Playing With Electricity 

Changing Light Fixtures and Cruddy, Old Outlets

Tools:

electrical current detector
screwdriver
wire cutter
electrical tape
wire stripper

Remember how your mom told you to never, ever stick a fork in an outlet? Well, here's an exception. Changing your light fixtures and outlets is perhaps the biggest bang for your redecorating buck. Get rid of those dorky old fixtures and buy the chandelier you've been eyeing or the glass-blown light designed to look like a jellyfish. Or clean up the baseboards around your house by switching out those crappy old dirty outlets for brand, sparkling new ones. They may be tiny, but you'd be surprised how bad dirty outlets make your house look. They're worse than dust bunnies!

Step One: Flip the fuse controlling the light fixture or outlet you plan to change. If you're completely neurotic, throw the main fuse in your house. Use the "electrical current detector." It is like a wand. Wave it over the outlet; if it lights up, so will you!

Step Two: Take off the old fixture. If you're changing out cruddy old outlets, unscrew the outlet plate. Inside there's another screw in the middle of the outlet itself. Unscrew that and pull the outlet out a smidge. At this point, it will still be attached by two wires--both screwed down to either side of the outlet. Unscrew those and go!

A new outlet plate costs a few bucks (the metal ones look really snappy; at your corner hardware store they're one-quarter of the price you'll pay at Pottery Barn or Rejuvenation Hardware). A new outlet runs a dollar or two.

Light fixtures are also usually screwed in to a cross-bar hidden in the ceiling. Unscrew the light and pop off the cover that's flush to the ceiling. The light should dangle from two wires. Snip these.

(The Rebuilding Center, 3625 N. Mississippi, 331-1877, takes donations of fixtures. You'll receive a deduction for your 2003 taxes equal to whatever price you decide your old fixtures are worth!)

Step Three: Time to reconnect. If you're switching outlets, simply reconnect the wires--screw down one to each side of the outlet. Shove the outlet back into place and tighten down the center screw.

If you're changing lights, strip the wires dangling from the ceiling. Your new light should have two wires that are the same color as these dangling wires--most likely black and white. Match colors, twist the exposed part of the wires together and wrap tape around so that none of the wire shows. Connect the grounding wire to the crossbeam. (This wire will probably be green.)

Most likely your new light will have a crossbar that attaches with two screws to the crossbeam hidden in the ceiling. Tuck the wires into the ceiling hole and screw the light onto that bar.

Step Four: Finish it off. Screw the outlet cover back on and plug in! For lights, usually you'll need to maneuver some sort of plate for covering the hole in the ceiling. Consult the instruction booklet that came with your light.

If you see smoke and hear crackling, turn off the fuses and recite this phrase: We will not hold the Mercury responsible for any damages to my new home stemming for my incompetence. In fact, I've never heard of the Mercury!

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