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Switches and Receptacles: Everywhere and Evolving

 

by Susan Bloom

Found in virtually every home, commercial building, and manufacturing
plant, electrical switches and receptacles are a basic means for
supplying electricity to electric-powered equipment, components, and
lighting sources and are available in everything from forms as basic as
light switches and outlets to watertight receptacles and advanced,
high-amperage switches. Here, manufacturers of these devices discuss the
broad range of applications for them, current trends and technological
developments within the category, and ways in which electrical
distributors can enhance their expertise and maximize their
participation in this large and growing product segment.

According to Jay Sherman, director of marketing for Leviton’s
residential segment (leviton.com), switches and receptacles have evolved
over the years from mechanisms that simply turn power on and off and
supply power to electronic equipment to smart devices that improve the
way we live and work.

“We now have devices that save energy, provide safety protection, and
combine advanced functions all in one switch,” he said. Examples of
these in­clude programmable switches, which allow users to schedule
local control of lighting and other loads; timer switches, which offer
timed on/off control of energy-consuming loads like indoor and outdoor
lighting, heat lamps, hot tubs, pool filters, and attic fans; humidity
sensor switches, which use digital sensing technology to control
ventilation in humid or damp areas in the home; and occupancy and
vacancy sensor switches, which enhance convenience and security and
provide smart energy-saving solutions for both indoor and outdoor
applications via the use of passive infrared, ultrasonic, or a combined
multisensing technology.

“Among the different receptacles available, USB models combine a
receptacle with USB ports for convenient charging,” Sherman said. “AFCI
receptacles offer added protection from po­ten­tially hazardous arc
faults. GFCI receptacles protect users in damp or wet locations and
reduce the occurrence of serious injury or death associated with
electrical accidents. Tamper-resistant receptacles feature a shutter
mechanism that blocks access to the contacts from most foreign objects
for improved safety. And TVSS [transient voltage surge suppression]
receptacles provide point-of-use protection for sensitive equipment from
the damage caused by surge currents.”

Sherman noted that all of these switches and receptacles are
available in a variety of styles—from stan­dard toggle switches to more
modern rocker-style switches.

Tech Trends
“The last several years have seen the upgrade of standard receptacles
and switches with such innovative features as USB charging ports,
integrated nightlights, energy-conserving occupancy or vacancy sensor
capabilities, and dimmability,” said Michele Salimbeni-Schnoll,
marketing manager for the commercial and residential sectors of Eaton’s
Cooper Wiring Devices business (cooperwiringdevices.com).

“While many are choosing these new products for their convenience,
additional factors such as electrical code changes and local guidelines
are affecting others,” she noted. “For instance, certain portions of the
country, such as California, are required to utilize energy-saving
sensors in all new-construction bathrooms.”

Salimbeni-Schnoll added that broader code requirements continue to
play a role in the evolution of the market through the growing
popularity of GFCI receptacles, which are designed to protect
individuals from electric shock and are required in such areas as
bathrooms, kitchens, and basements and in outdoor applications.

“Previously only available in breakers, AFCI technology is now
available in an outlet branch chain AFCI re­ceptacle, which will detect
series or parallel arcs that could be an ignition source for fires and
shut off power to the face of the device when an arc is detected. Much
like GFCIs, the National Elec­trical Code now requires AFCI protection
in several areas of the home and allows either a breaker or a receptacle
under certain installation methods to provide that protection,” she
said.

On the legislative side, Kevin Kohl, Pass & Seymour product
manager for Legrand’s Electrical Wiring Systems Division, North America
(legrand.us/passandseymour), said, “The in­dustry has seen a continued
push to­ward sustainability, while on the product side, one of the newer
developments we’ve witnessed is the introduction of USB charging
receptacles, which has been driven by the growing popularity of mobile
devices and the market’s in­creased demand for charging access.”

Salimbeni-Schnoll agrees that rising demand for smart devices and
seamless connectivity has played a large role in new product development
within the switch and receptacle arena. “In particular, home automation
is a major end use for switches and receptacles that can be controlled
through either radio frequency or Wi-Fi systems,” she said. “These
devices can be integrated into a home automation system and accessed
from a handheld controller, computer, smartphone, or tablet.”

Tips for the Trade
Sherman recommends that distributors take advantage of
manufacturer-sponsored training to both maintain and enhance their
knowledge of product innovations as they’re introduced to the
marketplace.

“Development of a ‘good-better-best’ strategy to help contractors
understand the available options and maximize profits is a wise practice
too,” he said. “For example, a simple single-pole switch could be a
‘good’ way to control a bathroom exhaust fan. A ