Do you have loose outlets in your home — you know, the ones where the receptacle wiggles every time you plug or unplug a cord? More than likely the drywall guys cut the hole too big, and the ears on the receptacle don’t land on the drywall. In the past I’ve used small washers or nuts to space the outlet far enough out from the wall so the cover plate fits correctly, but I noticed these Caterpillar spacers from Buchanan (Ideal) the other day when I was walking through Home Depot and decided to give ’em a try.
The 3/4″ by 3/8″ Caterpillar spacer/shims are designed to support loose outlets. They’re small enough to fit behind the receptacle, yet large enough to stabilize the outlet. You can choose as many or as few as you need. The spacers stack and interlock in a way that creates a slot that can slip over #6, #8, or #10 screws. This means you don’t have to completely remove the screw to install them. The picture above is a composite of two diagrams I scanned from the bag — it does a better job explaining visually how they work.
The Caterpillars come in a strip with eight interlocking spacers. You can buy packages containing 5, 25, or 500 strips. Home Depot sells the packs of 5 and 25 strips for $2 or $6 respectively.
The above picture is from one of the outlets in my shoddily built addition. The drywall for every outlet was cut too big, so the ears miss the drywall completely. This outlet was a perfect candidate for trying the Caterpillar shims, as the receptacle moved quite a bit whenever I plugged any cords into it.
Getting started, I looked at the depth that the box was recessed, and I judged that I’d need three spacers. So I clipped off three spacers from the strip and locked them together. I backed the receptacle screws out to the point where I could slip the spacers over the screw, but with three spacers I ended up pulling the screw out completely anyway to get enough room to install them.
When I screwed both screws back into place with the spacers, I realized the three spacers made the outlet stand proud of the wall, so the cover didn’t fit flush. I ended up removing a spacer from the top and bottom and screwing the receptacle back into place. This time the cover plate fit correctly. I tested the outlet by plugging and unplugging a cord, and there was very little wiggle.
The Caterpillar spacers worked well for my application. If you have experience with these spacers, or if you have your own method of securing loose outlets and switches, let us know in the comments.
Caterpillars [Galesburg Electric]