How to Patch Unused Electrical Boxes and Other Holes in Drywall

If you have non-functioning electrical boxes in your walls that are an eyesore, or a hole in your drywall from a doorknob or perhaps a body part, there’s a patch lovingly referred to as a “California Patch” that works like a charm. I’m not saying this is the best way, the right way or the only way to patch a drywall hole, but I’ve used this method several times, and I won’t patch holes any other way.

I had four electrical boxes within a few feet of each other in my kitchen. Three of these boxes were non-functioning, so they had to go.

Welcome to the outlet convention.

How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

My home’s previous owner had installed new counter tops, but moved before patching and painting, so I fixed the counter top area at the same time as the boxes. As you can see in the next photo, the messed up counter top area was very close to one of the boxes that had to be patched. So before I began with the outlets, I removed the caulk between the back splash and the wall so I could patch everything at the same time.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I started with the two upper boxes that were previously phone jacks. I removed the plates and the wires that were attached to one of them.

I knew the phone line wasn’t active, so I didn’t have to worry about getting shocked. And yes, you can catch an electrical thrill off of a phone line—sort of like putting your tongue on a 9-volt battery. And who hasn’t done that? The point is, a shock from a phone line won’t injure you, but it’s not exactly a warm fuzzy feeling either.

How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I discovered these two outlets were connected. The original phone jack was the one on the right, and the wiring was fished into the box on the left.

How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

So I cut the wire, and pulled it out.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I did a little happy dance when I noticed the blue tabs were on top of the drywall on this box.  That told me that it was added after the house was built, and would be easy to remove.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I removed the screws and pried the box out of the drywall.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Removing a box before patching is ideal, but as you’ll see when I get to the second box, you can still patch a hole with the box still inside if there’s no way to remove it.

The next steps are to clean off any rough spots on the edges of the box, to clean up the corners with a knife so that they’re nice and square and to remove any lumps and bumps on the surface of the drywall around the hole.

I cut a piece of drywall two inches bigger than my opening, so I’d have at least one inch extra on each side of the opening.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Then I measured the size of the hole and transferred the measurement onto the front side of the piece of drywall.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I scored each line using a straight edge. I tried to score just inside my lines to be sure the patch would be just a tad smaller than the actual hole.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I wasn’t strong enough to snap the drywall, so I went along each scored line, and pushed my knife into the drywall in several places to help the drywall snap more easily.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

After making the deeper cuts,  I was able to snap along my scored edges, being very careful not to tear through the paper on the back of the drywall.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I peeled off all of my edge pieces, leaving the center rectangle stuck to the drywall paper. This is my patch.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Important tip #1: It’s important to score deeply into the drywall because if you have to use a lot of force to pop the edge pieces off, you may tear off the back paper, and the paper has to stay intact in order to repair the hole.

Next, I tested the patch to be sure it would fit into my hole in the wall. Magnificent!

How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

If a patch doesn’t go into a hole easily, I don’t force it because I’ll need to be able to take it back out in order to mud. If it doesn’t go in, I shave off some areas around the opening in the wall until the patch goes in snugly, but I don’t want it so tight that the paper tears off the back when I try to remove it.

I know it looks sort of like a square butterfly, but bear with me.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Since this first patch was on my back splash, I wanted to reinforce it in case I decided to put up tile at some point. I didn’t want to pop this patch back out when pressing on the tile. I also would do this next step if I were patching in an area that might take some extra abuse like a child’s room or a main hallway.  I chose not to do this next step on my other two patches because of their safe locations.

I took a piece of scrap wood—in this case a stir stick—and I put it up inside of the hole and screwed it in place.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I made sure to countersink my screws a little bit.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Then I drove two dry wall screws into the front of the patch to secure it to the wood.

And with that, patch number one is ready to mud, but I need to get my other two patches ready first.

The second patch had to be repaired with the outlet box still inside because it wouldn’t budge. It was clearly installed when the house was built, and was secured to a stud. The obstacles on this patch were going to be the two spots inside the box where the screws held the cover on. These screw spots were going to be in the way of my patch, but I had a plan…

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

But before my master plan, as with the first box, I scraped off any lumps and bumps, including the area around the screw hole above the box that had drywall paper edges coated with paint sticking out of it. (Notice in the last photo. Looks like I turned an outie into an innie.)

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

So now, for the plan. In order to get this next patch to fit around the screw mounts inside the box, I used a drill bit the same size as those pesky screw holders, and drilled a hole in the corresponding spots on my patch. Here I measured for the correct size bit. This one was the winner!

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I put blue tape on my bit as a guide so I wouldn’t drill too deep. I didn’t want to drill completely through my patch. If I did, I’d have to patch my patch!

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Here’s one of my two partial holes.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Then I cut this patch the same way as the first one.

