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.
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.
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.
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.
So I cut the wire, and pulled it out.
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.
I removed the screws and pried the box out of the drywall.
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.
Then I measured the size of the hole and transferred the measurement onto the front side of the piece of drywall.
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.
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.
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.
I peeled off all of my edge pieces, leaving the center rectangle stuck to the drywall paper. This is my patch.
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!
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.
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.
I made sure to countersink my screws a little bit.
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…
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.)
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!
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!
Here’s one of my two partial holes.
Then I cut this patch the same way as the first one.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Finally all my patches were test fitted.
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.)
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.
I inserted my patch.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is messy and takes a little bit of patience.
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!
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.
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.