One of the most common electrical defects found in a home during a general home inspection is loose electrical receptacles. Loose receptacles can be found in old homes, and even newly constructed homes. Loose receptacles are not only a nuisance, but also could cause shock and fire hazards. Loose receptacles could be caused by installation errors, or could happen over time under normal use. Loose receptacles are usually due to loose junction boxes or mounting screws.
A junction box is the component that houses the plug and wiring, and is secured to the building structure. The junction box is meant to act as the support structure for the receptacle, and protects of the plug and wiring from damage. Junction boxes can be made from various types of material, but in most residential applications we find metal and plastic junction boxes. Junction boxes should not be made with combustible materials such as wood.
Junction boxes that are designed to be installed in homes under construction are usually mounted to the building frame, such as to the wood studs. The junction boxes will often be sold with fastening nails or screws that allow installers to secure them to the building. These types of junction boxes are referred to as “new work” boxes, since they are meant for installation in new construction scenarios. These types of junction boxes are rarely loose, but can become loose if the mounting was insufficient at the time of the installation. In this case, securing the junction box with additional fasteners, or replacing the junction box with one meant for retrofit purposes is usually the suggested repair.
Junction boxes meant for retrofit scenarios are referred to as “old work” boxes, since they are meant to be installed in homes that have already been built. Old work boxes have mechanical clamps that are meant to be mounted to a wall surface as they are installed. It is more common to find loose old work junction boxes since proper mounting relies on proper securement of the clamps to the surrounding wall. If the hole cut in the wall for the receptacle is too big, or if the wall surface is damaged, the clamping mechanism will not be able to secure the junction box properly. Repairing loose old work boxes may require wall repair, or replacement of the junction box, but can sometimes be achieved by re-mounting the existing junction box.
Loose mounting screws is another reason why an electrical receptacle could be loose. Loose mounting screws can easily be repaired by simply tightening them. If the screws are loose due to the junction box being installed to far back, then spacers can be installed before the screws are tightened.
When attempting any electrical repairs, it is recommended to buy some tools that can be used to detect voltage at the electrical components that you are working on. You must turn power off at the location where repairs are being made. Failure to do so could lead to shock, personal injury, or fire hazards. Check out the videos below to find out more about how to secure a loose electrical receptacle.