Eco-Saturday: Switchplate insulators

When I was little bitty, we lived in a huge, drafty old house that was in the process of being renovated. During the bitterly cold winter of 1978-’79, that house was unbearably cold, and Mom did absolutely everything she could think of to try to seal out the drafts and keep us warm. One of her projects involved recycling styrofoam meat trays into insulation for the electrical outlets. Thirty-five years later, it’s still a good project, especially for outlets on exterior walls, where the space around the sockets traps cold air.

I like this project because it doesn’t cost anything and can be done in a matter of minutes.


1. Start by removing the switchplates you want to insulate. You’ll use them as patterns.


2. Lay the switchplates on the styrofoam trays and trace around them with a pen.


3. Cut them out. On the outside edges, don’t cut along the lines; just use them as guides to cut about an eighth of an inch inside them.


4. Check the fit. If the styrofoam doesn’t fit inside the switchplate, trim the edges until it does.


5. For light-switch covers, cut out the openings and use a pen to make holes for the screws to go in. For outlets, instead of poking a hole for the screw, completely remove the narrow strip of styrofoam between the two openings.

6. Slip the styrofoam insulator into the back of the switchplate and screw it back onto the wall.

This works best with fairly thin styrofoam. The pink tray you see above worked fine; the green one was a little too thick and made the switchplate stick out from the wall.