Making an outlet or switch flush

January 14, 2014

I’m sharing a quick solution to a problem I run into quite a bit – only because I’m constantly putting planks/board/trim on my walls. :)

I had to do it on our beadboard backsplash:

beadboard backsplash

And on the board and batten/beadboard island:

beadboard island

And in the planked walls powder room as well: wood planked walls

Any time you put anything on the wall that adds to the thickness you’ll have an issue with the outlets and switches – the outlet itself won’t be flush with the wall anymore, like this:

making outlet flush with wall

I had the same issue in the mud room near the bench I am building:

DIY bench with kitchen cabinets

I had to just tape the covers back on for the time being since the screw wasn’t long enough to even hold them on. The beadboard isn’t that thick but you need to make adjustments to make it work.

It’s actually very easy to do and very cheap. You’ll need these plastic spacers from the electrical aisle:

electrical spacers

First thing you need to do is make SURE the power is off to the outlets or switches your working with. Turn them off at the breaker, then double check with a voltage tester like this:

voltage tester

No light or a short light and/or beep means the power is off.

But you’re not done -- plug something into it to triple check that it doesn’t work. And THEN check it one more time by using the detector on the screws next to the outlet:

making sure power is OFF

The light went on and it beeped continuously, which meant there was still power coming from somewhere. This one must be wired to the light in the room -- I turned off the breaker to that light and then all was good.

I know electrical work can be scary but once you are sure it is OFF, you are good to go!

You’ll want to take the two screws out of the outlet so it comes loose a little bit:

adding spacers to outlet

And then you just need to figure out how much space you need to make it flush. You just fold them accordion style and they snap together:

adding spacers to outlet

Each spacer is 1/8th of an inch, so you can measure to see how far out you’ll need. 

Then you just put the screw back in and slide the spacers on it behind the outlet:

adding spacers to outletDo this for both the top and bottom screw and then tighten them like usual. You may need a longer screw if you need to add this much behind the outlet or switch – I had to get longer screws because the ones that were there were too short with the spacers added.

When you’re done put the plate back on and you're good to go!:

Adding spacers to outlet to make it flush with wall

Of course this works when installing tile too. If you tile your backsplash you’ll want to use these to make the outlets flush against the tile instead of inset.

Here’s the before and after to show you the difference again:

How to make an outlet flush with wall

By the way you’ll need these if you use the pretty switch covers I told you about here:

light switch covers They are pretty thick and will need a spacer or two to make the switches flush again. (On that outlet we have dimmers installed, that’s why the switches are different.)

Hopefully this will help if you ever run into this problem! It’s really a very easy, fast fix and the package of spacers are pretty cheap. (And they last forever.) Have you ever used these little plastic doodads?

See the progress on this room (I love it!) here.

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  1. Great information. Very we'll explained. Good job!


  2. Sarah - you are my DIY goddess... i love your blog - you always seem so timely to what i'm doing and have great ideas... just this past weekend i tiled my kitchen backsplash and have sunken plugs... and *no idea* how to go about fixing this... so as always... THANK YOU!... :o)

  3. Excellent post. Thanks for all the details and the pics.

    My house has wall outlets which are not flush. Now I know why. Now I know how to fix it.

  4. Last year we remodeled and I really wanted bead board in my daughter's bathroom. My husband has said some choice words while trying to reattach plugs and light switches this info is a god send...thank you so much!

  5. Great tutorial and info, thanks bunches.


  6. Great info. This will come in use when I plank our bathroom.
    Oh how I love those light switch covers. When we moved into our house (8years ago) this first thing I did was change out all of the lights switch covers and outlet covers to the one you have pictured. My husband didn't understand why I was changing the builder grade white covers to a different white one until he saw them. I think he likes them just as much as do. They are a little pricey but they really make a difference in a room. Thanks for the info.

  7. the house looks fabulous...nice job.

  8. I was so happy when I discovered these a few years ago. Such an easy fix!

  9. Your home looks beautiful! I'm hanging onto this, so that even if I don't do the work, I can share it with a handyman so that they finish the project correctly. I often have to give them specific instructions to finalize it in a beautiful way.

  10. Perfect timing! Planked a wall this past weekend and went to put outlet covers on last night and went....oops! Your post this morning was just what I needed! Thanks!

  11. Your kitchen prompted me to go for beadboard. And embrace my maple cabinets rather than an entire paint job. It feels comfortable and opens up the space. Have used the electrical extenders before with tile. When I tore out the tile, the open electrical boxes with plastic extenders gave me pause. What bothers me is the electrical connections open to the wood or sheetrock. I worry about some obtruse spark which could cause a fire. The hardware guys said not to worry, not a problem. Still worried me, so I went OCD and bought box extenders which fit inside the opening and cover the insides of exposed material.. Same process as the plastic extenders you have, just a box which comes in different gang lengths and slips in around the electrical outlets/switches. They are easy to insert and about a dollar each. I need to quit worrying about stuff like this, but just in case someone else has my idiosyncrasy, they are on Amazon. Always appreciate your well done instructions.

  12. Perfect tutorial. I never knew how to do that. I'll definitely remember it.

  13. Love great solutions! Thanks so much.

  14. I, too, was inspired by you to put up a bead board back splash in my kitchen. (And I LOVE it, by the way!!!) When I went looking for these spacers, Lowes didn't have them...they didn't even know what I was talking about when I asked for them. But Home Depot had them. Just thought I'd comment, just in case anyone else is looking for them, and can't find them. :)

  15. Very nice information with a brief explanation. sometimes we decorate home with beautiful interiors and fixtures but somethings like these switches ruin the looks of our home. I am so thankful to you for providing such useful information.

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  17. Thanks for posting this! My outlets have been a bit recessed since I did my backsplash. It's not horrible but it annoys! I'm going to add these this week!

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  19. thnk you :)

  20. Great work. However Y'all need to know you cannot use the spacers alone at more than 1/4" away from box it is against code. For over a 1/4" you have to use a box me I found out the hard way cuz I <3 DIY

    1. Thanks Thomas, I will check into this more! From my understanding this is when the box is moved but mine stayed put. Does it still apply?

  21. omg! I am a HUGE DIY'er and somehow I could NEVER figure out how to address this! I have several that will be getting fixed this weekend! many hugs!

  22. You have saved the day over here... Thank you!!

  23. Thanks for the solution, heading to the hardware store now!

  24. Thanks so much for showing and telling so clearly - especially about how to make sure the power is off! Now I feel empowered to do this for a tile backsplash.


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