How To: Upgrade a Wall Outlet to USB Functionality

Are there ever enough outlets? With the evergrowing array of gadgets that find their way into our home (Pads, Tabs, Fires, iPhones, and Nexuses) it seems like the answer is a resounding "No!" Maybe it's time to give that outlet a reboot with some USB functionality. Read on and we'll show you how.
It's 2012 and although there aren't flying cars as the movies predicted, we do at least have some choices when it comes to USB Wall Outlets.

You can literally go Plug 'n Play with the Wall Plate Charger from RCA

Perhaps you're a minimalist though, and the amount that the RCA plug sticks out from the wall is buggin'. Then you can go with one of these built-in options:

As any DIY minimalist knows though, going sleek and smooth usually equals 4x the time and effort (give or take a few x's). So before you're buying one of the built-in options you may want to do a little research and check the depth of your electrical junction box depth. Why oh why? Because these USB wall plates have got some serious back. Below is a comparison of regular outlet (left) against a USB wall outlet from Fastmac (right).

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FYI the one from OWC isn't any skinnier.

To pack in that extra bulk you're junction box is going to need to have a volume of around 20 cu. inches. Or about 3" deep for a single-gang switch. It's likely an older home will be outfitted with much slimmer junction boxes and is probably not suited for this job. You're certainly welcome to try, but that task will likely require fitting in a new junction box and doing some drywall patching. Assuming that's more trouble than most will be willing to undertake, we're just going to show you how to do it in the event your junction box does have enough area.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Find an outlet you want to replace. Don't do this for GFCI outlets with a button, as these USB outlets do not have GFCI functionality built-in.
  2. Cut off power to the room(s) you're replacing the sockets in via the main circuit breaker panel.
  3. Unscrew the existing wall plate and remove.
  4. Unscrew the electrical outlet from the junction box.
  5. Take note of how your socket is connected. Try snapping pics with your phone and drawing a diagram.
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  7. Remove the power wires from the existing electrical outlet
  8. Our Fastmac USB outlet just has one neutral wire terminal. So if you had a middle-of-run wired outlet (pictured to the right in image above), you're going to have to combine the two wires into one. The kit supplies a knot and extra wire for this
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  10. Attach the wires to the new USB electrical outlet. Don't forget the ground.
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  12. Push back in the wires and screw the new USB outlet into the junction box. Likely a very tight and snug fit.
  13. Turn back on the power and look for the polarity mismatch indicator. If it's glowing something is wrong with the wiring. Go back and try to fix.
  14. If the indicator is not glowing then you should be set. Turn back off the power and screw in the wall plate cover.
  15. Clean up and turn back on power when done.
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Voila! It's a cool trick if you get it working right. We tricked out our guest room, master bedroom (by the nightstands where sleeping gadgets lie), and an outlet by our living room couch for guests. All outlets shown here also pack enough current to charge the iPad as well. So if you're power charging options at home are feeling sparse, grab one of these and more power to ya!

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Other USB and Outlet Upgrades:
5 Ways to Battle the "Not Enough Outlets" Problem
Our Favorite Lazy Tech Accessory? A USB Extender
Six USB & Power Grommets for the Desk and Kitchen
How To Swap a Two-Prong for a Three-Prong Outlet
Socket to Them: Identifying Outlets of the World

(Images: 1.,5.,9. 10 Chris Perez, 2. RCA, 4. OCW, 3.,6.,7.,8. Fastmac)

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