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A metal outlet box installed on wood lath using small wood screws.

Install Outlet in an Existing Wall

Dear Mr. Electrician: I want to install an outlet in an existing wall on a dedicated circuit for my window air conditioner?  I've got it figured out how to run the 12/2 NM-B cable from the main circuit breaker electrical panel in the basement up through the wall under the living room window.  How do I install an electrical receptacle box in the wall that will contain the wire and support the receptacle? Answer:  To install an outlet in an existing wall requires a lot of measuring.  Assuming that you will be drilling a hole from below and fishing the cable into the outside wall, the best place to cut a hole and mount a box is adjacent to a wall stud.  That way the electrical box can be screwed through its side directly to the wood to make it solid.  NOTE: Some text links below go to applicable products on Amazon or EBay. LOCATE WALL STUD TO INSTALL OUTLET BOX Locating a wall stud may not be that easy.  I usually use an existing wall receptacle or switch as a reference.  If they were installed at the time that the house was built, then they are most likely mounted on wall studs. I would remove the wall plate from the existing receptacle or switch and poke a long thin screwdriver to the right and to the left of the electrical box.  I would also push the box a little to see if it pivots.  Usually the side that is mounted to the stud will not move. In newer homes with drywall I also look for indications of nail holes that were spackled over in order to locate wall studs.  After I have a few studs spotted, I measure over to the area where I would like to cut a hole for a receptacle.  In most home construction the wall studs are sixteen inches apart, but that is not always the case. Sometimes wall studs are twenty four inches apart.  On some taller condominium buildings I have found the outside walls to have studs at twelve inches apart.  Measurement is from center to center and I always measure twice.  If I am lucky my measurement will correspond with a spackled nail hole which confirms that I have a stud.  Tool and material list below. One trick I learned from my dad is to measure 48" from the inside corner of any wall.  There should always be a wall stud there because drywall and paneling are 48" wide and need a stud to land their edge on for support and nailing. On older homes with plaster walls it is not as easy to find a wall stud.  There are no indications of nail holes and sometimes outlets have been installed in the baseboard molding. The use of electronic stud finders on plaster walls can be limited because of the inconsistencies of the old plaster keys and wood lathe.  In this situation the window itself may be the best indicator.  There should be at least one stud on each side...
A fiberglass fish rod is used here to fish a Type NM-B cable through a ceiling.

Wire Pulling Using Coat Hangers, Fish Tapes, Rods

Dear Mr. Electrician: How do I fish wires in the wall?  I don't want to spend a lot of money for special tools that I may only use once.  Can I use a metal coat hanger for wire pulling through a wall? Answer: My experiences with using metal wire coat hangers to fish wires through walls and ceilings have not been very good.  The metal used in the manufacture of coat hangers is a soft mild steel that bends easily.  When a coat hanger wire is pushed into a wall it becomes distorted and is not very controllable as to direction.  NOTE: Text links below go to applicable products on Amazon and EBay. WIRE PULLING FISH TAPES For working at home where you probably will not be installing long runs of electrical conduit, a twenty five foot fish tape would be adequate for your wire fishing jobs.  In my inventory of tools I have several short pieces of fish tape of varying lengths from one foot to around eight feet.  They were all broken off of much longer fish tapes after getting bent or twisted the wrong way A metal Fish Tape is made of hardened steel with some flexibility built in.  It is mostly rigid, but can be bent slightly to get around obstacles.  It is excellent for fishing wires in walls and pulling wires through conduit.  If the hook breaks, you can heat the metal up and bend a new one. The sloped ceiling in the photo above made it easy for me to push my fish tape up into the attic.  There was a space between the top plate of the wall and the ceiling joists big enough to put my hand through.  Once the wire was pulled in it was simple to push it through a drilled hole in the top plate and then fish it down the wall to a new switch box. When I began working on electrical jobs in the early 1960's the metal fish tapes available at the time were either loose or on a rigid metal reel.  The loose fish tapes were usually coiled into a short piece of flexible metal conduit. I would cringe whenever I had to wind the fish tape back onto one of those old metal reels.  My hands would hurt from trying to pull it into the tight metal grooves.  Eventually an attachment winder was made to make the process easier.  I was in wire pulling heaven after my father bought a new plastic reel to wind the fish tape on.  So much easier. WIRE PULLING FISH RODS There are also Fiberglass Rods made for pulling wires through walls and ceilings.  These are available in different lengths and thicknesses and are excellent for pushing through insulated walls.  They don't flex as much as a fish tape which is good if you are pushing it across an attic. Wire pulling rods come in at least three different diameters depending on the manufacturer.  5/32", 3/16", 1/4'. The smallest diameter is extremely flexible and the largest diameter is...