While it's always a good idea to call an electrical contractor to perform major electrical repairs or upgrades, there are some jobs that require no special tools and little knowledge of electrical components. Fixing a loose outlet box is one of these tasks.
Why would an outlet box come loose?
Your electrical outlets are installed inside an outlet box in your wall. If the outlet was installed after the home was built, the outlet box had to be installed inside a finished wall, instead of being nailed to a wall stud before the wall was added.
Outlet boxes that are installed in finished locations are held in place by two screws that run alongside the box. These screws have flat plastic flaps on the end that run parallel and flat against the sides of the box, so they don't interfere as the box is pushed into the wall slot that is cut to fit the box.
When the outlet box is pushed in completely, and it is flush with the wall, the screws are then turned. This action first causes the flaps to turn ninety degrees until they are perpendicular to the outlet box. As the screws are tightened, the flaps are pulled toward the inside of the wall. When they are tight against the inside surface of the wall, the outlet box is held in place.
Occasionally, these flaps may come loose from residents pulling plugs from an outlet with too much force, or they break when the screws are tightened too much. When this occurs, the outlet box will pull away from the wall when a plug is removed from the outlet. It is rare that the outlet is pulled completely out of the wall.
Repairing a loose outlet box
You can simply purchase a new box and remove one of the flaps. A plastic outlet box can be purchased for less than one dollar at a discount or home improvement store. Be sure to buy the correct type of box, with two long screws that have flat rounded plastic flaps attached. Don't buy a box for new construction, which has two nails attached sideways.
Even though you won't be handling the wiring, you should still turn off the circuit breaker that controls power flow to the outlet. If you're not sure which breaker is the correct one, plug a working appliance into the outlet and begin turning off breakers. When the appliance shuts off, you've found the correct breaker.
Remove the center screw of the cover plate with a flat head screwdriver, and move it away from your work area. The screw is very small and easy to lose.
Next, you will loosen the screws that are located in opposite corners of the outlet box. Don't loosen the center screws that hold the outlet inside the box.
When the screws are loose enough that you can pull the outlet box from the wall, check the ends of the screws for missing flaps. Remove one or both flaps from the new outlet box by turning the screws counterclockwise and holding the flaps in place, noting the location of the flaps on the outlet.
You will then place the flap(s) in the same position at the ends of the screw(s) of the old outlet. Turn the screw(s) clockwise until the flaps are secured to the ends of the screws, but keep them parallel to the sides of the box.
Push the box inside the wall slot until it is flush with the wall, then tighten the retaining screws until the outlet box is secured inside the wall. Insert a plug into each outlet and pull it out to be certain that the outlet box is properly secured.
Replace the cover plate, turn on the breaker, and you're finished. For assistance with more complicated electrical work, contact a company like Conway Electric.