How to get rid of outlet drafts

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Any hole in the wall or ceiling is a potential leaking point for air infiltration. Air infiltration reduces energy efficiency, room comfort and can cause condensation issues with conductive materials. Electrical outlets often have a stream of cold or warm air blowing through them. Although many inventions such as wall plate gaskets, and caulking have been used in modern construction, this problem still persists because of building movements and inadequate insulation, and air sealing behind the outlet boxes. This can be fixed, however, to take care of outlet drafts once and for all.

Things You'll Need

  • Screw driver
  • Electrical pen tester
  • Can of spray foam insulation
  • Serrated steak knife
  • Shut the power off to the electrical outlet you are working on at the electrical panel. This prevents any shock hazards from occurring.

  • Unscrew the plate cover over the outlet or switch box with a screw driver. Set the cover with the screws in an area so you will not lose the pieces and they will not be in your way.

  • Test the outlet with an electrical test pen. This pen will light up if the outlet or switch is still electrified. If the pen indicates that the outlet is electrified, you will have to switch off breakers to test which one controls the flow of electricity to the outlet. Always make sure the power is off to the electrical box you are working on to avoid injury.

  • Pull out the outlet switch from the box and push the wiring out of the way so you can see inside the box. Locate where the wires come into the outlet box and any other holes in the outlet box. Take your screwdriver and run it back an forth at an upward angle under the outlet box. This prevents the face of the drywall from being damaged. Do the same on the top and the side not connected to the wall framing. This makes room for the spray foam.

  • Shake the can of spray foam insulation for 60 seconds. Insert the straw into the nozzle of the spray foam can and stick the straw into the slots you made in step 4 about one inch into the slots. Lightly press the spray foam trigger and you will hear the spray foam starting to come out of the can. Watch it go down the straw and into the slot. Move the straw down the slot as you spray the foam. Continue this all the way around the outlet. It takes about 20 minutes for the foam to fully expand and cure and you will be able to see later if touch ups are necessary in certain areas.

  • Spray small amounts of foam where the wires come through into the outlet. Fill any holes in the outlet box including unused wire openings and knock outs as these are often not sealed. Let the foam cure for 20 minutes. The foam should be hard to the touch. At this point, you may remove any amount of foam from inside the outlet box that will prevent the outlet itself from being re-installed. Using a serrated steak knife in a sawing motion works well for this operation.

    Put the outlet or switch back in the box and secure it to the outlet box with the screwdriver.

  • Check the edges around the outlet box to make sure the spray foam has expanded into the gap you made and filled it. Some over expansion is good as the foam can be cut back and removed for the outlet and cover. Touch up any areas as necessary, waiting 20 minutes to let the foam completely harden and cure. Remove any excess foam with the serrated steak knife and re-install the outlet cover.

    Repeat this process for any other leaking outlets.

Tips & Warnings

  • Warm the can of foam up before use by putting it in the sun for a few minutes, or if it is cold, next to a heat register. Foam expands more and has a better chemical structure at approximately 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Be careful not to damage the drywall around the outlet box as there is not a lot of room for error. You only need enough room to get the straw into the crease which should be easy as the diameter of the straw is approximately 1/8 inch.
  • Do not touch foam as it is curing. It will stick to everything and is very hard to remove. If you get spray foam on your hands, use paint thinner or unleaded gasoline to remove the foam.

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References

  • Photo Credit Light Switch and Outlet image by Towards Ithaca from Fotolia.com
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