Ah, the New Year is solidly upon us. All that remains of the now seemingly distant holidays are some stray needles from the tree, stuck to your sock, and an impressive stack of credit card bills. Plus, it’s tax season. Suddenly, that home improvement project that you’d been planning (you know, the two-story addition with exotic hardwood floors, custom windows, Stickley furniture, and a zebra skin rug) seems a tad out of reach. Rather than an extreme makeover, your accountant now gently urges “scale back a bit. How about some new switch plates?”
Hey now, don’t scoff. Just because you’re losing the zebra skin doesn’t mean all is lost. A relatively minor investment, a few minutes with your Gyro screwdriver, and your flipping décor will soon make you the envy of all your electricity-consuming friends. And best of all, no zebras will have to make the ultimate sacrifice for your new look!
What Kind of Place IS This??
There are a LOT of options when it comes time to make the switch. Live in a sleek, modern dwelling? Probably want to avoid antique brass push-button style switches. Got a hulking, old, character-filled Victorian? Push-button switches could be just the ticket. Got young kids? There are lots of offerings to liven up their rooms, with themes including sports, animals of every stripe, superheroes, and cartoon characters. Kids grown up and gone? Could be time to lose the souvenir Disney wall plate from 1988; hell, maybe you can sell it on EBay and make enough to pay for a couple of more stylish items. Or maybe not.
We’re remodeling our old farmhouse with a Craftsman-style theme (the building style, not the tools from Sears). All the trim will be oak, and we’ll be putting in Arts & Crafts-style light fixtures. To make those fixtures do our bidding, I’ll be putting in new switches, and surrounding them with some Arts & Crafts-style switch and outlet plates from the House of Antique Hardware, or maybe from Artifaqt, or perhaps from SwitchHits. Choosing the style and supplier is my wife’s domain; I get the easy part — I just have to install them.
Aside from style, another consideration is material. Love the look of natural wood? Craving ceramic? Want to admire yourself in a mirrored plate? It’s all out there, along with pretty much anything else you can think of: bamboo, chrome, stone, stainless steel, pewter, copper, brass, bronze, marble, and a specialty plate made to accept a piece of your wallpaper, in case your idea of a beautiful switch plate is one that disappears. There are a wide variety of painted plates available, and even several billion made of…plastic! Most places that sell these items offer them in several configurations, so you’ll be able to match up switch and outlet plates, and take care of most combinations of multiple switches and/or outlets.
While You’re At It…
Yes, I know those are the four most expensive words in the DIY world, but in this case, since you’re pulling off all those switch covers anyway, now would be a great time to install some dimmer switches. We have them in our bathrooms, kitchen, dining room, family room, hallways, and a couple of bedrooms. They’re not that expensive, they’re easy to install, and you get a lot more control over how much light shines down upon you, to create the perfect mood for the moment. Best of all, they can slow down that frantically-spinning wheel on your electric meter a bit.
Another cool low-budget upgrade you might consider is one of the new Leviton USB Charging Receptacles. Designed to replace a standard outlet, the unit has two USB ports and uses smart technology to optimize the charging rate for the connected device. You can plug in two phones, tablets or other electronic devices, and still have an outlet free.
A special note for parents: If you do put a kid-friendly design in your child’s room, be aware that doing so will make your outlets into kid magnets. This makes it much more likely they’ll do something childlike, for example jamming their Sponge-Bob fork into said attractive outlet. The new electrical code requires tamper-proof outlets, which are designed to prevent anything other than a plug from being inserted. If you have little ones around, it’s probably not a bad idea to invest a few bucks, and a couple of hours of time with your electrical tools, to swap out your old outlets for the new, safer type.
The local big box store is a good place to go if you’re looking for the same old same old, and you may find a few more stylish choices, maybe a wood or brass plate or two. Out there in cyberspace, though, the choices are almost limitless, with switch plates patterned after everything from angels to zebras. Lifes A Switch Plate offers one called Bear in the Woods — hopefully not part of the scratch-and-sniff series.
Wall Plates Online has some attention-getters, including some sporty looking red EMERGENCY plates sure to garner admiring comments in any basement or teenager’s room. SwitchHits was one of my favorites; they offer a large assortment, including a lot of sculptural-type plates not available elsewhere. Looking for something REALLY different? If your budget is a little higher, Uncommon Goods offers a couple of unique ways to move those switches…
More Flipping Options
Some other good sources for good quality and unique plates are Van Dykes Restorers, Eleek, Wm. A. Kilian Hardware, and Sassy Switches. Wanna make a day of it? A quick search on Amazon lists 208,026 switch plates (not to mention 91,689 outlet plates); a recent foray onto EBay produced just over 132,000 offerings. Somewhere in there, there’s GOTTA be something more stylin’ than the ubiquitous white or ivory plate that graces 98.7% of the homes in America (official statistic courtesy of SWAG — Scientific Wild-Ass Guess).
So look in your wallet and find some plastic that isn’t maxed out before the tax man comes, and use it to get the plastic off your walls and replace it with some something that will let you get flippin’ beautifully — and will save a zebra (and your budget) in the process!