Self-contained receptacles and switches are easily recognized at a glance by the lack of the small screws that secure the cover plate of a regular receptacle or switch in place, as shown in the photo above. They are usually found in mobile homes and recreational vehicles, although the devices are also UL-listed for installation in site-built homes.
The cover plate is secured by two plastic prongs at the back that snap into place over the receptacle and can be easily pulled off. If you are not familiar with self-contained receptacles, it can be surprising when you pull the cover plate and discover there is no electrical box behind it, just a hole in the wallboard, as in the photo below.
There is a also a specially designed tool for connecting NM-cable to self-contained devices that slits and forms the cable for easier installation in body assembly, as in the photo below.
Self-contained receptacles and switches have the advantage of being easier and faster to install, and require less wall depth than a regular receptacle; but one electrician we talked with is not too fond of them, and replaces self-contained devices with regular ones in an electrical box when they fail.
Also, see our blog post What are the most common problems/defects found with electric receptacle outlets during a home inspection?
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To learn more about electrical wiring, devices, and receptacles, see these other blog posts:
• What is the difference between what trips a GFCI (ground fault) receptacle and a circuit breaker?
• What is the code requirement for GFCI protection for receptacles near a wet bar sink?
• What is the requirement for a service receptacle outlet for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HACR) equipment?
• Why is an opening in the wall around the side of an electrical receptacle outlet a safety defect?
• When was GFCI-protection for kitchen dishwasher receptacle outlet first required?
• What is allowable voltage range at a wall receptacle outlet in a house?
• When should I replace electric receptacle outlets?
• Does an electric receptacle outlet in a storage shed require GFCI protection?
• What is the difference between an electrical receptacle, an outlet, and a plug?
• Does a washing machine receptacle outlet require GFCI protection?
• What is the building code requirement for receptacle outlets at stairs and stair landings?
• Can I remove a 240-volt range receptacle and hard-wire the range?
• What is a "backstab" receptacle outlet?
• Why are some electric receptacle outlets upside down (ground slot up) in a house?
• What is the height requirement for an electric receptacle outlet?
• Where are GFCI receptacle outlets required?
• When were GFCI receptacle outlets first required?
• Does a home inspector remove receptacle outlet cover plates?
• What is the minimum height for an exterior receptacle outlet?
• When was the current receptacle/outlet spacing of 12-feet first required?
• What is reversed polarity at an outlet/receptacle? Why is it dangerous?
• How high above the floor do electric outlets/receptacles in a garage have to be?
• How far apart should electric receptacles be spaced in a bathroom?
• Is an ungrounded electric receptacle outlet dangerous?
• My bathroom electric receptacle/outlet is dead and there are no tripped breakers in the electric panel. What's wrong?
• Is there an adapter that can be placed on a two-slot receptacle to make it safe?
• How do the new tamper-resistant electric outlets work?
• Why is there no bathroom electric receptacle in this old house?
• How can I tell if the electric receptacle outlets are grounded?
• How far apart should the electrical receptacles be placed?
• What are the most common problems/defects found with electric receptacle outlets during a home inspection?
Visit our ELECTRICAL page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.