Day #18 – the secret to getting your outlets to sit flush with the outlet cover

Ok, so here’s a little DIY tip for you.

You know, ’cause we’re a DIY blog.

We’ve talked a lot about having to update every single surface in this house.  From the walls to the ceilings to the floors.

We’ve worked through layers of paneling and drywall and wood slats.  Remember that weird old ceiling height in the front of the house and those little square windows?

living room demolition

And as we’re either adding or removing layers from our walls we have all of the previously run electric boxes to contend with.

They’re good quality boxes with upgraded electric … if you have ungrounded wires you might want to call in a professional.

So the only issue that we found ourselves contending with in most cases, was getting our outlets to sit flush with the cover plates.

There’s this wall for instance.

diy wood frame bed

The drywall was all torn and ripped and patched in weird places.  And I may have been burnt out on demolition so we opted to just drywall right over it after our new windows were installed.

guest bedroom October 2013

Let’s not worry about what is going on on the bed, look right past that and just check out the new drywall. Thanks.  :)

So, adding a new layer of drywall added another 1/2 inch of depth to our wall, but we didn’t change the depth or location of our outlet boxes.

And then I’ve got another scenario for you.

An accent wall.  Or feature wall.  Or whatever-you-want-to-call-it wall.

That I haven’t shown you yet.  But looks like this close up.

outlet and cover plate

Those are wood slats that are 3/4 inches thick.  But we installed the outlet boxes for regular drywall at a 1/2 inch thick depth.

So what’s a girl to do?

screw outlet in with a nut adding depth

You can’t just not screw in your outlets all the way or they will always move back and forth when you plug and unplug things.  Trust me.  :)

screw outlet in with a nut adding depth

But, if you screw in a nut behind the outlet that will give you the added depth you need to screw it in tight but also keep the outlet set out a bit to sit flush with your cover.

Update:  I received a comment that this method isn’t to code, I haven’t checked my local code to verify but here is an affiliate link to a product called an outlet box extender that is definitely to code in all areas.

I just keep mismatched nuts in a little organizer in our shed.  You can even double them up if you need to.

Update: I am reading this post, now published, drinking my first cup of coffee and thinking, man, I didn’t even plan that little nut pun.  Geesh.  :)

screw outlet in with a nut adding depth

Easy peasy, right?!?!

screw outlet in with a nut adding depth

Get caught up on the entire 31 day series here.

31 things you need to know


  1. Nancy Carr says

    I may have to use this idea this week. Just had a backsplash put on the wall and I bought a new switch plate cover and was wondering about putting it on. Again — you are so good. Thank you.

  2. Sue says

    Oh thank you thank you thank you thank you! We have an outlet in the workout room that was set too far into the wall for the cover to attach. A nut! What a great idea!!! Cannot WAIT to put the cover on the exposed outlet now!!! Ahhhhh…. :)

  3. Wendy says

    I had this same problem and came up with this same solution only I’ve always had a concern in the back of my mind, wondering if it was safe. If you did it and wrote about it, that must mean you believe it is ok, and that makes me feel better. :)

    • says

      Hi Wendy!! We talked to our electrician about it and as long as the outlet is still in a box it’s good to go. We also wrap our outlets and switches with electrical tape inside each box, that’s something we saw the professionals do when the upgraded our electric service right after we moved in.

  4. Amy says

    I loved this easy fix! I was restoring a dresser yesterday, and this came to mind as a repair fix for a drawer that riding too low. I did the washer trick under the drawer glide and it stopped it from dragging on the drawer below it! Thanks so much for these awesome ideas… Can’t wait to read them all and tuck them away in my MacGyver mind!

  5. Mick says

    Hi Karah,

    Love your site – but I have to call you out on this. The nut thing is illegal. I don’t know what your electrician told you but it’s not legal. What you need it called a box extender. It will sit flush with the wall and sit inside the box, bringing the outlet flush with the wall. Example:

    I used them in older homes and they work like a charm and are code compliant. Below are the codes from the National Electric Code:

    314.20 In Wall or Ceiling. In walls or ceilings with a surface of concrete, tile, gypsum, plaster, or other noncombustible material, boxes employing a flush-type cover or faceplate shall be installed so that the front edge of the box, plaster ring, extension ring, or listed extender will not be set back of the finished surface more than 6 mm (1⁄4 in.). In walls and ceilings constructed of wood or other combustible surface material, boxes, plaster rings, extension rings, or listed extenders shall be flush with the finished surface or project therefrom.

    This might also be relevant.

