Electrical Switches and Sockets – A Buyer’s Guide

This is a layman’s guide to the things you should consider before embarking on a new build or renovation project.


The first problem many people encounter is the bewildering array of electrical terminology used. Here is a brief explanation of the basic terms you will come across.

Gang: the number of switches or sockets on one plate. A light switch with 3 switches is called a 3 gang switch. A standard double socket is called a 2 gang socket.

Way: the number of switches capable of switching a light. For flexibility, most switches are 2-way. A light controlled from 1 switch only requires a 1-way switch (although a 2-way switch can be used without any problems). A light controlled from 2 switches e.g. a landing light, will require two 2-way switches.

Intermediate: if a light can be activated from 3 different switches, two of them will need to be 2-way switches, and the third an intermediate switch.

Single Pole: a single pole switch has one contact. When switched it will break only the live current and leave the neutral current intact.

Double Pole: a double pole switch has two separate contacts and will break both live and neutral currents. Double pole switches are recommended in most situations, especially if there are children in the house.


Remember, you can put as many switches and sockets onto an electrical circuit as you require. However, it is still worth planning where you will need them before you buy. You should think about the different needs of the room and your lifestyle: where do you require most power sockets? With the proliferation of electrical gadgets you should install more sockets than you think you will need, and make them double sockets rather than single sockets, as the price difference is minimal.

Always buy switched sockets for extra protection. This does not apply to sockets for kitchen appliances such as freezers, which should not be switched in case the switches are accidentally turned off.

Most people only put 1 TV point in a room; don’t make that mistake! Install TV points on at least 2 different walls in a room, you may well want to re-arrange the furniture and move the TV in the future.

Also consider the lighting needs of a room. Dimmer switches provide a relatively cheap and easy way to vary the light levels in a room, particularly useful for creating different moods in dining, living or bedrooms. Remember that if a light is to be operated from 2 places, and one of the switches to be used is a dimmer, the other must be a standard 2-way light switch, not a dimmer.

Flat or raised plate?

The differences here are more than simply aesthetic. Flat plate sockets look sleek, modern and sophisticated, but they also offer a practical, space-saving solution to fitting sockets behind furniture. However, the drawback for renovations is that they often require deeper back boxes than were originally installed, 35mm rather than 25mm. Changing back boxes can be time consuming and messy.

Screwed or screwless?

Aesthetically, screwless flat plate switches give an even more modern look than screwed flat plate, but screwless switches and sockets have an added advantage: they save you time and money too, as they can be fitted without the front plate before you decorate, then painted around quickly and easily without the use of masking tape or worrying about marking the plate. When dry, simply clip the front plate on.


Polished chrome, brushed steel and black nickel are the most popular modern finishes. The disadvantage of polished chrome particularly is that it shows up finger marks very easily. One way to help to avoid this is to choose a range where the plate is polished chrome or black nickel, but the switches themselves are made of black or white plastic. Of the 3 finishes mentioned above, brushed steel (also known as brushed chrome) is the easiest to keep clean.

Now you’re ready to take the next step of your project. Good luck!