Electrical Boxes... and flying death monkeys

electrical boxesWalking into the electrical section of your local big box hardware store for the first time is sort of like walking through the Land of Oz.

There's totally weird stuff that you've never seen before. Everyone around you is speaking English but nothing they're saying makes any sense.  You know instantly that you don't belong and the only way out is to find the Wizard so you can ask him a few questions.

Chillax Dorothy.  Once you pull the curtain back you'll realize it's not that complicated.  Let's talk about what will likely be your first purchase if you're finishing your basement, electrical boxes.

Electrical boxes: Pro vs. Flimsy

Single gang. Extra depth. Pro electrical box for new work.

Single gang. Extra depth. Pro electrical box for new work.

The electrical box is a blue plastic box that gets attached to the wall stud.  It holds the wire connections and the light switch or plug.

There are two grades of box "pro" and "flimsy".  Okay, maybe flimsy isn't the official name but it should be.  Don't buy the flimsy boxes.  Spend a little bit extra for the pro box.

  • The pro box will hold the wiring coming into the box much tighter.  The tabs on the flimsy box tend to break off.  Electrical inspection guys don't like to see those broken off and may fail your inspection until you can prove that the wiring is secured.
  • A pro box will feel sturdy. The flimsy box "moves" a lot when you plug something in. Not a ton of movement but it just doesn't feel solid, it has a squishy feeling to it. The thicker plastic on the pro box holds the screw better and therefore keeps the plug from wiggling when you plug something in.

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What's a Gang? What are they doing in my basement?

A gang, when talkin' electrical boxes, is a measurement of the width of a box. So one gang means it will hold one outlet or one light-switch. "Double Gang".... you guessed it, two outlets or two light switches. You buy the same box for outlets or light switches, they all hook on the same way, with two screws at the top and bottom.

Electrical box : New Work vs Remodel

Double gang pro electrical box for remodel

That little grey tab is for remodel work. Also, no nails.

When you're speaking to your friendly 'Wizard of Oz' in the electrical section, they may ask if you're doing "new work" or "remodel".  New work electrical boxes have two nails on the side that you use to attach them to the studs.

If you are remodeling then the drywall is likely already in place and rather than ripping it down to install an electrical box you buy a remodel box that has a little latch on it that secures it in place.


Tip - Buy 2 more electrical boxes than what you actually need.  Inevitably I broke one or decided to add an extra outlet. It's a major time and gas suck to have to drive back to Home Depot just to buy one more box. If you don't end up using it, just take it back for store credit, you don't even need a receipt.

basement finishing jasonSo get your courage up, slap on your brain and walk on over the electrical section. There's no flying monkeys or broom wielding witches. In fact if you see somebody there that remotely looks like they know what they're doing they are usually more than happy to help you out.  I know I would.




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Questions and Comments

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  1. JessMN says

    What about metal boxes? The already finished part of the basement uses metal and I'm not sure if we have to use metal due to they type of wiring that is there or if I can put in plastic.

    • says

      JessMN - I'm almost certain you can use plastic. I've never heard of a jurisdiction requiring metal boxes. Of course, I haven't heard everything - so if someone out there has heard this - please comment. It's best to give you local builder department a call to clarify for sure - or the guy at your local hardware store can probably confirm for you based on your location. - Jason

  2. David Lundquist says

    I'm not sure why you would want to use plastic boxes instead of metal boxes. from what I've seen the plastic boxes are a little cheaper but metal enclosures seems so much more durable over time

    • says

      Well the answer is that they are cheaper. When you have to buy 20 of them it adds up. A great alternative is the extra thick plastic boxes. Strong than the cheapest but less than the metal.

    • Greg says

      Another reason to use plastic boxes is down right laziness. With metal boxes, you need to ground the box, which means an extra pigtail, and extra screwing. With plastic boxes, you only need to ground the devices.

      • Greg says

        I realize this is over a year in the past, but I just want to add a bit to this - ideally you should use 20amp wiring (12 gauge) and a 20 amp breaker for outlet circuits. As for the outlet itself, it is completely acceptable to connect 15 amp outlets to a 20 amp circuit. The outlets vary in that a 20amp outlet has an extra slit horizontally that will allow a 20amp plug to physically be plugged into it. It is very uncommon to actually see a true 20 amp receptacle or a 20 plug on anything. I'd only recommend using 20 amp receptacles in situations where you know ahead of time that you will be plugging in a 20 amp appliance, and only when it is a dedicated circuit. The idea behind using 20 amp wiring and breakers but 15 amp receptacles is that with a 15 amp receptacle, it is physically limiting that you know you won't be able to plug in anything requiring more than 15 amps, and when you have several devices plugged into multiple outlets on a circuit, you can exceed 15 amps as a total, but will not be able to exceed 20 amps total (as the breaker will trip). Hope this was clear enough and will help someone!

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