How to extend an outlet to be flush with a new wall

Two years ago when Adam and I planked our kitchen we had no idea what to do around the outlets and switches. We ended up just cutting the planks around the current outlets and leaving them like that. It never really bothered me…but I never liked it either. The great thing about being a serial DIYer (or a DIY blog reader!) is that you are always learning new things, and while planking the boy’s room I learned that no one expects you to leave your outlets cut around and unfinished looking. In fact, there is a really easy fix for it.

How to extend an outlet

First thing you’re going to want to do is turn off power to the areas you will be working on. I know y’all know this, but I have to stress it anyway….you must be SO EXTREMELY careful with anything electrical because if you do it wrong it can kill you. Literally.

So this is our breaker box. What I did was flip on the overhead light in the boy’s room and switch off the assigned breaker, which caused the light to go off.

boys room breaker

Good to go, right? No so much. I went and grabbed a lamp to double-check everything. I plugged in a lamp and it came on, which meant the outlets still had power going to them. So I went back to the breaker box and looked around…turns out the outlets in that room are on a different breaker than the switches.

boys room outlets

This is why double and triple checking is so important. My breakers are labeled correctly, but I assumed that everything in their room would be on the same one….which isn’t the case. (I don’t have one, but buying a voltage tester is a good idea.)

 Here is the secret to flush outlets…this little plastic doodad called and electrical spacer (or outlet extender).

extend your outlet

I bought mine at Home Depot – but I had to drive to three different ones to find them (you can’t buy them online). Every employee looked at me like I had two heads when I tried to explain what I was looking for, and finally a heroic fellow customer knew what I was talking about and found them for me. You can also buy them on Amazon, they are really overpriced but you don’t have to go on a scavenger hunt to find them.

outlet extender

Anyway, each section of the spacer is a 1/8 inch, you just snap them together until you find the right depth and cut off the excess. BTW, by “find the right depth” I actually mean do a long series of guess and check while using your teeth to repeatedly snap and unsnap them.

Next you place the spacer between the two screw holes and screw it tightly in place.

how to make an outlet flush with a new wall

Although, if you added enough depth the original screw won’t be long enough, so will have to buy longer ones.

new longer screw

Here’s the outlet at the new level, that black abyss behind it is the spacers.

outlet on a plank wall

The final step is to add the outlet cover. I purchased new ones that are 3/8 inch larger than normal so that all the edges will be hidden. If you plan ahead and cut your planks (or beadboard, or tile) accordingly you can use the same covers…we didn’t plan ahead though.

larger wallplate

These new covers are also supposed to be unbreakable, which is nice considering I’ve broken my fair share by screwing them in too tightly. I know, I know…just call me Muscles.

Here is the outlet now, it looks so much cleaner than it did before. Now to do my kitchen and dining room!


UPDATE – A reader sent me the following comment, I wanted to share since I wouldn’t want to recommend something that’s a potential safety hazard.

I’m not sure your fix is ‘safe’…Electrical boxes must be flush to the wall surface if the wall surface is a combustible material. Boxes recessed behind combustible materials like wood present a fire hazard because the wood is left exposed to potential heat and sparks. Your box is recessed inside the wall which allows the outlet to potentially in contact with the wood of your plank board. You should instead use a electrical box extension which is easily inserted inside the existing box and clamps to the outside of the plank board…of course using your extra long screws to screw into the original box. Then put on the large faceplate. The only time you can use the plastic pieces you bought are if you are extending through a non-combustible surface (tile, concrete, sheetrock, plaster) and even then you can only extend up to 1/4″.

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  1. Nice job! I could have used those when I tiled the kitchen in our old house. I left the outlets sunk in to the tiles because I didn’t know such things existed. Now I know, and will pin it so I don’t forget! :)
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  2. I’ve heard of this animal! It’s tough to spot in the wild, but, with the proper guide, it can be found.
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  3. Love this little trick. My dad told me about it but I’ve been lazy about fixing ours ;). Maybe on my next trip to Home Depot I’ll pick some up! (If they have them)
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  4. Here is a one-trip-to-electrical-box tip… Plug in a radio to the outlet in question and turn it on. When you flip the right breaker, the noise will shut off (providing your kid wasn’t up there screwing around with it).