How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

It worked like a charm! If you don’t have a drill, I’m sure cutting away some of the drywall with a sharp knife would also work. I had a drill handy, and I decided to go that route so I wouldn’t have to worry about poking a knife through the front of the patch.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Now with patch number two ready, it’s on to patch number three. The box closest to the floor housed a TV cable. I had cut off all 2000 of the Direct TV cables off of the outside my house months ago. Cheers to whoever invented wireless technology! The side of my house looked like a black licorice factory before I removed all the tv cables.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

This one was different from the other two, as it had this funky metal face plate that was mounted to the face of the stud behind the drywall. I felt around inside the box and realized that if I moved the plate around and beat it with a hammer at just the right angle, I could remove it.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I want to stress one last time how important it is to remove all the junk around the wall opening, especially on the face of the wall. This hole was particularly bad. If you have any bumps under your patch, it’s not going to work! See how much smoother after a cleaning?

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Finally all my patches were test fitted.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Then I finally broke out the mud! This process was the same on all of three of the patches.

I chose to use Durabond because it’s stronger than regular joint compound, dries much faster, and I always have it on hand. It’s a powder that mixes with water to form mud. I used 20 minute Durabond. (Meaning you’re supposed to have 20 minutes of working time, but it doesn’t usually last that long.)

How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I removed my patches after their test fits, and then I spread Durabond around the hole to use as “glue” for the paper flaps on my patches to stick to.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I inserted my patch.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

After pressing the paper down into the mud with my fingers, I took my broad knife, and pressed firmly enough to squish as much mud as possible out from behind the patch, so it was as flat as possible. I was careful not to tear the paper.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

After I removed as much mud as possible, I spread a coat of mud over the entire surface of the patch, and yes, it was ugly. It’s always ugly. Expect it. You may end up with tiny pin holes at this point too, but don’t worry about those at this stage. I spread the least amount of mud on as possible. If I applied too much mud, I’d either have an awful lot of sanding to do or I’d have a massive hump on the wall, neither of which excites me.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I told you this was ugly. I could go over this and over this and try to make it look pretty all day long, but at this stage, it’s just not gonna happen. It’s also normal to be able to see the outline of the patch after the first coat.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

After it dried, I sanded with a sanding sponge until I just barely started to see my patch underneath. You can see here in the lower center of the next picture that I actually sanded into the drywall paper, which you really should try to avoid.

However, I’m not a professional drywall finisher, so it works best for me to sand until I just barely start to hit the paper on the first sand only. That way I can see where I’m at, and I know I don’t have a lot of excess mud before applying the second coat.

Let me be clear on this one. As soon as I see the smallest spot of paper, I stop sanding. I’m not suggesting that you sand off all your mud so all the paper on your patch is exposed. For me it’s best to get close because less mud on the patch means less floating later trying to level out the raised area I just created.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I applied subsequent coats of mud in order to get rid of the raised area I created with the thickness of my drywall paper from my patch (aka the butterfly wings), as well as the mud I applied. In order to do that, I had to make the patch bigger and float the mud out farther until the raised part very gradually tapered off into the finished wall. Since two of the patches were close together, it made sense to join them into one, level patch. I re-coated two more times, sanding in between coats, until the raised areas seemed to disappear.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

This is messy and takes a little bit of patience.

How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Important tip #2: If you feel like your patch is finished, rub your hand over the whole area starting on the finished wall, then over your patch and then onto the finished wall on the other side of your patch. If you feel waves or humps on your wall that you can’t seem to get rid of, either keep sanding until the humps go away or float more mud out on the edges of your patch to level it out. If you can feel the wall isn’t right, those issues will be magnified once you’ve painted your wall. And once you’ve painted over the humps, you can’t sand them any more!

One more time. A patch might appear to be visually ok on the stark white mud that has no sheen to it. But if you can feel humps on your wall, once you paint, the sheen from your paint will highlight them and they’ll show. And they may not be too noticeable with primer either, but once painted, they will rear their ugly heads. Trust me on that one.

The most difficult part of a California Patch is getting rid of the raised area. The secret is floating the patch way out so that the patch blends slowly and gradually into the existing wall.

Here’s my (almost) outlet-free wall! Much better!

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

And of course, I have to do at least one before and after photo! Keep in mind I still have to caulk and paint. This is part of a mini kitchen remodel, and I won’t be painting for a while yet. I’ll try to add a more finished-looking “after” photo once the kitchen is painted.

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

 How to Patch Unused Electrical Outlets or Other Holes in Drywall/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

California patches are best used on “smallish” holes—up to about 6 inches or so. I’ve repaired dryer vent holes, holes from old intercom speakers and holes from door knobs this way. It’s a nice way to go because in most cases, it doesn’t require paper tape, mesh or any materials other than a scrap of drywall and mud.

This post was written by Tracy Evans who is a Journeyman Painter and Certified Home Stager /Redesigner. Feel free to visit her website at www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com to view more before and after pictures of her projects. And if you enjoy gardening, you may want to visit her gardening blog at MyUrbanGardenOasis.

