How to install an electrical box without a stud

How to install an electrical box with no stud?

Johann a TV mounting Technician and Editor
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Last Updated on June 8, 2022 by Johann Holsinger

Most electrical boxes are installed in the wall framing before drywall or plaster is installed over top. However, there may come a serious time when you need to extend a circuit or move an electrical box to a new location.

This is known as a re-work and may also end up being a location where no stud is present.

Why you can’t just move the outlet location to a stud?

I tackle this job by moving a wall outlet to the nearest stud for support or adding supporting timber into a wall like a nog or a dwang.

However, there are ways some people take a shortcut with the right fittings and screws, as sometimes you cannot move the location you want an outlet.

There are a few reasons why you might be unable to simply find a location of a stud for your needed outlet location.

Perhaps the studs are not in the right spot or are already fully loaded with wiring and don’t have room for any outlets or new wiring.

Maybe the studs are metal and you don’t have the tools to install an electrical box onto steel studs properly. 

Or you could be adjusting the location of an existing circuit and the outlet needs to go in a very specific spot that just so happens to be lacking a stud for some support!

In this case, you should deal with what you are lacking and plan on how to install an electrical box in drywall without the help of a stud!

Maybe an outlet location has to be between studs for many reasons like for example; You want to mount your TV in the corner or the center of the room.

An electrical box mounted on the wall

What to consider before mounting the outlet box with no stud

1. Your wall type

Drywall

Be sure you know exactly where the new outlet will go. Also, be sure the hole has been cut to the proper size in the drywall using a drywall saw or a multi-tool.

Plaster

Cutting through plaster is slightly more difficult than drywall, but will produce quite a bit more dust. 

A drywall with two electrical boxes installed

2. Remodel box type

Winged

Usually made from plastic or PVC material as a versatile and simple type to installation option.

Flanged

The most commonly used remodel box type. Normally plastic, and extremely versatile.

An opened electrical box with wires attached

3. Detachable mounting brackets

These are often metal but can be plastic. A great option for heavy-duty applications and on concrete surfaces.

Tools needed

  • Retrofit Outlets
  • Keyhole or Drywall Saw
  • Bubble or Torpedo Level
  • Voltage Tester
  • Wire Stripper and Connectors
  • Hammer and Chisel
  • Pencil

Planning: Routing the cable

The first step is to know exactly where you plan to start your new cable route, how you want to hide the wires, and where the wires need to go and will end up.

This can streamline the process and also prevent you from having to stop midway and re-deciding on the path to take.

You also need to know if you will be able to simply reroute the existing wire to a new location, or if you will be adding an entirely new length of cable to the existing line.

Both options are perfectly viable, but with adding an entirely new length of cable you need to ensure the outlets, cable, and breaker is attached and can handle the additional load.

How a wire is routed on a concrete wall

Tracing the box

When installing your outlet or electrical box, always be sure that you position the box square and straight with corners and windows on the wall.

You can do this by using a bubble or torpedo level and holding the box securely against the wall while you trace around the location with a pencil.

While crooked outlet boxes will not fail a safety check nor does this create any additional fire hazards, this slack work can be unsightly once the main faceplate is installed. 

What seemed like a minor bit of crookedness when you were first cutting the hole can be very noticeable when the installation is final.

The best way to avoid this is to ensure your initial traced hole is done correctly [1]. Take your time with this process.

Marking the wall for installing an outlet box

Cutting the hole

For drywall

Cutting a hole in drywall is a common occurrence when adding new outlets or electrical boxes to your home [2]. Drywall is extremely common in most homes, and fortunately, the light board is also easy to cut into with a gib saw, Stanley knife, or an osculating tool.

However, too much pressure from a tool not sharp enough can break or crack the wall linings or cause rough edges and chipping.

Always ensure your drywall saw is sharp and take your time when cutting out the required shape.

Try not to add too much pressure to the wall when you are cutting into the surface because of the limited holding capacity of all plasterboards.

This means, don’t lean against the wall for leverage and don’t force your saw to cut if your tool is showing some resistance.

Especially if resistance is caused by something inside your walls that you should make sure to not damage like a hidden pipe or a wire. 

Make sure to disconnect the power from the circuit breaker first and use rubber-handled tools.

Cutting gypsum wall for electrical box installation

For plaster walls and lath

Once you have decided on a spot for your electrical box and have traced the outline, use a sharp utility knife to score a line where the cut will go. This helps prevent the plaster from cracking and breaking when you cut the shape out. 

After that is done, use a drill to drill holes in the inside corners of the traced outline. From there you can use a drywall saw to cut through the plaster and lath without much crumbling or breaking outside of the lines. There can be some expelled dust, so be sure you are wearing a tight-fitting dust mask.

Threading cables

The easiest way to insert the electrical cables so that they reach the outlet is by attaching the electric cable to a guidewire or “fish pole”.

You can secure the cable with a clamp or electrician’s tape. This prevents the cable from falling off while attempting to guide cords straight into your box. 

If possible, it’s helpful to have a friend help by holding a flashlight or using a magnet to guide the wire along the wall.

If you have access to an attic or basement, or any unfinished walls, routing the cables will be much easier.

