green wire). You don't have to trim the bare copper wire, but you should cut off the hooked end.

You need to make sure the GFCI outlet you are installing is meant to be used outside. The proper GFCI outlet will have a "WR" written on the face of it. WR means weather resistant.

The back of the new GFCI outlet will have holes in it so you can slide the tip of the wires into the outlet. The holes are next to different-color screws that you will tighten to secure the wires to the inside of the outlet. There is a yellow sticker over some of the holes—stay away from these holes. You need to insert the tip of wires into the holes at the bottom of the outlet.

Insert the copper or green wire into the hole with the green screw and tighten the wire securely by turning the screw clockwise. The white wire connects to the silver screw, and the black wire connects to the brass screw. Tighten both wires and put the outlet into the receptacle box. Screw the outlet to the receptacle box and replace the cover.

Turn on the circuit breaker and test the outlet with your GFCI plug tester to make sure it works as intended to complete the job. Talk to a home electrician for professional help.