Installing an Electrical Box

Different Types of Electrical Boxes
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  • 01 of 05

    Installing Electrical Boxes: Nail-In, New Construction

    Electrical Box Installation Mark Height
    Lee Wallender

    You would think that it would be child's play to nail an electrical box to a framing stud. Yet as a DIY electrician, not a professional one, I have broken and warped and misaligned more electrical boxes than you can imagine.

    Only after trial and error and many poorly installed electrical boxes can I offer up some quick steps for success for installing nail-in, new construction electrical boxes.


    First, mark off your on-center point where you will be installing the box. Here I have marked off both 48" and 46" high, due to some dimensional issues that haven't yet been solved. Later on, you'll see that I decide to put the box at 46".

    But isn't this heresy? How can I decide at which height to place the box? Doesn't electrical code dictate everything?

    Interestingly enough, the height of a light switch (which is what this box will function as) is not set in stone. Electrical code does not regulate this. Convention is to place them at 48" high, but they can go up to 53" high.

    Continue to 2 of 5 below.
  • 02 of 05

    Screw In Reference Strip of Drywall

    Electrical Boxes Installing
    Lee Wallender

    This next step might be viewed as completely superfluous and silly by electricians, but I am not embarrassed to admit this:

    I have "reference strips" of drywall laying around my shop, in the common thicknesses of 3/8" and 1/2". These strips are the width of the narrow side of a 2x4: 1 1/2".

    Let's back up a moment: you will not be installing the electrical box with the box face flush to the framing stud. If you do this, when you hang the drywall your electrical box will be sunken into the drywall.

    So, bring the face of the electrical box outward--toward the room--to the exact thickness of your eventual drywall. But since there is no drywall there yet, you kind of have to imagine where the drywall will be. Instead of imagining, it's far better to have some real drywall there.

    Since I cannot install the real drywall yet, I screw the reference strip onto the framing stud next to the electrical box's installation point. This shows me exactly how far out the electrical box will be.

    Continue to 3 of 5 below.
  • 03 of 05

    Note the Box's Measure Tab

    Nail In Electrical Box
    Lee Wallender;

    Plastic nail-in electrical boxes also have 3/8" measuring tab along the side. In lieu of the reference strips mentioned in the previous strip, you can use these to indicate how far out to install the electrical box.

    It's a mistake to think that these measuring tabs will hold the box firmly in place while you nail in the box; they do not.

    Slightly push out the nails on the box, so that when you place the box against the stud, the tips of the nails lightly pierce the wood. This helps hold the box in place during those first couple crucial strikes of the hammer.

    Continue to 4 of 5 below.
  • 04 of 05

    Carefully Nail in Box

    Nail In Electrical Box
    Lee Wallender;

    Nail the box to the stud. But instead of wild swings of the hammer, start with careful taps that firmly seat the nails into place.

    If you nail too hard at this point, you run the risk of pushing the box backward.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Alternate Nailing Both of the Box's Nails

    Install Electrical Box
    Lee Wallender

    A final tip for ensuring perfectly-placed nail-in electrical boxes is alternate nailing the two nails.

    So, rather than hammering in one nail before proceeding to the next one, you'll want to hammer in one nail about a quarter-inch and move to the other one. Alternate in this fashion until the nails are all the way in.

    Tip: Tentative Placement

    Do you think you might need to move the box again before closing up the drywall? Nail-in electrical boxes are not easily moved once they are completely snugged-in. You'll probably break the box if you try to remove it. So, if this is a tentative placement, partially hammer in the nails. They'll be a lot easier to remove.