Common Varieties of Electrical Wall Plates

Almost every home and business has a variety of electrical wall plates, each designed for a specific purpose. Learning to identify them as well as why they are used can be very helpful for the average homeowner. In many cases, replacing one of these wall plates can be well within the abilities of the average do-it-yourself homeowner, especially since it is usually only necessary to replace the plate itself. However, working on electrical outlets can be very dangerous if you do not know what you are doing. Unless you are confident in your abilities, it is usually best to call a licensed electrician when repairs, replacements or additions are necessary. Here is a list of the most common electrical plates, along with why they are used.

Conventional Plates

These commonly used wall plates are used to switch lights off and on. They are identified by their average size and small switch, which is flipped up or down to control the lights. Although push button switches were commonly used many years ago, the up and down variety are now considered to be the standard.

Decorative Wall Plates

In most cases, decorative wall plates serve essentially the same purpose as conventional wall plates. However, they are designed in a much more decorative fashion, which can add a lot of style to a room. These plates are generally installed over a standard up and down light switch, and are available in a wide variety of materials and styles, such as metal, ceramic or wood.

Multi-Control Light Switches

Although many home light switches only control one outlet or fixture, in some cases it is more convenient to group several controls together in one location. For example, you might have a wall switch that includes multiple switches, or even one which combines a switch with a dimmer control, or a switch with an outlet. Regardless of how the switches are configured, you should be able to find a specialized plate that will provide you with the proper combination of controls. Although designing and wiring these kinds of combination controls is usually a job for an electrician, simply replacing the wall plate should be as easy as replacing a conventional wall plate.


Dimmer controls can be quite convenient when installed to control a light fixture, since they provide the ability to adjust the level of light. Depending on the style of the fixture, this adjustability could be provided by a round dial or a sliding lever. Although dimmer switches are not appropriate for controlling every kind of light, if one is already installed in your home, it should be a simple task to replace the plate.

Oversized Light Switches

In some cases, a larger light switch is desirable in a building instead of a standard conventional switch. Although these are not nearly as common in homes as they are in commercial buildings, you do occasionally find them. Instead of the usual up and down light switch, these controls generally utilize a rocker switch. Because these switches are less common, you will want to make sure to purchase the correct size and style if you have the need to replace one.

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