How to Replace an Old, Nasty Doorbell

If your doorbell has seen better days or you’d just like an updated version, it’s an easy fix. Perhaps you’ve gotten new door hardware and now your doorbell doesn’t match. Or maybe you’re putting your house on the market and want your home’s first impression to be a good one. Either way, it’s an easy process. Ladies, you can do this!!

Here’s what my old doorbell looked like. Besides the fact that it’s just worn out, I wanted one with a light. And I recently painted my front door, which made the bell-from-hell look even worse.

How to Replace a Doorbell/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Like many builder-grade doorbells, mine was a non-recessed one–meaning it’s basically a box that sits on top of the siding, with the “guts” of the doorbell inside of it.

The new one I chose is a recessed one, that sits flat against the siding with the guts recessed into the wall. I picked this one up at Lowe’s.

How to Replace a Doorbell/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

A couple of things to consider if you’re shopping for a replacement doorbell, are the location of your current screw holes, and the type of doorbell you currently have.

Lowe’s had a gorgeous, round, ornate doorbell that I fell in love with, but I knew by looking at it that it wouldn’t cover the screw holes I currently had. Chances are, new screw holes aren’t going to match up to old ones, and that’s ok as long as they’re covered by the doorbell itself. Since I didn’t want an empty screw hole on my vinyl siding next to my brand new doorbell, I had to go with my second choice. My point is, it’s a good idea to measure the distance between your current screw holes before you shop so that you can be sure the new doorbell will cover them.

As far as what type of doorbell to get, there are the two types I mentioned already. Most of the super-awesome, fancier ones seemed to have a recessed mount. Meaning that the “guts” of the doorbell sit back into the wall instead of on top of it. You can see through the packaging that this one is recessed. You can see the guts sticking out the back.

How to Replace a Doorbell/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Either type of doorbell can be installed regardless of your current doorbell’s type. It just adds an extra step if you go from a non-recessed to a recessed one like I did. Here’s how.

Before you begin, find the breaker that goes to your doorbell and shut off the power. Next remove the screws that hold your doorbell onto your house. You should end up with something that looks like this.

 How to Replace a Doorbell/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Loosen the screws that are holding the wires, and remove the wires from behind the screws. Now throw that nasty, old doorbell in the garbage.

Hold the new doorbell up to the hole in your house where the wire is coming out. The hole will probably be too small to accommodate your new guts (as is in my case in the next photo). If you already have a recessed doorbell, your new doorbell should fit into the existing hole. If it does, congratulations and skip this next step. Also, congrats if you chose a standard, non-recessed doorbell because that will work no matter what. If not, this is where the extra step comes in. Well worth it for the doorbell of your dreams in my opinion.

How to Replace a Doorbell/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

The hole has to be made bigger, so here’s what I used. My can’t-live-without-it Dremel moto-tool. If you don’t have one, buy one. I promise you’ll use it for all sorts of things.

Being very careful not to nick the wire, I whittled away the vinyl siding to a 5/8″ diameter hole. If you don’t have a moto-tool, you might be able to use a sharp utility knife to shave off some siding. However, when I replaced a doorbell at my last house, I also had to go through OSB that was underneath the siding. Not a big deal, as OSB was no match for my great and powerful Dremel, but you may have to resort to Swiss-cheesing the OSB with a small drill bit if you don’t have a moto-tool.

How to Replace a Doorbell/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Once I felt the hole was big enough, I loosened the screws on the new doorbell.

How to Replace a Doorbell/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I then placed the wires around the new screws and tightened them. It doesn’t matter on a doorbell which wire goes on which screw. Honestly, you can’t screw this up.

How to Replace a Doorbell/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Then I pushed the wires and guts into the wall.

How to Replace a Doorbell/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I turned the breaker back on so I could test the doorbell before I went any further, just in case…And it worked! A doorbell never sounded so good.

Of course, as I expected, the new holes didn’t match up with the old ones.

How to Replace a Doorbell/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I drilled two new holes and screwed the doorbell to the siding. Soooo much better!

How to Replace a Doorbell/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

And here she is at night.

How to Replace a Doorbell/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

This is a simple thing to do to make your entry look nice. There were only three steps in the instructions, for heaven’s sake. You can do this!

How to Replace a Doorbell/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Changing out this doorbell took me between 15 and 20 minutes from start to finish, and was well worth the $15.00 it cost. The most time-consuming part was figuring out which breaker to shut off, which is a real treat if you’re doing this by yourself and have to go up and down a flight of stairs.

And just for kicks, here’s my freshly painted, sunny yellow front door with my new doorbell in tow. The door was white before and very, very dirty. Now my entry says, “Hello!”

Yellow Front Door/HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

This post was written by Tracy Evans who is a Journeyman Painter and Certified Home Stager /Redesigner. Feel free to visit her website at www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com to view more before and after pictures of her projects. And if you enjoy gardening, you may want to visit her gardening blog at MyUrbanGardenOasis.