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I put a little too much pressure on my electrical box when tightening down a new switch. It was previously anchored by what I believe was overhanging tabs on both the top and bottom of the plaster, and the plaster on the top tab broke through.

What are my options for repairing this? If there are no DIY options, what kind of expert would I need to bring in? Electrician? Plasterer? Carpenter? All of the above?

Cover plate off Cover plate on

  • Was the box hanging solely from the sheetrock? Maybe there is an adjacent stud? Try to look inside the wall along the sides of the switch plate. – wallyk Dec 19 '16 at 18:10
  • @wallyk everything's all closed up now, but I'm pretty sure it was previously anchored solely to the plaster via the tabs, otherwise it would have stayed in place. There's a doorway a few inches to the left (you can make out the door molding in on the left side of the photo with the switch-plate on. – glenviewjeff Dec 19 '16 at 18:36
  • If the box doesn't have adjustable flanges, your probably going to have to yank it out, an toss in an "old work" box. The older metal boxes, with the tabs, were often put in after the sheetrock/plaster, similar to how current old work boxes are used. – tahwos Dec 20 '16 at 0:01
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There are plastic shims expressly for the purpose of supporting plugs and switches. They come in a strip and one tears off as many as needed and folds them accordion style and slips it over the screws to allow the switch to be screwed hard to the box parallel to the wall and the right distance from it.

Edit, Addition

In the present case, if I understand the querant's comment correctly, the box is loose in the wall. If he wants to avoid replacing this box, a clamp is required on both sides of the to secure the box and the switch. The switch cover plate can supply the clamp onto the wall cavity side of the drywall (or plaster).

One such clamp is a pair of grip-lok sheet metal clamps. The grip-lok clamps could result in the box being positioned a little way back into the wall. If that happens then some of the spacers might also be required to get the switch positioned properly. But if the box ends up perfectly in the plane of the room side of the drywall, then no spacers would be required.

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    If this box is an old work box (only held in with tabs) hole can be repaired by adding a shim so the box will not pull through I believe this is what @Jim Stewart is saying. If the hole is cut two large for the box I have pulled the box slipped longer and wider shims in to the back side of the Sheetrock and held in place with several sheet rock screws then put the box in and filled the space with mud and covered the screw heads. Most DIY folks cut two large of an opening for old work boxes and the edges of the Sheetrock or plaster breaks. The shims provide extra strength not really a spacer. – Ed Beal Dec 19 '16 at 23:17
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    OK I thought the box was just too far back but attached to a stud, but the box is actually loose. There is a stamped metal clamp that slips into the wall cavity on the sides of the box and has tabs which folds into the box. When in place it prevents the box from pulling out. The switch cover when screwed to the switch (itself screwed to the box w/ or wo/ plastic shims) will keep the box from from falling into the wall cavity. – Jim Stewart Dec 19 '16 at 23:51
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    grip-lok support strap – tahwos Dec 20 '16 at 0:05
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    There is a particularly good Youtube video of these being installed, but I can't find it right now. To someone who has not seen them before it might not be clear exactly how to install them and how they would work. Since they are metal one might need to use electrical tape around the receptacle or switch to prevent contact of the side screws with the grip-lok strap. Here is one video youtube.com/watch?v=pwziu8RGF4A – Jim Stewart Dec 20 '16 at 0:26
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    You may be able to salvage this box in place. If the plaster on top broke away so that the clamps on the top no longer are effective, you might be able to pull the box out through the hole and readjust its position upward slightly so the clamps hold. Or with the box out you may be able to repair the hole so that the clamps are effective. If the hole is too large for this box, then it would probably be too large for another one. Of course, the clamp on this one may be broken so a new one might fit. Go to the home store and get the largest volume single-gang old work box; they are cheap. – Jim Stewart Dec 28 '16 at 19:35

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