I recently constructed a built-in desk and bookshelf in my upstairs
There was an outlet on the wall that happened to be right where two
bookshelves joined together. I had to remove the cover plate and
outlet in order for the bookshelves to be flush against the wall. I
removed the socket and rejoined the wires together using wire nuts. I
then pushed the wires back into the box and put my shelves in front of
it...without using a cover plate. Its this last part that I'm kinda
regretting now that the built-in is complete.
Should I have put a cover plate over that or will the wire nuts be
sufficient? None of the wires were anywhere near crossing each other
but I still have a little anxiety about it. I'm pretty sure I know
what the pro's would do...
Opinions? I'm probably breaking major building codes doing that too.
If you twisted the wires ( holds the wires from pulling out of nut)before
the nut was put on and there is no exposed copper at the nut a cover plate
will be fine. The plate is to prevent anyone or thing getting at the wires.
With the cover plate on this should meet code.
I'm taking it for granted that white-white black-black ground- ground where
If I'm understanding you correctly, you have blocked access to a junction
box by constructing the bookshelves over the junction box. If this is what
you have done, then the lack of a cover plate is only part of the problem.
The National Electrical Code requires ALL splices be forever accessible. If
you are required to remove building "finish" materials to gain access to
splices, that does not meet he definition of accessibility.
Secondly, if you sell the house, how will the next owner have any idea where
to look for this splice? Splices do occassionally need attention.
If you've made a decent splice, the lack of a cover in this case is probably
not a safety issue as NO ONE is likely to accidently touch ANY of these
Licensed Electrical Contractor
Kasten Electric Company
St. Peters, MO
So many interesting answers!
Yes, you needed to have a cover plate. An electrical box is supposed to
contain an electrical fire. Presumably your bookshelves are combustible?
Admittedly, the chances of an arc in the connections severe enough to cause
a fire are very very small, but I wouldn't be comfortable with it. If you
had fastened a piece of sheet metal over the opening, that probably would
have been okay, even if it didn't meet code.
I wouldn't be comfortable at all.
19 years ago I had a small fire in an interior wall of a 50 year old house
(small, only because my 3 year old daughter came to me at 1:30 PM and
insisted I come look at the "pretty lights" in the living room behind the
clock, and I caught it in time) due to a splice that shorted and caught the
wall on fire.
The splice was in a box, with no lid, and then drywalled over. I had no idea
it was there.
Essentially, it was a time bomb that took 45 years to go off ... thank
goodness in the afternoon, instead of 1:30 in the morning.
well, I am suggesting metal rather than drywall. There isn't much
difference between sheet metal and a blank box cover.
but, how did the wall catch fire? I would expect the dry wall to be
charred, but it shouldn't have actually caught fire.
I should have had a fire when a mouse chewed through a wire right next to
where we kept napkins. His front half vaporized, but miraculously the
napkins didn't catch.
That's what makes it chilling, eh?
It "shouldn't have", but it did!
By the time I got there the stud the box was attached to was in flames ...
indeed a 'chilling' event.
With a young child in the house, and even after I tore out the drywall all
the way to the ceiling on both sides of the wall, and was absolutely sure
that there was not a spark left (there was no 'fire blocking' of studs in
those days, apparently) to come back to life, I spent that entire night, and
the next day, awake and on "fire watch".
Shudder every time I recollect it.
I can relate.
It was lucky that you had a bright kid who wanted to show her dad some
I moved into a house that had all kinds of compromised electrical work. No
doubt, done by some bumpkin who wanted to "save money" and had no concept of
safety. I went nuts and replaced everything that I could. It already had a
new breaker box and half of the wiring was new. But no ground connections
were made in any of the new wiring.
There was a big basement that was lighted by a number of recycled 8 foot
commercial flouescent fitures. There was one right at the foot of the
stairs. I was coming down the stairs just a week or so after moving in one
day. I smelled something funny coming out of the fixture.
I popped of the cover and some smoke came out. There was varnish dripping
out of the ballast! I immediately turned off the lights and stood vigil
until everything was cool. I then pulled out all the ballasts from all the
fixtures. Every single one of them was melting and a fire was just days
away from happening. He must of got a great deal on these fixtures.
I replaced the ballasts on the lights and everything worked just fine for
the next 24 years. I was quite upset at the time. And I still get a chill
thinking about how close I cane to having a newly purchased house burn to
You only have to go through that once to get a healthy respect for ALWAYS
following the best electrical practices known to man.
To this day, as a builder, I take a strong personal interest in inspecting
all the electrical work _myself_ before insulation/drywall goes up.