  5. Andy & Bonnie Worrick says:

    Another tip… If you haven’t already, while you have the breaker off and the receptacle pulled, put a couple wraps of Scotch 33 electrical tape around the top/bottom/sides, covering the terminals. This can save you (or the next person to work on them) from that unwelcome 120v tingle you get from forgetting to grab the yoke and grabbing the whole thing instead. Some people say it can gather moisture, but I’ve never encountered that problem. Lessons learned in 12 years as a USAF electrician :)

  6. Thanks for the tips! My breakers are all labeled terribly. We really need to get out there and label them correctly instead of just going through them one by one while on the phone with each other. “No, lights are still on…no, that was the kitchen…” I’m sure we’ve all been through it before.
    Interesting post, and great job on the project!
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  7. Technicolor says:

    I was hesitant with the little plastic outlet extenders, but guy at HD said no problem. It still bothered me that the wires were open to the wall material. You can buy extender “boxes” on Amazon. I ended up using these along with the same suggestion from electrical guy above. Make sure your opening is cut correctly for the ears to rest on. I made a couple of mistakes measuring.

  8. Ashley,
    That update you put at the bottom is technically correct. The outlet extenders mentioned are pretty cheap (<$2), and come with the long screws. These would be ideal in places like wood beadboard. They look like blue rectangles with a couple screws. "electrical outlet extender" on google image search gets it.

    If you're just trying to squeak by another option is to take a small rubber hose for a fuel line (think lawn mower) and just cut two pieces to length and put the outlet screws through them (not the plates, the outlet itself). The rubber has the added advantage of giving as you tighten (which the little plates in your blog don't). One roll of this could do your whole house for <$6.

    I've used this method in our house in a few places where we got new drywall and the outlet is very close, but just a touch recessed. 1/4" to 1/2" thick rubber rings worked great. Anything much more than a 1/4" and I'd say spring for the extender box.

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  9. If you would have cut the “planking” hole for the receptacle closer to the actual size of the electrical box dimensions, the ‘plaster ears’ of the receptacles would have touched, or laid on, the planking. Thus no need for any extenders.

  10. this is kind of late to the parade, but thought I’d post it anyway. They make a product called electrical box extenders that would probably be what you’re looking for. It keeps the wiring in an enclosed box and safe. You basically insert a plastic box inside your existing box. Here is a link to an example:

  11. cool tip to fix the recessed connector, after the reform had some that was ugly, I have to do the same you teach … thanks for sharing!

  12. Ok I had a guy come and do my tile backsplash and my husband told him to go on and we could put the covers back on. Simple enough. However he tiled/grouted over the metal loopy thing that screws into the outlet box. Does anyone know if they even make a switch plate/outlet cover that is recessed in the back so it will fit snug?

  13. Ok. So I had a guy come and do a tile backsplash in my kitchen. My husband tells him to go ahead and leave before the cover for the switch/outlets were put back he said we can do it. Of course it doesn’t fit flush. Now I know we can use spacers however he has tile and grout over the loopy things the outlet/switches screws on to the electrical box. What else can I do. I thought maybe someone made the covers that would fit on the wall and recessed back around the outlet/light switch. Can someone please tell me what o can do?

  14. You make a nice point about being extremely careful with anything electrical. Turning the power off is also essential, as you share.

  15. Another tip…Install new or replace your finish trims and the only evidence of the thicker walls will be the deeper window wells and door jambs. Most people won’t even notice that the room is five inches smaller. Your pocketbook will notice next winter when your fuel bill is much lower. The added insulation will make the energy consumption for both the heating and cooling systems drop dramatically making your house more “green” and putting some extra dollars in your pocket.
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  16. Looks like a super easy project and it looks ten times better than it originally did! Thanks for sharing!

  17. Doc Watson says:

    Just a note: The electrical box extenders are not just a good idea. In most areas they are required to meet code. If you just space the outlet out away from the box with plastic spacers the electrical screws on the sides are exposed. Yeah, I know, who could get to them without the cover attached, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be flagged on that if inspected.

  18. What size are the longer screws that you used? Number 6 screws maybe? The length is irrelevant, but the type of screw is pertinent information whereas I just bought a bunch of wall extenders and need longer screws but do not know the outlet screw size/type. Thank you if you can answer this.

  19. Situation here is a cabin being done a little bit here and a little bit there. Electrician installed outlet boxes assuming we’d do the walls in drywall. Well, no; a few years after the electrical was installed we decided on knotty pine which is 3/4 ” thick not the 3/8″ or 12 ” of drywall.
    This meant after the knotty pine was installed I had to use outlet extenders which work well – except when the outlet is even too deeply recessed for the extender to hit the lip of the outlet hole.
    What if I got still longer screws and loaded the part between the extender and the original outlet box with little washers?


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