on September 24 2013
Wall plates serve a simple but essential function: keeping wires out of sight and away from fingers. With a wide variety of colors and materials to choose from, wall plates can also complement the décor of any room. This buying guide explains how to find the right wall plate for every outlet, switch, and phone or data jack in your home.
Factors to Consider
• Configuration – Applications, gangs and combination plates
• Style – Basic thermoplastic plates, decorative plates, conventional vs. screwless plates
• Size – Standard, midsize and jumbo
Wall plates come in a range of configurations, designed to fit different types of outlets, switches, and phone or data jacks. To find the right wall plate for your needs, consider the application, number of gangs and the combination configuration.
The first step in selecting a wall plate is to identify the types of outlets, switches and phone or data jacks you
need to cover. Refer to the table below to match wall plate designs to common applications.
Some switch, outlet and wall jack designs eliminate the need for a separate wall plate. The plate and device may be integrated into a single unit, or the device may come packaged with a specialty plate. For example, in many electronic dimmer designs, the cover plate is part of the switch housing. Home theater connections, like HDMI or component video, typically do not require a separate wall plate.
Each side-by-side element in an electrical box is called a gang. For example, a 3-gang switch plate would have openings for three side-by-side switches. Gang does not always refer to number of openings in a plate. For example, a 2-gang duplex outlet plate accommodates two side-by-side duplex receptacles, giving it a total of four openings.
• The standard household outlet is a single-gang, duplex receptacle, but 2-gang duplex outlets are also
• Household switch plates are typically single-gang, 2-gang, 3-gang or 4-gang.
• Commercial buildings often include switch plates with five or more gangs.
If you have an electrical box with more than one type of switch, outlet, or wall jack, you need a combination plate. As an example, one common combination wall plate includes openings for a duplex outlet and a single light switch. You can also find combination plates for multiple switches and outlets, multiple switch types, and multiple data line types.
Wall plates fall into two general categories: basic thermoplastic plates, sometimes called contractor plates, and decorative plates, made from a wide range of materials.
Thermoplastic Wall Plates
The most popular and most cost-effective wall plate material is thermoplastic. These wall plates are lightweight, sturdy and easy to clean. Nylon is an especially sturdy type of thermoplastic material that can withstand rough usage without cracking.
You can buy single thermoplastic plates, but if you plan to install plates throughout the house, you’ll save money by getting wall plate packs. Typically, outlet plates and switch plates are sold in packs of 10.
The standard thermoplastic plate colors are white, brown, black and various off-white shades, but more vibrant options are available as well.
Adding matching decorative wall plates to every outlet and switch can do a lot to enhance a room’s décor. Popular decorative materials include:
• Brushed nickel
• Stainless steel
In bathrooms and kitchens, metal wall plates are a nice complement to fixtures and cabinet hardware. Or, you can find ceramic plates that match your tile. For living rooms, dens, and bedrooms, look for materials that match furniture, wall finish or wall-hangings.
Another option is a specialty thermoplastic plate with a slot for a small section of wallpaper. Match the paper in the plate with the paper on the walls, and your outlets and switches will blend in seamlessly.
Conventional vs. Screwless
In a conventional wall plate design, the plate is a single unit, which you attach directly to the switch, outlet or jack with a matching screw. If you don’t want a visible screw on your wall plate, choose a screwless plate, also called a hidden screw plate. In this design, the wall plate comes with two pieces. You tighten a screw to attach the wall plate adapter to the switch, outlet or jack, and then snap the wall plate itself to this adapter.
There are three common wall plate sizes: standard, midsize/midway and jumbo. Refer to the chart below to see the typical dimensions for single and 2-gang plates in each size:
When selecting a size, the most important consideration is ensuring you completely cover the electrical box opening. If the opening is relatively large, you may need a jumbo plate to conceal it completely. Measure the opening to figure out the exact minimum height and width for your plate.
In some cases, you may not have enough room for a larger plate. For example, if you have a switch in a tight space between two doorways, you may only have enough room for a standard size wall plate.
For electrical boxes crowded with wires, you may want a wall plate with greater depth. This will provide extra room for the wires, making installation easier.