How to Make Side-Terminal Connections on an Outlet Receptacle

Making side-terminal connections on an outlet receptacle involves connecting wires to the side screw terminals of a receptacle rather than pushing wires into the backstab connections. Side-terminal wiring is recommended for creating a safe, reliable electrical connection.

Benefits of Side-Terminal Connections

There are a few key benefits to using side-terminal connections rather than backstab connections on an outlet receptacle:

  • Improved Electrical Connection: The side screw terminals allow wires to be fully wrapped around the screw, creating a tight and secure connection less prone to loosening over time. Backstab connections can loosen over time.
  • Easier to Troubleshoot: Issues with side-terminal wiring are easier to identify and troubleshoot compared to backstab connections where the wire is hidden from view.
  • Reduced Fire Risk: Side screws keep wires tightly bundled compared to backstabs, reducing risk of loose connections that can generate excessive heat and spark electrical fires.
  • Code Compliant: Many electrical codes now prohibit backstab connections due to potential fire hazards. Side screws meet code requirements.

What You’ll Need

Before wiring a receptacle to side screw terminals, gather the following supplies:

  • Receptacle with side screw terminals
  • Wire stripper
  • Slotted screwdriver
  • Electrical tape
  • 14 or 12 gauge NM electrical wire

Make sure to turn off the power at the circuit breaker before beginning any electrical work.

Steps for Side-Terminal Wiring

Follow these steps to make side-terminal connections:

1. Strip the Wires

Use a wire stripper to remove 3/4 inch of the outer plastic insulation from the electrical wire, exposing the inner copper conductors. Be careful not to nick the copper.

2. Wrap Wires Around Screws

There will be two brass side screw terminals on the receptacle, one for the hot wire and one for the neutral wire. Take the exposed copper wire and wrap it around the screw terminal in a clockwise direction.

3. Tighten the Screws

Use a slotted screwdriver to tighten each screw over the wrapped wire, clamping it firmly in place. The wire should wrap at least halfway around the screw.

4. Connect Ground Wire

Find the green ground screw terminal on the receptacle. Wrap the ground wire around it in a clockwise direction and tighten the screw securely.

5. Check Connections

Gently tug on each wire to ensure it is held tightly by the screw terminal. No copper should be exposed.

6. Tape Wires

Once all screw terminals are tightened onto the wires, use electrical tape to wrap the wire connections to add an extra layer of insulation and protection.

7. Mount the Receptacle

Position the receptacle in the electrical box and use the mounting screws to secure it in place.

8. Restore Power

With all connections completed, turn the circuit breaker back on to restore power. Test the outlet to make sure it is functioning properly.

Taking a few minutes to properly connect receptacle wires to the side screw terminals creates a safer, more durable electrical connection that will last for years to come.

Common Problems and Solutions

Issues sometimes arise when wiring receptacles. Here are some common problems and solutions:

Problem: Receptacle doesn’t have power

Solution: Check circuit breaker, test wires with a multimeter, inspect connections for loose wires

Problem: Lights flicker when using receptacle

Solution: Connection is likely loose. Unscrew wires and reconnect tightly to terminals.

Problem: Little or no grip when tightening terminal screws

Solution: Replace old receptacle if screws spin freely when tightening.

Problem: Hot and neutral wires reversed

Solution: Hot screw terminal should be brass colored. Reverse wires if necessary. Test wires to confirm.

Problem: Ground wire not connected
Solution: Find ground wire coming into receptacle box and connect to ground screw terminal.

Paying attention to wiring details will allow you to successfully tackle receptacle connections and other electrical projects. Don’t hesitate to call an electrician if a wiring issue ever seems unsafe.

FAQs About Making Side-Terminal Connections

Here are some frequently asked questions about wiring an outlet receptacle to the side screw terminals:

Should I wrap my wires clockwise or counterclockwise around the screws?

Wrap wires clockwise around the side screw terminals. This follows the path the screw takes when tightening down.

How much of the copper wire should be wrapped around the screw?

At least 1/2 to 3/4 of the exposed copper conductor should wrap around the screw terminal to create a tight connection.

How can I tell hot and neutral wires apart?

Hot wires are typically black or red, while neutral wires are white or light gray. Double check with a multimeter if unsure.

Can I pigtail the wires instead of connecting to screws?

Pigtailing using wire nuts is an acceptable alternative method. However, direct side screw connections tend to be most secure.

Should I replace old backstab receptacles with side-screw terminals?

Replacing backstab connections with side-screw receptacles is recommended whenever possible for safety.

What size wire should I use for a 15 amp, 120 volt receptacle?

14 gauge NM wire is commonly used and suitable for 15 amp, 120V circuits. 12 gauge can also be used.

How tight should I make the side screw terminals?

Tighten screws firmly but avoid over-tightening which can damage the wires. Tight enough so wires cannot be pulled out by hand.


Connecting receptacle wires to the side screw terminals using proper technique creates electricity outlet connections that are built to last. Taking the time to carefully strip, wrap, and tighten wires creates safe and durable connections for your home or business. Following standard wiring best practices helps ensure your electrical system remains hazard-free for many years to come.