"Preferred" vs. "Standard" vs. "Professional" Switches

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Old 01-20-10, 11:53 AM
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"Preferred" vs. "Standard" vs. "Professional" Switches

I'm trying to replace my switches to a new color and am thoroughly perplexed when looking at switches. I've spent probably over an hour staring at the switch aisle at various stores... I'm principally looking at the Leviton brand, but I assume this question applies to any brand. I've seen switches labeled Standard, Preferred/Heavy Duty, and Professional. The price changes significantly. I've had a switch installed by a professional electrician which were just the "Standard" switches so I feel the higher priced ones may be a gimmick, but I don't have the electrical knowledge to say one way or the other. The Standard switches are all 15 Amps, some of the Preferred switches are 15 Amp only (but have a wider back to them). The other Preferred/Heavy Duty and Professional ones say they can work in a 15 Amp or 20 Amp switch, have an even wider back to them, and the switch itself is wider. Also, the engraving on the 15/20 Amp switches only say 20 Amps (the box says 15/20 Amps). Not sure if that means anything.

I lean towards the standard outlets for both price and cosmetic reasons (I don't like the wider switches). I am not against paying for quality, but I'm just trying to figure out what the real benefit of the higher grade (and price) outlets really are. Obviously I see the higher Amperage potential, but all the switches I've found so far are 15 Amps on 14 AWG wire.

Any help to prevent me from having another switch aisle breakdown would be greatly appreciated.
 
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Old 01-20-10, 12:19 PM
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For normal residential lighting, the standard switches are fine. The more expensive ones are appropriate for switching larger loads like heavy-duty lighting and motors. Expensive switches are built with better components that last longer, stand up to harsh environments, and handle higher loads; but no use paying for the higher quality in the situations where it's not needed.

When it comes to receptacles, I try to avoid the cheapest ones. They are okay for rarely-used receptacles like those in the living room or bedroom, but for rooms like the kitchen and bath that have large loads plugged in daily I prefer to step up to the higher grade receptacles. One of the biggest differences you'll notice is that the heavy duty receptacles do not flex into the wall when you plug something in because they are made from thicker steel. They also grab the blades of the plug much more tightly which makes a better connection.
 
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Old 01-20-10, 01:20 PM
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You get what you pay for basically.

It is like door locksets on your typical home as opposed to a business, school, government building, etc.

The door locksets for a home are cheaply made, have a lot of play in them, etc. And don't last long.

The door locksets designed for business/industrial use are built to get a lot of use and are high quality. But they also cost over $200.00 each. And you can only get these at a locksmith - not sold at retail stores.

Same with electrical. Business and industrial users use more electricity (higher amperage like 20 amps), and use their outlets more. Lots of plugging / unplugging going on!

A business bathroom light switch would get a lot more use than a home bathroom light switch for example.

And then for something like a hospital, you might have something like a heart bypass machine which is pumping the blood for a patient having heart surgery. You wouldn't want to have to "giggle the plug" to get it to work!

So they make exceptional quality outlets for hospitals called "hospital grade". These have a green dot on them. I rarely see any hospital grade things at a retail store. But you can get these at an electrical supply (where electricians shop).

(I have all 20 amp "commercial grade" outlets/switches in my house. But I also have all 20 amp circuits.)

Here is a "hospital grade" outlet...
http://assets.twacomm.com/assets/pdf/18593.pdf

"Commercial grade" lockset...
The Hardware Hut - Product #SCC-D70PD-PLY-626 - Schlage D-Series Plymouth Door Knob Classroom Lock (Satin Chrome)

Many other products are "commercial grade" and not sold at retail stores. Like vacuum cleaners for businesses, schools, hotels, etc. And lawn mowers for the pros. A pro chainsaw can cost $1,000.00!
 
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Old 01-22-10, 04:46 PM
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I'll second Ben's comments. I stay away from the 50cent receptacles at all costs. I always get the next step up, they are usually in the $1.50 range. The $5 or $10 receptacles are well made, but totally unneeded for residential use.

As for switches, I go for the ones that feel the best. The higher quality ones tend to have more of a "snap" which I personally don't like. I don't like waking up others in the house just to turn on a light.

You also have the option between "Decora" (the rectangular shaped switches and receptacles) and traditional. There are more companies coming up with designer-looking ones too.
 
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Old 01-23-10, 09:18 AM
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Devices such as spec grade and hospital grade usually allow backwiring, which is a real labor-savor when using stranded wiring. 14 AWG solid is so much easier to work with than 12 AWG solid or 12 AWG stranded, the better devices probably aren't necessary in many cases.

I am not an electrician, but after working with commercial electricians for many years, my house is mostly wired with 12AWG stranded wire and spec grade or better switches and receptacles, except the dimmers.

Of course nothing special is "required" in a residence like mine, but my cost/benefit was favorable. That wouldn't be the case for a lot of people.
 
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