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How to Move an Electrical Outlet or Light Switch

How to move simple electrical outlets and switches.

Electrical outlets and light switches sometimes must be moved during a remodeling project. This often happens when a closet has been added or a door moved. Many times this will leave the light switch on the opposite wall or a large section of the room without an electrical outlet because the original one is now in the closet. In the long run conveniently placed outlets and switches are worth the effort required to move them. With care this can be safely done by homeowners.

The tools you will need for this project include an electrical meter, flat and philips screwdrivers, plyers, razor knife and clean up tools. For the electrical part of this project you will need wire, electrical box, wire nuts, and a blank outlet cover. The electrical box you want will be the one with locking tabs. It is possible that you will have drywall damage. If so then you will also need drywall repair materials and tools. 

Safely should always be the main concern when working with electricity. Never work on a live circuit. You must always turn the power off at the breaker box before starting. Sometimes the breaker box does not have the circuits labeled correctly or marked at all. To verify you have the correct circuit you should turn the light switch on or plug a light into the outlet to be moved. Flip the breaker onto the off position. The light should no longer be on.

Remove the wall plate cover. This will expose the outlet or switch. Look at the sides. You should see some screws. Switches will have two usually on one side unless it is a three way switch. Electrical outlets will usually have two on each side. In most cases the wires are connected to these screws but sometimes the wires are plugged directly into the back. There should also be a green ground screw near the top. Turn you electrical meter on. Set it to read AC Volts. Place one lead of the meter to the ground screw. Carefully set the other lead against one of the screws. Check your meter to verify that the electricity has been turned off. Do this for each of the remaining screws. Only after you are 100% positive that the electricity is off should you continue.

Unscrew the outlet or switch from the box it is in. Pull it out of the wall. Leave the wires attached for now. Examine the wires that are connected to it. You must buy the exact kind and size of wire that is used. This will be marked on the outer coating of the wire. an example would be 14/2 ( 14 gauge / 2 insulated + a bare ground) 

Trace the electrical outlet box at its new location with a pencil. Use a razor knife to cut the drywall along the lines. Run a new wire from the hole you just cut to the old electrical box. If you need to pass by wall studs then you will need to cut a 1" strip out of the drywall for the new wire to follow. This will need to be patched later.

Push the end of the wire 5 inches into the old box through a wire access holes. Cut the end where the new box will be so that there will be 5 extra inches of wire. Push this wire into the new box. Install the new box into the drywall. Turn the locking tabs.

Strip the new wire casing back as far as possible. Remove 1/2 inch from the insulation of each strand of wire. Twist the plain copper wire around the green ground screw on the new switch or outlet. Install the black and white wires to the screws on the side in the same position as the old one. A three way switch will also have a third wire to install. On three way switches it is important that the hook up match exactly. Screw the switch or outlet into the new electrical box.

Disconnect the wires from the old switch or outlet. Twist the copper wires together. Push them to the back of the box. Use a wire nut to connect the new wires to the old ones. Connect black to black, white to white, etc. Make sure the wire nuts are tight. Push these wires into the wall. Turn the breaker on. Verify the electrical switch or outlet works.

Repair any drywall damage before you install the electrical plates. You must not cover the old outlet box with drywall. You must have access to the wire connections. After the drywall has been repaired place a blank plate over the old electrical box and a new switch or outlet cover over the new one.

This project will solve a common remodeling complaint. It looks harder than it is. With care it can be done simply, safely and with minimal damage. Above all do not fear electricity, respect it.

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