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How do I install an electrical outlet on a live circuit?

I remember back in my college days, having a badly damaged outlet plug on a built-in dresser/vanity right above my bed (the face had cracked away exposing the metal contacts for the hot and ground). My solution, not needing the plug at all, was simply to tape over it. However, had I put in a maintenance request, let's assume for a second that the most granular breaker circuit available would still shut down half the dorm floor and so it normally wouldn't be done.

How then would an electrician or maintenance guy attempt to replace the outlet while keeping it live? Obviously the average joe working on his home wiring should ALWAYS kill the breaker (because otherwise he can kill himself), but if you HAD to work on a live circuit, as a professional electrician, how would you prepare/protect yourself?

  • 6
    If you were an electrician, you would certainly turn off the breaker.
    – Tester101
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 20:40
  • See also How do I take a live wire off of a two way switch?
    – Tester101
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 20:42
  • 8
    The electrician in your example should be fired if he's afraid to power off a dorm floor. Unplanned power outages happen all the time, its merely inconvenient. Forget the electrician's safety, what happens when the roommate barges in and stumbles over the electrician handling live wires? Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 21:19

5 Answers 5


Professional electricians work on live circuits all the time. They don't shut down the powergrid when they have to climb a telephone pole. ;)

The key with working with ANY electricity is to make sure you aren't grounded and providing a path for the current. This typically involves using all sorts of various insulators...rubber gloves...rubber shoes...not using metal tools, not being on a metal ladder, etc, etc.

But yea, whenever possible, kill the power first.

  • 8
    Electricians do; from time to time, work on live circuits. However, they have both training and experience in doing so. If you are not an electrician, you should Never work on a live circuit.
    – Tester101
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 20:37
  • 1
    And those electricians understand the risks and are aware that they're not doing something "safe". There are many dangerous jobs out there and linesman is certainly one of them. Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 21:22
  • yes, yes. Agreed wholeheartedly. It should go without saying, but just in case: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 21:45
  • 4
    Like this guy?
    – Doresoom
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 22:05
  • 2
    Remember, there are no tools that have a voltage rating for working on live circuits. Even though some insulated tools have a 1000v rating, the fine print says do not use on live circuits.
    – lqlarry
    Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 4:22

If you have to ask the question you have no business messing around with a live circuit.


With one hand in your pocket.

But really, don't.

  • 2
    And the other one smoking a cigarette.
    – Tester101
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 21:11
  • (only) "One hand in the box."
    – Mazura
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 3:07

There are a variety of insulated tools available for when working on live circuits. For example, here's a screwdriver insulated for 1000v, meaning, you will not get electrocuted through the tool.

Klein insulated screwdriver

The guys working the hydro poles have all sorts of gear rated for much higher voltages that can make contact with the lives wires while keeping the user safe. Even then it is still risky.

There is also the concept of a Faraday Cage that is used in the field. For example, when working on hydro lines from a helicopter.

As others have said, avoid it at all costs especially if you are not a professional.


Lots of good advise from previous answers. I've been working electrical for over 40 years and often don't take my own advise about not working on hot wires and devices. I am always ultra careful not to put myself in a position to complete a circuit or a path to ground. I have to admit however, I have taken dozens of "zingers" across my fingers and hand and have managed to destroy a lot of expensive Klien Tools. YIKES that smarts! But then no one ever accused me of being a real smart person, so take it from someone that has done everything wrong a few times............So as I say, not as I do......Turn off the breaker!!!!!!

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