Threaded fished wires inside a wall

Installing and Securing the outlet box

For winged remodel box

Here’s how to install an electrical box without a stud using a winged remodel box:

  • Trace the outline of the box onto the wall.
  • Use a keyhole or drywall saw to cut out the shape.
  • Thread the cables into the box and secure each one.
  • Push the box into the hole and ensure everything is snug how we like it!
  • Secure the box properly by using screws.
  • Don’t tighten the screws too much on plastic boxes as the plastic could break.

Winged electrical box from ImbaPrice BE1

For flanged remodel box

  • Most common for ceiling installation.
  • Flanged outlets can be round, square, or rectangle in shape.
  • Trace the shape of the outlet onto the ceiling.
  • Use a stud finder to ensure where the studs or support joists are.
  • Cut the hole using a drywall saw or jab saw.
  • Place your box into the hole and ensure everything is snug and tight.
  • If the box has expandable clasps or joist supports, engage them now.
  • Secure the box to the ceiling using thick screws or the included joist clips.

Arlingtong FS8161 flanged outlet box

For remodel box with detachable mounting brackets 

Here’s how to install a metal electrical box with mounting brackets when there are no studs:

  • Normally used for plaster, hardwood, or stone installation.
  • Can be placed on the wall or ceiling, though usually used on the wall.
  • Mounting brackets are usually made of aluminum or a steel composite.
  • Installation is a two-step process that first requires cutting a hole for the bracket.
  • Install the bracket and secure both ends tightly into the supporting framing.
  • Place your electrical box within the bracket.
  • Route your wires into the electrical box as you would with other box types.
  • Secure the box to the bracket and tighten it.
  • The bracket adds additional strength to the installation.

Arlington fixture electrical mounting

How to install the electrical box on the ceiling without studs nearby?

Installing an electrical box or outlet in the ceiling without studs may be a bit more tricky than adding one to a wall.

You will require the use of an electrical junction box that will hold the fixture as well as the wire connections. 

Installing this type of electrical box in a finished ceiling can be tricky.

If you are planning to get up and install an electrical box for a light fixture with no stud or the use of a ceiling fan, it must be secured by a brace bar that connects between the two closest ceiling joists in a secure manner.

Additionally, you should also make sure the electrical box cannot be seen from the attic.

Installing electrical box in the ceiling

The electrical boxes used for ceiling installation of fans or lights normally have small braces that help hold the box in place. These are extremely important and can help your DIY project meet all safety standards or code regulations.

Have a friend help route wires through the attic or lower walls up to your ceiling box.

First locate the position to install the electrical box, and get ready to make a hole in the ceiling.

After you have made a hole in the ceiling with a keyhole saw, drywall saw, or jab saw, place your between-joist brace through the hole and secure the ends tightly.

Ensure the screws are tight but not enough to break or damage the plastic or PVC components.

Give it a gentle tug to make sure everything is secure before continuing.

This can be done by twisting the box frame in a clockwise direction until you feel resistance.

Once the wires are secured inside the electrical box, tighten the screws and the main faceplate over the box.

Can you use a regular electrical box?

Some experts suggest using actual “old work” or retrofit boxes for reworks. While you can use regular electrical boxes, the installation will not be secure and could fail to meet building codes and safety regulations.

Electrical boxes specifically made for this type of reworking will secure the drywall or plasterboard properly and will not require the use of a stud for secure placement.

Can we use and recycle old electrical boxes?

Some people suggest recycling and re-using old electrical boxes to retrofit fit the old from renovations. While you can use old electrical boxes, they could fail to meet building code and safety requirements if the box is made from steel rather than plastic.

We heard this is to be true because building authorities say that plastic electrical boxes are safer than conductive metal fittings.

Plastic electrical boxes can be reused and recycled if they are in good condition still.

Dos and don’ts when installing electrical boxes with no studs

Dos

  • Install your electrical boxes at the same height as existing outlets.
  • Use a bubble or torpedo level to ensure the box is straight and square to other building elements.
  • Use a stud finder or wall multi scanner to avoid existing wires or pipes when cutting.
  • Take your time when rerouting wires or connecting the ends to the outlet boxes.
  • Ensure your wire connections are secure and meet safety codes.

Don’ts

  • Forget to turn off the power and test it with a voltage meter before beginning.
  • Dont tighten the screws too much on plastic electrical boxes as over tight may break the electrical box.
  • Be afraid to contact a licensed electrician for help or guidance if in doubt.

To DIY or ask an electrician?

Whether you are an experienced electrician or just in the DIY crowd, moving or replacing an electrical box in your drywall or plaster can be an easy task. Always be sure you have your tools handy and know what you want the final result to be. This will help make the process easier.

When in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact a professional electrician to go over your work and ensure that it meets code and safety regulations, also check what you can locally legally do.

Aside from that, have fun with your new project and enjoy your new reworked electrical box and outlet.

More information:

  1. How to install an electric box in an existing wall?  https://www.thespruce.com/install-an-electrical-box-in-existing-wall-1821562
  2. How to cut a hole in drywall? published in  https://assets.doityourself.com/stry/how-to-cut-a-hole-in-drywall

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Johann Holsinger portrait

Hi, my name is Johann Holsinger, here at mountyourbox.com I share all of the tips and tricks I have professionally learned to help you set up your ultimate home entertainment system.