Determined to question and improve everything we can about home building, we find ourselves looking at trim and the various approaches. At first, we were all in and thought we would remove as much trim as possible: lights, electrical, vents, doors, windows, and so on. As a test, we decided to install a flush electrical wall plate in our current house, and that is when doubt began to creep in. Clean results are far from guaranteed, and may or may not hold up over time. For the added cost and complexity, where should we draw the line? After looking over quite a few options, here is what we have found.
DO YOU HAVE A SKILLED INSTALLER?
The most important question – do you or your drywall crew have the experience and patience to install flush wall plates properly? If not, the edges where the drywall meets will not be crisp, and your house will look worse for it. To add insult to injury, you will have spent more money on something that does not look as good. To give you an idea of what this means, have a look at where things can go wrong.
As you can see, the edges need to be perfect for this approach to work. In our case, the forceful nature of the snap on mechanism broke any drywall edge that was not perfect. Also, a spray adhesive is needed to glue the plastic down before mud is applied over top. That bond weakened in one spot, which caused it to pop out over time. This can be partially attributed to our inexperience with this type of work. However, we’re finding more and more professional applications that suffer from imperfect edges through wear and tear.
ImportantSince some flush wall plates require the electrical box to sit back further, consider using an adjustable wall box like SliderBox so that you have a fall back option to install standard wall plates.
Now, this is not to say that DesignMod makes a bad product – their site is full of perfect installations. That said, we did begin to question if the extra work and cost would produce a better end result than a screwless wall plate.
Even if the installation were perfect, it is tough to argue that the flush version is better looking. Perhaps going flush would make sense if everything in the house is flush and consistency is needed. In that case, the cost effective route is to go with DesignMod.
DO YOU HAVE A BUDGET?
There might be a consistently cleaner option though, at a price – Trufig. Trufig is installed in multiple steps, and the drywall surround is part of the product. This allows the installers to mud, sand and paint over the assembly. Also, the faceplate is magnetic, so there is no rough snap on and off. Check out the installation image, or watch a video:
At $300ish per outlet, we didn’t purchase one to do a test install. For the main room of our house, we could consider going this route to make a statement, but it wouldn’t make sense to do it everywhere. Just for the open plan living area, we would be looking at around $3,000 for wall plates. Then, add on flush baseboards, doors, windows and so on to see how the cost really shoots up. It’s a wish list item for us, but it will be the first thing cut if the budget needs trimming.
Now would also be a good time to step back and think about these sorts of demands. BuildLCC has a good read on the topic:
We appear to be expecting things in our world to be much more perfect now, something we’ve heard referred to as the “iPhone Syndrome.” For us, we’re starting to see this level of expectation creeping into the world of custom homes that are far from machined and highly controlled via assembly line.
It’s tempting to agree and say enough is enough, but these homeowner demands are what will force new products to be made, costs to come down, and new construction techniques to be imagined. So, if the budget allows, keep pushing. On that note, have a look at two polished installs from each company:
Something to strive for. But, if budget or time says no, we still have some clean options.
DO YOU NEED HOMEKIT SUPPORT?
Form will have to follow function slightly if Homekit support is needed. Currently, Lutron makes what we feel is the best smart home system in Caseta. If you want to match the exact color of the Lutron switches with that of the wall plate, then Lutron Claro is the first choice. There is just one problem with it – the seam where the two plates meet is visible on the side. Also, to continue ranting, their logo is plastered all over their switches and architectural plates. So much for a clean look.
Leviton Decora (image, video) and Legrand Radiant (image, video) are able to conceal the seam where the plate snaps on. Since the Legrand plate is thin, it is a bit wavy and will allow shadow lines to show. The Leviton plate probably has the best mechanism, but the tapered edges aren’t a perfect match for a modern house. Realistically though, any of these 3 will look fine and be an upgrade over standard wall plates.
Maybe we should be asking if we need wall plates and switches at all? Unfortunately, yes, as confirmed by Electrical License Renewal
210.70(A)(1) Habitable Rooms. At least one wall switch–controlled lighting outlet shall be installed in every habitable room, kitchen, and bathroom.
If this wasn’t the case, you could easily see how iPad like devices could start to replace wall switches. They could be motion sensors, home controls, intercoms and speakers all in one.
Brilliant is the most clever approach we could find because it satisfies electrical code with slim channels, and offers a screen for more control. Since they do not support Homekit, they’re not quite right for us, but in a couple of years these sorts of products may dictate the type of trim and wall plates we select.