How to Wire an Electrical Outlet With Red, White, & Black Wires

The cables coming into an outlet, or receptacle, box typically have hot black conductors, neutral white conductors and bare copper ground wires. If there is a red wire, often it is a hot switched conductor. To wire the receptacle using red, white and black wires, you have to isolate the two halves of the receptacle. When wired correctly, one half will operate normally as a constant power source while the power in the other half can be switched on and off via a wall switch. This is commonly known as split-tab or split-receptacle wiring.

Step 1

Turn off the power to the receptacle circuit by switching off the appropriate breaker in your home's service panel (breaker box). Use the voltage tester to check each wire in the outlet box to verify that none is live. Make sure other people in the house will not switch on the breaker while you're working by telling everyone what you're doing, placing a lock on the breaker lock-out tab or attaching a note to the service panel.

Step 2

Loosen the two bronze-colored screws on one side of the outlet and find the break-away tab that links the two brass screw terminals. Grab the end of the tab with pliers and wiggle it up and down until it breaks off, isolating the two connections. Unscrew one of the silver screws on the other side of the outlet and the green screw at the top or bottom.

Step 3

Cut the wires so they are long enough to easily reach the outlet screws when you hold the outlet in front of the outlet box. Use the wire strippers to remove the insulation from the red, white and black wires. Measure the length of insulation to remove with the strip gauge on the back of the outlet. If there is no strip gauge, remove about 3/4 inch of insulation.

Step 4

Bend the bare ends of the red, white, black and blank wires into a "U" with the pliers. Shape the wires to fit around the shafts and under the heads of the bronze-colored, silver and green screw terminals. Cut excess bare wire if you have removed too much insulation.

Step 5

Insert the white wire under the loosened silver screw with the "U" wrapping around the screw in a clockwise fashion. Tighten the screw with the screwdriver until the wire is held securely. Repeat the procedure with the bare copper ground wire and the green ground screw. Insert each of the black and red wires under one of the bronze-colored screws the same way and tighten them, making sure that the half of the outlet you want to be controlled by the switch has the red wire connected to it.

Step 6

Insert the outlet in the outlet box, neatly folding excess wire behind the outlet. Tighten the screws at the top and bottom of the box to hold the outlet in place. Mount the cover plate and tighten the mounting screws, being careful to avoid cracking the plate by tightening the screws too much.

Step 7

Restore power to the circuit by switching on the breaker. Use the voltage tester to confirm that one half of the outlet has power permanently and the other has switched power, operated by the wall switch.