Not to mention that it is a constant battle with sheetrockers who cover up
electrical receptacles (hell, even AC vents) in their haste to get to the
I _ALWAYS_ take digital pictures of every single wall in the entire house
after electrical, plumbing and HVAC rough-in, and before insulation, put
those photos on a CD, and ultimately give them to the purchaser in the
"house book" we always supply for appliances, fixtures, warranties, etc.
As a homeowner, it is something I appreciate greatly, just for the safety
aspects. And, as a builder, I can't tell you how many times that one
practice has saved my butt during electrical trim out ... and I get to sleep
at night. :)
Do it right the first time, and you'll save money in the long run. If
code calls for a cover plate, put a cover plate on. Consider this also:
Electrical boxes are great places for bugs to hide. You don't really
want to have to work on the box and deal with spider webs, do you?
Wise is the man who attempts to answer his question before asking it.
To email me directly, send a message to puckdropper (at) fastmail.fm
So then what type of wiring is it? Romex? Wire in conduit?. If it is
properly installed romex ripping out the drywall to unstapled it would
not work for me. But by passing and disconnecting the romex and
leaving it there very appealing. Wire in conduit piece of cake though.
Side note the new place has a fuse panel, and it is staying.
(sixoneeight) = 618
The lack of a cover plate is a code violation, yes, but that's the least of
your worries. The National Electrical Code requires all splices and junctions
to be accessible, and specifically defines "accessible" thus:
"Capable of being removed or exposed without damaging the building structure
or finish or not permanently closed in by the structure or finish of the
A junction box that has a built-in bookcase over it does not qualify as
The best solution to this problem is to locate the other end of each of the
two cables that enter this box, and disconnect them. Then run a new cable via
a different route, bypassing the segment you just disconnected.
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
But, a built-in bookcase with a built-in hinged door in the back to access
the box probably would. If you do it right, it could be quite unobtrusive,
and completely invisible when the shelf is filled with books. I suspect
that would satisfy both the letter and the spirit of the code.
Another option would be to cut a hole in the back of the built-in directly
over the box, and add an extender ring to the box to bring it flush with the
inside surface of the built-in. Then attach the cover plate of your choice.
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
I guess I have mixed feelings here, I recognize the dangers but have serious
problems with electrician's high hourly rates in particular when the
required job skill level is so low . Basically in this region their only
claim to fame is the fact is they can sign off that the job is in fact to
code regardless of their crappy work.
In my opinion if their rates were reasonable far less people would be doing
basic wiring themselves. Im my case I read the books then wired my complete
shop all the electrician did was to inspect it and confirm it was up to code
and connect it to the mains . The only reason to use a "certified"
electrician was that is all the inspector would accept.....and you know
what, I still considered it expensive .....mjh
I'm afraid I have to disagree with you on a couple of points. IMO, the reason
so many folks go the DIY route has less to do with the hourly rates charged by
electricians than with the widespread misperception that "the the required job
skill level is so low."
It's *not* a low-skill job.
Almost any fool can install residential wiring so that it works. Installing it
so that it works, *and* is safe, isn't quite so simple. I've encountered, and
corrected, these problems (among others) created by the previous owners of my
+ light switch in the neutral instead of the hot
+ 14-2 BX made to do the job of 14-3 by using the cable armor as a conductor
+ 3-way switches installed with 12-2, using the ground conductor as a traveler
+ hot and neutral reversed on a receptacle
+ outdoor outlet unprotected by GFCI
+ 20A breaker on a circuit with 14ga wire
+ 30A fuse on a circuit with 14ga wire
+ Romex run through an ungrommeted hole in a steel cold air return duct
+ aluminum wire connected to copper with copper-only wire nuts
+ aluminum wire connected to copper-only receptacles
+ cross-connected neutrals in two junction boxes on different circuits
+ Edison circuits not identifed as such and having no common disconnect
+ 100A overcurrent protection on a circuit dedicated to a 1/2 HP well pump
+ abandoned live wires in circumstances very similar to the one Swingman
described (though without the "pretty colored lights")
+ 60A subpanel fed from another subpanel with 10/3 Romex ...
+ ... attached to the *hot* side of the lugs (so that the only overcurrent
protection for the 10-ga feeder was the 200A service disconnect)
All of these things "work". Not one of them is safe. But because they function
as expected, the idiots who installed them probably didn't give them a second
I think any person of normal intelligence and mechanical ability, who takes
the trouble to familiarize himself with the proper materials and methods of
installation, and with the applicable portions of the NEC, is capable of
installing residential wiring safely. Trouble is, there are a LOT of people
who don't even know that there IS a National Electrical Code, let alone have
any idea WHY.
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.