The Ultimate Guide to Wall Plates

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What is one thing that all homes have in common, besides four walls and a roof? They all have wall plates covering electrical devices, such as switches and receptacles. Whether you call them cover plates, switch plates, outlet covers, etc; they’re oftentimes overlooked and not given much thought. Not only are they an important aspect of every home’s design/decor, they act as a protective barrier between your family and dangerous live electrical wires. 

That said, there are a few important things to consider when picking the correct electrical wall plates and wiring devices for your home:

  • Style
  • Application(s)
  • Material
  • Color
  • Number of Gangs
  • Size

1. Wall Plate Styles

You probably haven’t put a lot of thought into wall plates and the styles available. Unless you’ve done electrical work yourself, switch plate covers and wall outlet covers probably all seem like the exact same thing. That’s understandable. But now that you’re putting some time into learning about wall plates, let’s break down the basics of the styles out there.

  • Screwless: A screwless wall plate is modern, clean-looking, and easy to install. When you go screwless, you get an elevated, more high-profile look with hardly any effort. Another big draw to screwless cover plates is the safety that comes with them. For example, when a child sees screws, they may invite curiosity and play. A strong-willed child with a screwdriver could easily remove the wall plate in just a few minutes, exposing them to dangerous electrical components. With a screwless switch plate, there’s nothing inviting about it, and there’s no need to worry about accidental shocks.
  • Toggle: Basically if you have a toggle-type switch, you’ll need toggle wall plates. There’s not much else to it. 
  •  Cable Management: A sleek-looking entertainment center is a big plus in any living space. More than likely, having an HGTV inspired custom entertainment area is on everyone’s list, but you may run into one small problem trying to achieve it: unsightly plugs and cords dangling from your TV. With the use of recessed receptacles and pass-through wall plates, you can hide those eyesores. Install either directly behind your TV for a clean, seamless look.

  • Media/Data/Phone: In most homes, you’ll find data ports installed for internet, phone, cable, etc. There are multiple options available, including screwless, decorator inserts, and standard wall plate variations. 
  •  Duplex: Identifying a duplex receptacle is easy: instead of a single rectangular cutout, you’ll notice two separate, rounded holes for each of the outlets.
  • Decorator/Standard: Decorator style wall plates and devices are easy to spot, they consist of a single rectangular cutout per each gang. This wall plate type is the most universal, allowing you to install a number of different devices without needing to buy a new switch plate.
  •  Blank: The best answer to spaces originally built for power, but not necessarily need to have power. For safety reasons you definitely want to use blank wall plates to cover exposed wiring and keep dust out of a junction box. Take advantage of midsize or oversize cover plates if you accidentally went a little crazy on the construction and need to hide some cosmetic mistakes…
  • Combination: This is a pretty broad category, but pretty self-explanatory. Combination cover plates come in configurations to accommodate varying setups across the plethora of residential builds out there, such as toggle/decorator, toggle/blank, toggle/duplex, decorator/blank, decorator/toggle, decorator/duplex, duplex/blank, etc. 

2. Wall Plate Materials

Now that you have a good understanding of wall plate styles, the second most important thing to consider is what material best suits your needs. Oftentimes plastic cover plates are the automatic go-to solution for residential spaces, but the durability and lifespan of this material can be mediocre at best. There are more suitable options out there, especially for commercial and industrial environments.

You may be thinking that your only “options” are plastic and metal outlet covers, which is not exactly groundbreaking news. However, there are some additional material options that may interest you:

  • Polycarbonate Thermoplastic (PCT): Unlike traditional plastic covers, switch plates made with thermoplastic are virtually indestructible, including a strong resistance against excessive heat and fading from light exposure. This material is great for residential and commercial spaces.
  • 430 Stainless Steel: Unlike plastic, stainless wall plates are extremely durable, including high resistance to heat, fading, and corrosive materials. Stainless steel is the most common type of metal wall plate, and it’s used for a variety of applications, especially in industrial and commercial spaces. 
  • Polished Metal: Get the same strength and properties of stainless steel outlet covers but with a more stylish, refined look. This type of wall plate can come in a variety of different metal finishes, however; brass and chrome are typically the most popular. Polished wall plates are often nickel-plated and may also come with brushed finishes.

You probably realize that this isn’t exactly a fully comprehensive list, as there are more “fragile” and less popular materials, such as wood, glass, ceramic, etc that are currently available. 

3. Wall Plate Colors & Finishes

Choosing a basic, white, electrical cover plate is a suitable option for some, but others who are more “design-minded” require more options. Choosing the right color of wall plates can be a tedious task, but it’s easier when there are a plethora of options.

  • Standard Colors: These colors are always available to the average customer in all sizes and styles, whereas designer wall plate color options are often more limited and expensive. Standard colors are typically:

  • Designer Colors: These colors have been developed with high-end home decor in mind. One thing to consider though, these color options may limit the style/type of device you can install due to availability and demand. While there are a multitude of color options available, it varies from company to company. So, here’s a list of the options that TOPGREENER currently offers:

  • Finishes/Textures: Many consumers in the market for wall cover plates will run across a few different types of finishes (depending on the brand and material). Typical wall plate finishes and textures include, but are not limited to:
    • Glossy
    • Matte
    • Brushed
    • Bordered 
    • Textured
    • Patterned (embossed) 

4. Wall Plate Sizes

Choosing what size wall plate you need is probably one of the easier decisions to make when replacing your current cover plates. For most, choosing standard size wall plates is an easy, no-brainer

However, there may be a few circumstances in which you’d need a little more coverage around your switches or receptacles: mainly when an electrical wall box installation gets a little messy. Any damage caused can easily be covered with a larger size wall plate, keeping you from spending extra money on potentially costly drywall repair. You can typically find all brands of wall plates in three sizes: 

5. Number of Gangs

When selecting new wall plates, you may need a little help with understanding the jargon, because it can sometimes be unclear. When discussing the number of “gangs” in relation to wall plate covers, this refers to each individual electrical component in a wall box. Keep in mind that when discussing different styles of wall plate covers, regardless of size, color, and material – the naming system for the number of gangs stays the same.

If you were on the hunt for a wall plate to fit a single switch, you would only need a 1-gang switch plate. For example, two receptacles would require a 2-gang outlet cover, 3 switches would require a 3-gang electrical wall plate, and so on and so forth. To put it simply, the number of wiring devices in a single wall box directly correlates with the number of gangs in a wall plate. 

For the most part, residential properties will probably not need electrical cover plates larger than 5-gangs. For more commercial or industrial applications, you can find wall plates with up to 6-gangs or larger (depending on brand and style).

2 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Wall Plates”

  1. My contract just installed Top Greener outlets with screwless covers . I need to level the outlet which requires removal of the screwless cover. I don’t want to damage the covers
    How are they removed??

    1. To remove screwless wall plates, there is a little tab at the top and bottom that you can use a screwdriver to pop off the front plate.

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