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I’m attempting to upgrade an old two prong outlet to GFCI, and all was going well until one of the outlet boxes turned out to not be secured to a stud or anything. As best as I can tell, it looks like they screwed everything into place, shoved it into the hole in the ball, and then slapped a bunch of plaster over the tabs of the outlet and the box to hold it in place.

So I scraped the plaster off the screws holding the outlet in place to remove it, removed the old two-pronged outlet, hooked up the wires onto the GFCI outlet, and then attempted to shove the outlet back in the box. However, when I did that, the remaining plaster holding it in place broke free, and now it’s just floating free and held in place by nothing. There’s no stud on either side of the box to screw into. What’s my best option here to secure this old box?

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The solution is probably what's known as an 'old work junction box'.

As an example, this: old work box. (No endorsement implied.)

Old work box

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If the opening isn't damaged too badly you could use an "old work" box to replace the existing one. They have "wings" on the back that attach to the sheetrock (I assumed you meant than instead of plaster).

If the opening is badly damaged, you can slip in a couple of short pieces of boards, slats, etc. above and below the opening, aligning the edges with the top of the opening and the bottom. Clamp them in place and put a few sheet rock screws to secure them to the backside of the sheetrock. Then you can put a box that has tabs on the top and bottom to screw it to the boards. It will require a bit of patching/painting.

Lastly, you could open up the wall enough to get to a stud and attach it in the typical manner. It's just as easy to patch a larger area of wall as a small one, so if you go this route, give yourself some working room.

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  • This is a 19th century house, so pretty sure it has plaster walls and not sheetrock. Will this still work? – Devin Sep 6 at 20:44
  • If it's true lath and plaster, you should be able to screw a box with "ears" to the lath...hopefully in a good spot where the lath is related to the opening. If not, the method I described previously would still work. It's simply adding some backer to your opening, securing it to the backside of the wall surface and screwing the new box with ears to the backer. – George Anderson Sep 6 at 22:19
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If you don't want to replace the box, you can get stamped metal clamps that slip inside the wall and fold into the existing box. This clamps the box so that it cannot come out of the wall, but it can still fall in. But when the switchplate is attached it prevents the box from falling in and so the box is clamped to the drywall from both sides. One type is RACO Switch Box Old Work Supports (2-Pack). Look on YouTube for a video on how to install these.

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