4 Expert Tips To Choose Switch Plates

As new homeowners will discover, nothing is ever as simple as it seems and the same goes for choosing switch plates. There's a surprising amount of information available and choices to be made on switch plates, so we've put together this list of expert tips to help you make the best decisions possible.

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1. What are the types of switch plates available?

It probably comes as a surprise to discover that there are in fact, multiple types of switch plates available. There are actually a few technical differences that separate each type of switch and its necessary to understand them when choosing switch plates, so let's take a quick look at what they are.  

Decora 

Decora switch plates house a particular set of outlets or switches all designed to fit into the same opening, which is a rectangle approximately 2.5" in height by 1.25" in width. Normally, this opening is best suited for duplex power outlets, rocker switches and sliding dimmer switches

The decora shape is standardized, which makes swapping out or installing devices and switches easier. The wide opening is also particularly useful in installing wide rocker switches, which are easier for elderly people to use.

Decora Satin Nickel Switch Plates
Decora Switch Plates in Black and Silver Pewter
Decora Bronze Switch Plates
Matte Black Switch Plates
Victorian Styled Switch Plates in Nickel

Toggle 

Toggle switches are another extremely common switch type and look like a far narrower and smaller version of rocker or decora switches. These switches function identically to decora switches and are suitable for use at eye level.

Toggle 1-Light Switch Wall Plate
Bronze 2-Gang Toggle Switch Plate
Toggle Light Switch Plate in White
Brass 4-Gang Toggle Light Switch Plate
Floral Metal Toggle Light Switch Plate

Duplex

Duplex devices have two receptacles or switches on a single electrical box or housing. Normally, this housing is "single gang", which refers to the width of the electrical box or switch plate. It is possible for duplex switches to be found in multi-gang arrangements but these tend to be bulky and best used in locations out of direct eyesight.

White Duplex Switch Plate
Decorative Silver Duplex Switch Plate
Simple Bronze Duplex Switch Plate
Traditional Wooden Duplex Switch Plate
Decorative Chrome Duplex Switch Plate
Decorative Pewter Duplex Switch Plate

Dimmer

Dimmer switches are available as sliding, rocker, toggle and rotary switches that allow you to customize lighting in a room more than typical switches. Dimmer switches are a good fit for your A/V room or for creating ambiance in your dining or living room.

2. What gang should I use for my switch plates?

When discussing switch plates, you might've guessed that the word "gang" is not, in fact, referring to a group of hooligans. It describes the width of your electrical box and thus, the width of your switch plate. A single gang switch plate has the width for only one switch, a double gang the width for two and a triple gang the width for three switches.

It's likely necessary for you to consult with your electrician to get a comprehensive list of switch widths within your home, so you won't end up wasting time or your budget when purchasing.

1-Gang Switch Plate in Black
Deco 1-Gang Switch Plate in Gold Brass
1-Gang Switch Wall Plate in White
Classic Beaded 2-Gang Switch Plate
2-Gang Switch Wall Plate in Pewter
Golden Metal 2-Gang Switch Plate

3. How to maximize the switch plate style on a budget?

Building or redecorating a home can be expensive so finding creative ways to minimize your spend is a useful skill to have. When it comes to choosing switch plates, you'd be surprised how quickly the costs can add up. Expensive designs and high-quality materials in your plates can drive costs up to $35 and up, per plate.

If you have a set budget that you're not willing to negotiate, one strategy you can employ to maximize your budget for both style and utility, is creating a switch map.

Step 1. Count the number of switch plates you'll need in each room

When conducting your initial count, you need to be sure to count according to type and position. For instance, most outlet switch plates are located below eye level and are best considered for utility as opposed to style. You can save a lot of money on expensive styles by choosing plainer plates for switches and outlets located behind couches.

Step 2. Prioritize the most visible and frequently used switches

Now that you've accounted for the "utility" focused switch plates in your rooms, start accounting for those you think will do best with stylish designs. You can do this by entering each room on your list once more and making a slow, eye-level spin around the room.

Switches that immediately catch your eye during this spin can be marked off initially for high-quality designs instead of budget-saving ones. These switches are likely to stand out since they are eye level, so stylish designs will give you maximum value used here.

Step 3. Draw an outline of your desired plate on the most visible switches

Being able to physically visualize your plates of choice, in the spots they'll be located in your home is a necessary final step to this procedure.  By doing this, you'll get a deeper insight into how your plates will actually look.

If you can, try ordering a single sample plate of each variety you want to experiment with. Often times, being able to use a physical sample will help you eliminate certain choices from your original list. Some plates simply don't look as good as you expected them to, when contrasted with surrounding décor and light conditions.

By placing your physical sample, you'll discover small things in each room that shift your opinion. For example, a single-gang, dimmer switch in your A/V room may not need the stellar design you had in mind originally. A/V rooms are best appreciated in dim or no light, which means having a décor appropriate, accent switch is probably not necessary, since it'll be out of sight more often than not.

NOTE: If you can't or don't want to order a physical version of your switch plate, consider printing the design using your computer and using this budget replica to finish the process outlined above.

1-Gang Switch Plate in Greek Style
Dark 1-Gang Switch Plate in Greek Style
Victorian 2-Gang Switch Plate in Silver
Rustic Wooden Styled 1-Gang Switch Plate
Simple Bronze 1-Gang Switch Plate
Classic Architecture 2-Gang Switch Plate in White

4. What switch plate styles should I consider?

When thinking about style options for your light switches, try to bear them in mind as finishing touches. For example, if you're in the process of redoing your front door and you're upgrading from plain white, to a profound statement like a carved hardwood door - Greek styles switch plates could be a good option for you.

Usually colored bronze or aged silver, Greek switch plates feature gracious curves and bold borders which help your door make a statement. Victorian themed switch plates also work well to accent bold statements like hardwood doors, or tiled driveways and garages.

If your décor has a variety of colors with a modern theme, consider solid color switch plates that are complementary to the primary colors of your room. For example, yellow switch plates are exciting and dynamic accents in rooms that are primarily purple themed.

Brushed aluminum switch plates fit well into modern, minimalistic households which feature technology as centerpieces. If you are the owner of a smart kitchen, which features a few touch screens, having plain plastic, beige switch plates, dulls - or kills - the effect you are aiming for. Instead, opt for some brushed aluminum plates to put a modern accent on a modern room.

Lily is a modern designer with great appreciation for sleek architecture, a love for art in its many forms, and a passion for sharing her experience with people. If you’re looking for advice on how to modernize your old-fashioned place or make your new restaurant a visual blast, she’s definitely the one to ask.