Thinking Outside the Box

This post was originally published May 4, 2014.

BEFORE outlet

If you have been following my story, you know that my new mantra is “Identify issues and find ways to address them”. With this in mind, I decided that I would start with a small, simple job to kick off the bathroom renovation – I would install an additional receptacle.

We have one receptacle currently in the bathroom. A nightlight occupies the top outlet and the towel warmer occupies the bottom outlet. If someone wants to use a hair dryer or curling iron, one of those devices must be unplugged. Of course, that means remembering to plug it back in when you’re done too, so you don’t have to listen to some people (me) complain about cold towels. Also, since there are no outlets in the hallway (I plan to rectify that in the future), we use this outlet when we vacuum the bathroom, the hallway, and the stairs.

BEFORE no lights one recept

The outlet is installed near the sink about 5 feet from the floor. After consulting the map in the circuit box, it appeared that the bathroom outlet was the only thing installed on that circuit. I figured I would pull the old box and drop a length of 14 gauge Romex straight down to a point about 6 inches from the floor where the new box would be installed. Since the receptacle was the only thing on the circuit, there would be only one line coming into the box.

I turned off the power at the breaker panel and removed the face plate from the existing receptacle.

BEFORE power off
BEFORE recept plate off

I measured straight down from the box to the point where I wanted to install the second receptacle, and marked the location for the new box. Using a drywall saw, I cut a hole for the new receptacle box.

marked recept
recept cutting
recept new hole

At this point, I was ready to removed the line cable from the existing outlet, so that I could add a load branch for the downstream receptacle. When I removed the outlet from the box, I discovered that there was already a load wire leaving the box! Since my husband and I had mapped all the circuits in the house, and determined that this was the only device on the circuit, we were, needless to say, rather confused.

There were only two knockouts in the existing box. One was occupied by the line cable and one by by the mystery load cable. I swore loudly sighed heavily, and determined that I would have to replace the existing box with one that had more knockouts, since I needed to add a second load branch. Of course, this was a “new work” box, which means it was nailed to the stub behind the drywall. Though I have since learned that you can use a reciprocating saw to cut through the nails and release the box, I didn’t know that at the time, and set to work trying to carefully pry the box out. I was as careful as I could be, yet I still damaged the drywall below the box. However, once the box was out, I could at least examine the mystery cable.

old recept box removed

The line cable dropped in from the attic and was connected to the outlet at the line terminal. The load terminal also had Romex connected which exited the box and traveled back up into the attic. After a couple of hours of trying to figure out where the wire went, and what it powered, we gave up. I decided just to splice the new branch to the line, along with a pigtail to the existing receptacle. The new branch would then continue on to the new outlet, and the old branch would continue to wherever it had been going before we started. Edit: We have since determined that the mystery cable goes to the front porch receptacle.

I ran a length of 14 gauge Romex from the opening of the old receptacle to the opening for the new receptacle. I started pulling the three lengths of Romex into one of those blue “old work” boxes, and very quickly began to get frustrated. First of all, the tabs in the box were to tight and inflexible. I understand that these tabs are supposed to hold the cable in place, but instead they stripped the covering off the cable. Once I got the cables pulled into the box, I tried to install the box in the wall and found that, due to the drywall damage, the box would not stay in the wall securely. The lower ear did not extend down far enough to hold the box in place. Since I was working right next to a stud, I assumed that I just needed some sort of “old work” box that could be attached to the stud.

romex
new wires
new recept romex

After a trip to both Home Depot and Lowe’s, I discovered that “old work” boxes that attached to the stud are not really a “thing”. One of my friends recommended a small hardware store in town that caters to historic homes. We stopped by and were told by the 13-year-old sales clerk (okay, maybe he was 17), that nothing like that exists. He suggested we just drill some holes through the side of one of the blue plastic “old work” boxes and attach it with screws to the stud. I pointed out that having exposed metal screw heads inside the receptacle box violated all kinds of codes. He then looked me up and down, like I hadn’t spoken, and asked me if I owned a drill. At that point, my husband dragged me out of the store.

For anyone who knows me, the surest way to light a fire under me is to tell me that something can’t be done or does not exist. So I hit the internet, and guess what I found? (click through on the picture to see this item at Amazon.com)

Allied Moulded HSB=1 Sliderbox Adjustable Box


Arlington makes a similar model called One Box. The screws can be loosened to slide the box forward or backward to adjust the installation depth, then tightened to anchor the box into the stud. The screws recess into the “slider” plate, so they will not abrade the wires within the box.

So I headed to a local electrical supply store called Harris Electric, staffed by knowledgeable and helpful people (who were old enough to drive as well), which is a branch of Border States. They were able to order a half dozen of the Slider boxes for me. The boxes arrived within a couple of days and I was able to continue with the receptacle installation.

I stripped the outer sheath off the Romex, then stripped about an inch of the black and white wires. I pulled the old and new wires into the Slider Box. The tabs securely held the Romex but were flexible enough to allow it to be easily pulled into the box and manipulated as needed.

stripped romex
box replacement wiring

With the wiring and a replacement box in place, I wired a new GFCI receptacle into the first box. I then installed a second box in the new position, and wired a second GFCI receptacle. We selected very nice oil-rubbed bronze face plates to use throughout the bathroom. I installed one on the new receptacle. However, I have to repair some of the drywall around the old receptacle, so I temporarily installed a large face plate to cover the damage and protect the wall.

wired
new recept complete
upper recept temp

With two receptacles in place, we have doubled our “plugging in” ability in the bathroom. Now, we can plug the nightlight into the upper outlet, the towel warmer into the lower outlet, and there are two free outlets for anything that might be needed. Looking at the bathroom, it doesn’t look much different, but we enjoy the improvement that has been made every time we plug in a curling iron or a vacuum cleaner.

two receptacles
back to normal

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