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How to Attach a Cover to a Recessed Light Switch or Electrical Outlet

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Tom Lohr is an avid home improvement enthusiast. He prefers to spend the money he saves on new tools and gardening supplies.

Triple light switch. Each one is too far recessed into the wall to attach a cover plate.

Triple light switch. Each one is too far recessed into the wall to attach a cover plate.

It's Always Something

So you are about to put the finishing touches on your home improvement project, only to find out that when you attempt to attach a cover to a new light switch or electrical outlet, it doesn't protrude far enough. Once the cover is flush against the wall, the switch or plug is recessed an inch or so inside its opening. While not common on newer homes, older houses often run into this issue, and moving the associated electrical box closer to the wall is normally not an option. Leaving the cover off will allow it to be used, but also presents a shock hazard and looks unsightly.

There are devices called box extenders that extend the entire box, but those really only work on drywall. If you have an older home with plaster walls, it is basically useless. Fortunately, there is a quick and easy way to extend the switch or outlet far enough from its box so that it meets the cover plates and presents a neat and professional finish. Even better, the parts you need are very affordable and can be installed with minimal tools.

Order yourself an outlet extender kit and make your switches and outlets flush and perfect every time. It only takes a few steps:

Tools Needed

  • Screwdriver
  • Scissors or similar cutting tool
  • Electrical power tester (optional)

1. Secure the Work Area

Electricity kills. Don't become a statistic. At your breaker box, turn off power to the switch or outlet that you will be working on. Confirm that power is off by using an electrical power tester. If you don't have one, plug something into the outlet to ensure there is no power, or ensure that whatever the switch controls does not come on with it is flipped.

Oops! Switches do not extend far enough.

Oops! Switches do not extend far enough.

2. Remove the Switch or Outlet From the Electrical Box

Every switch or outlet should be connected in a plastic or metal box. The wires come from this box and connect to the switch or outlet and then it is securely screwed to the box. This is where the fit issue occurs. If the box is too far recessed into the wall, attaching the switch or outlet to the box ensures that it will not be flush with the wall. Remove the top and bottom screws holding the device to the box and toss them. You will be using new and longer screws.

One of the three switches unscrewed from the box.

One of the three switches unscrewed from the box.

3. Measure the Additional Needed Distance

Measure how much further the switch or outlet needs to protrude from the box to be even with the wall so that the cover plate attaches correctly.

Tube and screws of an extender kit.

Tube and screws of an extender kit.

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4. Prepare the Extender Kit

The extender kit has two items. Tubes and screws. The tubes are about four inches long and hollow, and made of soft rubber. They sort of remind me of Twizzlers. The screws are the same type that you took out of the box, only much longer.

Cut the tube to needed length.

Cut the tube to needed length.

5. Cut the Tubes

Using the distance you measured, cut two pieces of tube that length. The tubes are compressible, so they don't need to be exact.

Attaching the top tube to the switch.

Attaching the top tube to the switch.

6. Attach the New Screws and Tubes

Hold a piece of tube behind either the top or bottom hole on the switch or outlet. Insert the new screw into the hole and through the tube. Repeat for the other tube and screw. Screw in each screw, tightening alternatively so that the top and bottom of the switch or outlet is evenly attached. Once the switch or outlet is tight, check to see if the cover plate fits properly.

If it is still recessed too far, you will need to cut longer portions of tube and repeat the process. If it sticks out too far, you can continue to screw and the tube will compress and remain tight. Do this in small increments and do not over tighten. There is a limit to the tube's compressibility.

Perfect fit! Don't worry, I'll touch up that paint later.

Perfect fit! Don't worry, I'll touch up that paint later.

7. Attach Cover Plate and Test

Attach the cover plate normally. Once you are satisfied with how it looks, turn the power back on and test to ensure you did not accidentally cause a wire to disconnect.

You Got This

You don't need to struggle with getting your new switch or outlet box mounted perfectly. There are too many variables with doing renovations to assume it will match up with the wall perfectly. Get it as close as you can, and relax knowing that you can adjust any switch or outlet to mate up with its cover plate simply and easily.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on March 31, 2021:

Very useful information Tom and I frankly did not know about the availability of the outlet extender kit. Thanks for the useful information with doing it on our own.

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