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Community and Q&A

How to drywall over existing outlet

thegiz | Posted in General Questions on

Hi everyone hope all is well. I’m drywalling an existing basement. I insulated around my electrical and some of my outlets that are attached to concrete wall. My question is how do I fit drywall around it. Do I have to take metal cover off, drywall around it outlet or switch, then screw metal plate back on. Or is having drywall behind metal cover too dangerous

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  1. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #1

    Unscrew the switch, pull it out CAREFULLY and wrap electrical tape around it to cover the screw terminals on the sides. I can't tell you how many times I've zapped myself when I skip that step. If your wires are jabbed into the back instead of wrapped around the screws on the sides that may not be necessary.

    Carefully pivot the switch so you can tuck the top back into the box a bit. Then do all of your drywall work. Once drywall is done, pull the switch out again and use the "ears" on the switch to sit on the surface of the drywall. The drywall needs to be cut tight to the box, or you need to use joint compound to fill any gaps. If you don't do it that way your switch may not sit in the plane it should when you're done.

    Alternatively, if that sounds risky, you could disconnect the wiring and take the switch out completely. Best to have an electrician do it if you're not sure how. Use wirenuts over the end of each conductor while the switch is removed.

  2. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #2

    The decora style switch looks like it has a "mud ring," which is a cover that is meant to be covered with drywall (drywallers call drywall compound "mud."). The only thing you have to make sure of is that the surface of the mud ring is flush with or proud of the surface of the drywall, you can't have a gap between the wallplate and the wall. They come in thicknesses, if you go to the Home Depot website and put in "mud ring" you'll see they come in sizes from flush to 5/8". You'll cut a hole in the drywall to match the mud ring.

    The one with a regular switch has what's called a "handy box" cover, it's meant not to be covered with drywall. You can just take that cover off and replace it with a mud ring, Turn the power off and it's just four screws, don't pull the switch out or mess with the wiring.

  3. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #3

    DC appears to be correct about the mud ring. The usual way to deal with those is to run a router around the outside perimeter of the mud ring to get a tight fit with the drywall. You can fill the gap with mud, but that’s not usually necessary — the cover plate for the switch will usually cover the gap as long as you don’t oversized the opening too much.

    The second pic is going to be messy regardless of what you do. When a box is proud of the wall surface, you can’t really finish it correctly. What I’ve usually done is to make a wooden trim ring that ends up flush with the face of the box, then I use a regular faceplate to finish things off. If the box is recessed into the wall, a mud ring is the preferred solution, otherwise you need a plastic extender ring. Taping the the terminals of the switch is an extra safety precaution, but isn’t enough to meet code if you have too much space between the face of the box and the surface of the wall. It is the purpose of the plastic extension rings to provide a barrier in the case of too much spacing.

    Btw, I would never backwire any devices. NEVER trust the “poke the wire in the hole” connections. Always use the screws, or use spec grade receptacles where the screw drives the clamp that holds the wire. I personally use spec grade receptacles exclusively since they are far more reliable.


  4. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #4

    It's hard to tell from the pictures how much the box sticks out from the wall.

    What I'm about to say will make more sense if you understand that there are three pieces, the box, the cover and the wallplate. The box is the box, and it doesn't have anything to screw a switch onto. The cover is a mud ring or a flat cover, it has an opening with screw holes for a switch or outlet. The wallplate is the piece that goes over the switch on the outside of the wall.

    You want the face of the cover -- the thing the switch is attached to -- to sit either flush to the drywall or up to 1/8" proud of it. It can't be recessed. You need to use mud rings, box extenders or both to get the surface out to the outer edge of the drywall.

    If face of the box -- not the cover, but the box itself -- protrudes past the back of the drywall, you have to cut the drywall around the outside of the box. Then get the edge of the cover out to the face of the drywall and use what's called a "2 gang centered wall plate" (Google it) to cover the big hole in the wall. If the box doesn't protrude past the back of the drywall you can use a mud ring and make a normal sized hole around the mud ring and a normal wallplate.

    If the cover protrudes more than 1/8" past the drywall the wall plate won't sit flush on the wall. This isn't a code violation but it will look strange. As Bill notes you can make this look deliberate by putting trim around the cover and behind the wallplate. The lip of the cover has to come past the trim.

    The box, cover and wallplate are meant to provide a fireproof enclosure so that if an electrical fire starts in the box it can't spread. The reason a box can't be recessed is that then there is a gap between the cover and the wallplate that fire can escape from. This is particularly important if the box is set into a flammable material like wood trim.

  5. thegiz | | #5

    Alright thanks for all the advice, I think I have a better understanding now of what is going on. When I drywall if the drywall sits flush with mud ring I just need to cover with a wall plate. If when I drywall the box and mud ring are way behind and recessed I have to cut a wider hole so I can get around the box, get a plastic extender to bring it forward, then use a 2 gang wall plate which is basically a wider wall plate because now my hole is as wide as the box. Finally if it’s too far out I can use Bill’s method and make wood trim so there is no gap behind my wall plate

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