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

Install an Electrical Receptacle Outlet in an Existing Wall

Dear Mr. Electrician: How do I install an electrical receptacle outlet 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:  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: Text links below go to applicable products on Amazon.com 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 of the window that goes from floor to ceiling. For walls with regular drywall you have a...
A fiberglass fish rod is used here to fish a Type NM-B cable through a ceiling.

Fishing Wires in Walls & Ceilings Using Coat Hangers, Fish Tapes, Rods

 Fishing Wires with Coat Hangers, Fish Tapes, and Fiberglass 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 fishing wires 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.com 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. There are also Fiberglass Rods made for fishing 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. Amazon Sells Wire Pulling Gear I do keep a piece or two of coat hanger wire in my truck.  One piece is about a foot long and bent into an L shape at each end.  One bent end extends approximately 3.5" and the other end extends approximately 2.5". Before I cut a hole in a wall or ceiling I will make a small hole (Approximately 1/4") with an Awl or a long thin screwdriver into the center of the hole to be cut.  First I insert a long thin screwdriver or a short piece of fish tape straight into the hole to probe for obstacles.  If I detect no obstructions I will insert the screwdriver or fish tape at a sharp angle in four different directions to feel for pipes, ducts, wood, wires or anything else that might inhibit the installation of something into the wall or ceiling. My final step before cutting the hole is to insert the L shaped coat hanger into the wall or ceiling.  I push the coat hanger in and out while rotating to sense for obstructions.  I find that the coat hanger is particularly useful to detect anything that is up against the backside of the wallboard.  It is the best way that I have found to determine if Resilient Channel has been used to reduce sound transmission.  Because the Resilient Channel is against the backside of the wallboard it is difficult to detect when inserting a straight probe such as a screwdriver.  If there is insulation in the wall or ceiling you may find that it will inhibit the coat hanger and also cause it to bend as you push it in. I have also found it helpful to use a metal wire coat hanger to hook onto things inside of...