If your connected home is anything like ours, it’s littered with USB chargers, backup batteries, and other powered items. If only your electrical outlets were equipped with USB ports, life would be far less cluttered! Thankfully, you’ll find USB-enabled power outlets available at your local, big-box store, as well as online retailers like Amazon. Upgrading an existing outlet is a straightforward job for the most part, but you may be apprehensive about working with electrical wiring. In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to install a USB outlet.
Before we get started, an important warning: Regulations governing electrical work in the home vary based on country. Check that you are authorized to perform electrical maintenance at home before following these steps.
1. Select a USB-equipped power outlet
A couple of years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find a power outlet with integrated USB ports, but now there are several available, including the TruePower and multi-functional Swidget. You could choose to source a cheap, unbranded outlet from eBay or Amazon, but we recommend picking up a model from a mainstream brand, such as Legrand or Leviton. You’ll find a range of configurations and colors available, and you can relax knowing that they’ve been built and tested for safety compliance.
Keep in mind, however, that USB-equipped outlets are much deeper than regular designs due to the additional electronics that have to be packed in. This being the case, you’ll need around 3 inches depth in the wall to install your new outlet. Once you’ve scouted a location that’s ripe for upgrade, be sure to check the size of the junction box behind the outlet before making your purchase.
For our guide, we selected the Legrand TM826USBWCCV Outlet, which supports two USB ports and two tamper-resistant power outlets. With two curious boys running around our testing home, we’re reassured that this model’s integrated shutters will prevent any unwanted objects from being inserted. You should be able to pick up this model for around $25.
Depending on your existing outlet, you may also need to pick up a wall plate to surround the sockets. The wall plate on our outlet has a horizontal bar between the outlets, which is where the new USB ports are going to be positioned. So, to accompany the USB-equipped outlet, we selected the Legrand Screwless Wall Plate, which matches in color and finish.
2. Treat Yourself to an Outlet Voltage Tester
Alongside a screwdriver, the other tool we’d highly recommend for this job (or any involving electrical outlets) is a voltage tester. Obviously, we’ll need to switch off the power at the electrical panel before swapping the outlets, but to be absolutely certain that the outlet isn’t live, you should check it with a voltage tester.
Inexpensive devices like this Non-Contact Voltage Tester from Klein Tools provide visual and audible warnings when voltage is detected in an outlet. It’s available for around $20, and there’s an updated NCVT-3 model equipped with a flashlight that can be had for under $25.
Once you have the voltage tester to hand, test it on a socket that you know is live so you can be sure it’s working.
3. Switch Off the Electricity
Once you’ve decided on the outlet you wish to replace, head to your home’s electrical panel. Switch off the power to the room/outlet you’re replacing or, to be sure no electricity is flowing, turn off the electricity completely.
4. Remove the Existing Wall Plate and Outlet
Use your voltage tester to double check that the power has been cut, then carefully unscrew and remove the wall plate and outlet from the junction box behind.
5. Note the Existing Wiring
Take a photo of the existing wiring (or sketch a quick diagram) so you know how to rewire the new outlet when fitted. In North American homes, expect to see Neutral (white), Hot (black), and Ground (bare copper) wires. Other continents have different codes, so be sure to check the existing connections. Better still — label the wires before you remove them.
6. Remove the Wires From the Old Outlet
Take your screwdriver and loosen the retaining screws holding the electrical wires in place. Keep in mind that they may be held in place with quick release clamps rather than screws. If so, find a small screwdriver or similar implement — a SIM tool will even do the job — and press the recessed release button to free the wires.
7. Connect the USB-equipped Socket
Reverse the steps to wire in your new electrical outlet. Then, ensure the Neutral, Hot/Live, and Ground wires are securely connected to the correct terminals.
8. Secure the Outlet and Wall Plate
The hard work is over! Secure the new outlet to the junction box. You can use the same screw holes that were used to fix the old outlet in place.
Now fix the wall plate over the outlet before standing back and admiring your handiwork.
9. Power On and Test
Head back to your circuit breaker and flip on the power to the outlet in question. Then, use your voltage tester to ensure the outlet is operating correctly before connecting and testing your USB devices.
For a few minutes of work and a $30 investment, you’ll be rewarded with a handy new charging point and a fresh, clean-looking replacement for those tired, aging outlets around your home. Now, if only there was a better way to bake wireless charging into your home.
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