    406.4 Receptacle Mounting. Receptacles shall be mounted in boxes or assemblies designed for the purpose, and such boxes or assemblies shall be securely fastened in place unless otherwise permitted elsewhere in this Code.

    (A) Boxes That Are Set Back. Receptacles mounted in boxes that are set back from the finished surface as permitted in 314.20 shall be installed such that the mounting yoke or strap of the receptacle is held rigidly at the finished surface.

    I hope this helps. Taping the outlets and switches is a practice (not required by NEC) that prevents metal on metal contact. Not needed when using plastic boxes, but a good trait to follow. Feel free to ask any more questions…..

    • dh says

      Among many other things in the code, that sounds like a nice subsidy for those selling these electrical box extenders. Other than an little bit of added left/right wobble on the outlet (which would be somewhat ameliorated by the cover-plate), it is difficult to see how adding a nut behind each screw is a concern. What a surprise that those writing the code are self-serving themselves and those in their industry.

      • Mick says

        DH, You are welcome to your opinions, but this is not a subsidy. This is a practical solution to an existing problem. The code allows up to 1/4 inch gap. In residential homes most boxes are mounted to a wood stud or are situated on drywall both which are flammable unless this is very new construction where fire-proof materials have been used. If the gap is more than the allowable amount you risk the stud or drywall to catch fire if a fire starts in the receptacle box. Do you think a nut is going to stop/prevent this – No. File an insurance claim and watch your claim get denied because of this. No right licensed electrician would ever do that. (If he/she did, their license should be revoked.) The insurance company will know it was either the homeowner or a handyman. I am not here to start a fight, I am here to make this a safe install. 25 cents for a nut or $1-2 for a box extender? You decide but I think the choice is clear…..

        • Nancho says

          Mick you seem sharp on electricity. I will take the liberty to ask you a question. I was finishing my projector setup at home and while drilling through drywall apparently the bit punctured and spinned into a wire causing a spark. Breaker went off along with two outlets on that same wall. I opened up a 2 x 3 square to inspect the wire and the bit did go through the insulation and damaged it. Eventhough this is a rental, I would like to provide a safe proper fix to this, since some have told me to just open the insulation, retwist the wires, tape them and patch the wall. Not an electrician but this sounds sloppy. A friend of mine that I believe is an electrician (not totally sure) told me the right way is to put a junction box and splice the cable and repair inside the box and put a blank plate over it. Sounds more like it to me. Just want to know your position if possible.

          • Mick says

            Your “electrician” friend is correct. Do NOT bury the box – that’s illegal. Buy a new work box at Big Orange and nail it to the stud. If the stud is not close, use an Old Work box with wings that will secure itself to the back of the drywall. Splice the wires inside – color to color and when the wall is patched, painted and looking good. Put a blank cover plate on that matches your decor.

            If your landlord doesn’t like that – you must replace the wire from Point A to Point B with the same type/gauge.

            Option #1 is the easiest/cheapest. Good luck!

  6. says

    Thanks for the link for the extenders. I ran into this same problem when I put glass tile in my kitchen. My outlets haven’t fit right ever since.

  7. Cyndi says

    My daughter just put a glass tile backsplash in her kitchen and she used the extension boxes for her switch and electric boxes and they worked great. They got them at Home Depot but Lowes will have them too.

  8. Jim says

    Karah: What can you do if the outlet box sticks out past the drywall? I have one that sticks out about 1/8 of an inch. Therefore, the outlet cover doesn’t sit flush against the drywall.


  9. Anthony says

    Hey thanks for the tip. Was trying to think of a way to put something behind the thingy to make it extend out more and this was a better idea than anything I was thinking of. Thanks!

  10. says

    The electrical box extender linked above is too easy to install and too inexpensive to NOT use.

    The bolt idea is creative, but just not safe, please don’t do it.

  11. Matthew says

    This is a fire hazard, and you’re doing your readers a great disservice promoting this terrible idea. You need an outlet box extender to safely cover the flammable material now exposed with this method.

    Please don’t mess with electricity of you don’t know what you are doing–that’s a great way to burn down your home and have your insurance claim denied because of illegal and ill advised modifications like this.


  1. […] Day #25 – the trick to perfect looking outlet holes   By Karah | October 25, 2013 – 7:08 pm | home improvement projects, key west, quick tip (function() { var po = document.createElement('script'); po.type = 'text/javascript'; po.async = true; po.src = ''; var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(po, s); })(); So we’re tearing out walls and building them back.  And resurrecting old wood slat walls. And adding wood and rope accent walls. […]

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