In a bathroom, an access panel is the no-demolition route to the back of faucets, the drain for a bathtub, and the mixing valve of a shower. When it's time for repairs and replacements, access is a snap instead of adding hit-and-miss wall demolition and patching on top of the plumbing chores. Access panels are particularly helpful when you're converting utility spaces like a basement, attic, or garage into a living area. By installing access panels, you preserve the ability to find and easily reach shut-off valves and drain cleanouts. But you don't have to limit the panels to plumbing applications. You can also utilize them for easily reaching breaker boxes, electrical junction boxes, runs of telephone and data cable, plus other uses.
You can purchase metal and plastic access panels in a wide variety of sizes—from fist-size to large enough to permit an average-size person to crawl through. Some styles of purchased panels permit a choice between easy surface mounting or flush mounting. Flush mounting is slightly more difficult but much less visible. Expect to spend roughly 20 minutes installing a small access panel. Before you begin, choose the location for your panel.
Level the housing for the flush-mounted panel on the wall and trace its outline with a pencil. Using a jab saw, cut out the hole. To get the best fit, keep the edges of the cut square to the surface of the wall.
For flush installation, the entire housing goes into the hole and is held by construction adhesive between the flange and the back surface of the wall. Test-fit the housing before applying adhesive. The housing shown is designed for a flush fit in 5/8-inch drywall. If your walls are thinner, add flat shims between the flange and drywall.
Editor's Tip: Inexpensive spring clamps do a great job of holding the plastic housing firmly against the wall until the construction adhesive sets. Clamping the housing lets you continue with other tasks without fear that you'll accidentally knock it out of position.
Fill any cracks between the housing and the wall with drywall compound. Sand smooth, and paint the housing and panel to match your wall. The finished result is barely noticeable.
Surface-mounting an access panel is quick and easy. At the chosen spot, level the housing on the wall and trace its outline with a pencil. Using a jab saw, cut out the hole.
Squirt a small bead of construction adhesive along the rear perimeter of the flange, and press the housing into place. The door simply snaps into position. If you paint the plastic the same color as the wall, caulk the edges of the housing to help blend it into the wall.
Tight clearances may make it impossible to install flush-mount access panels in some circumstances; you simply won't be able to get the housing through the hole. In new construction, you can install the housing before you hang the drywall. When you're remodeling, cut out an oversize rectangular piece of drywall, install the housing, then patch the piece into the wall.
It's easy to build your own access panels. If the panel is hidden inside a closet, you may want to skip the wood frame and simply screw a drywall panel directly to the framing.
If you do make the frame, size it so that it will hide the edges of the drywall panel. For framing stock, you can select economical flat lumber or opt for a decorative molding.
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