Secondary Fix Sockets and Switches

    Thursday, 22 December 2016 14:58  Electrical
Horizon Classic double socket with black inserts finished in Satin Chrome Horizon Classic double socket with black inserts finished in Satin Chrome
Ross Thornhill, Focus SB product consultant,
explores the benefits of 'secondary fix'
sockets and switches

The term 'secondary fix', or 'grid fix' will probably mean very little to most people when selecting switches, sockets and similar electrical accessories. Within the architectural, interior design, building services and consulting disciplines the term 'secondary-fix' and/or the description 'grid-fix' are normally used to indicate a more traditional method of designing, specifying, supplying, assembling and installing electrical switches, sockets and associated accessories for installation in residential and commercial applications.

Those unfamiliar with the above terms when considering electrical products suitable for domestic and commercial installations will probably visualise the typical 'bargain basement' white plastic 'plate fix' type of switch and socket usually seen on the shelves of the DIY 'sheds' and trade counters of local electrical suppliers. The basic 'plate fix' switch and socket is generally manufactured and supplied as a complete one piece pre-assembled unit. All components on the switch or socket are generally moulded, riveted or screwed together as a one piece assembly and supplied ready to install. They will come complete with fixing screws ready for wiring and fitting into standard UK specification back boxes (which, presumably will have been previously installed).

 

"Today's 'sophisticated' householders will expect multiple lighting circuits and a myriad of differing data, phone, USB charging and various other sockets..."

'Plate fix' switches and sockets are often preferred by a number of electrical contractors when installing multiple numbers of accessories in new build and refurbishment projects. The reason why? Speed and simplicity of installation will be the most likely reason given by users of these products. The installer will quite correctly tell us (and their customer) that it is possible to install a far greater number of 'plate' switches and sockets in a given time period than the 'secondary' or 'grid-fix' equivalents. With 'plate fix' moulded switches and sockets often less expensive than metal front plate equivalents, theoretically one would expect to see the benefits of reduced purchase and installation costs on the majority of basic, straightforward installations… or so some might think!

At 'second glance' however, things are not necessarily quite as simple. The ever increasing demand for additional electrically operated and controlled appliances in today's properties makes demands on installers, where selection of simple, low cost 'plate fix' electrical accessories in many situations is unable to satisfy the basic requirements for the job. Compare an electrical installation in a typical domestic property today with one carried out only ten years ago, and expect to see a significant change not just in the total numbers of accessories installed, but also the complexity and overall scale of the electrical installation. Increased legislation relating to building, electrical installation and domestic safety standards will be partly responsible for this complexity. Perhaps, not surprisingly the majority of this increased requirement for electrical accessories will in fact originate from the domestic consumer. Today's householder typically expects far greater numbers of switches, sockets and associated electrical items within their properties facilitating operation and control of all the additional electrically connected products.

 

Much of this increase has undoubtedly been driven by the significant changes in lighting requirements over the last few years brought about by use of low energy lighting products. Only a few years ago a single pendant lamp holder and perhaps just a few two gang 13 amp sockets would have been considered perfectly adequate for most rooms in domestic applications. Today's 'sophisticated' householders will expect multiple lighting circuits and a myriad of differing data, phone, USB charging and various other sockets behind their TV, 'infotainment' areas and in many additional parts of their properties. With so many of us choosing to extend and re-build properties rather than moving house we are seeing a change from where perhaps a 'whole house' listing of electrical switches, sockets and associated accessories may have been at best, 50 or 60 mixed items - to current day requirements where several hundred individual electrical accessories are routinely being installed, irrespective of property size. Newer, more advanced and technological products are continually introduced to the marketplace and used not just in commercial environments, but increasingly in domestic situations. With all of these items needing some form of electrical power or connectivity the future requirement for electrical switches, sockets and other outlets in residential properties is set to increase significantly in the coming years. The use of 'secondary fix' switches and sockets in this rapidly changing and expanding market allows far greater flexibility for both specifier and installer alike to select and mix differing types of switches on any one face plate suiting the specific requirements of the particular application.

 

For example, just take the very simplest of typical domestic requirements - a three gang rocker switch installed in a hallway. Two of the rocker switches may be one-way or two-way items controlling local lighting circuits. The third switch could be an intermediate rocker operating staircase lighting. This is a common enough requirement, yet one the basic 'off the shelf plate switch' will be unlikely to cater for, requiring either a special order item from the switch manufacturer (if in fact available!) or the application of a 'secondary fix' switch assembly. The flexibility of 'secondary fix' products is such that it will also allow the installer to effectively 'swap' positions of the different types of switches fitted to the same 'grid' and faceplate to suit the wiring requirements of the installation. This same flexibility allows for removal and safe storage of face plates during the installation period, minimising the risk of damage to the faceplate on site whilst plastering, wall papering and painting is being carried out. On larger projects, it also allows the contractor to manage his cash flow by only taking delivery of the 'first fix' items when they are required, leaving the expensive decorative plates for a later delivery. These very same benefits will hold true perhaps a few years later should the client choose to re-decorate their property. Once again removal and storage of face-plates will reduce the risk of damage or contamination to decorative face-plates prior-to, and whilst redecorating. The use of 'secondary fix' electrical accessories enables the customer to purchase new, replacement faceplates in differing finishes and styles to those selected originally, perhaps to enhance a newly decorated room interior. From a manufacturing perspective 'secondary fix' systems can allow the switch and socket manufacturer to design bespoke switch and socket assemblies to suit a specific application. These custom socket and switch assemblies are frequently used in hotel suites and domestic applications where oversized sized units are often required to incorporate differing types of power, media and data sockets rather than the haphazard, random placement of individual accessories.

 

Bespoke assemblies can additionally incorporate UK, non-standard power sockets, specialist lighting system controls and audio controls or outlets. They will generally feature special sized face plates in horizontal, vertical or rectangular arrays as befits the individual application. Situations where combinations of rotary lighting dimmers and rocker or dolly switches on the same face plate can be difficult to supply as 'secondary fix' products. These types of product are not always fully interchangeable and will (in many cases, like the basic 'plate' switch) need to be a special order item from the manufacturer. There can be exceptions to this. If remote in-line dimming packs are installed as an alternative to rotary dimmers, retractive rocker, or dolly switches can often be used for momentary/push-to-make control of the switching and dimming functions. The flexibility of 'secondary fix' components allows full interchangeability of the differing types of rocker switch on any one face plate. The added bonus of using retractive or push-to-make switches for many of today's discerning customers is that switches controlling the dimming functions will look exactly the same as the standard switch units used in the rest of the property, giving a far neater, harmonious and contemporary appearance, with added operational benefits.

Where does this leave us with the 'plate fix' switch, socket, other accessories and 'secondary fix' alternatives? The basic 'plate fix' switch and socket (despite its relative inflexibility) will always be perfectly suited to simple or low specification applications where budget price products are required, perhaps for a room extension. Unfortunately in our rapidly changing world the humble 'plate fix' switch, whilst quick and easy to install, just doesn't allow the installation flexibility required by contractors, or users of increasingly complex and sophisticated domestic electrical products.

The selection of 'secondary fix' electrical accessories will have significant benefits for both installer and end user alike for the demands of today's (and tomorrow's) increasingly complex and technical world.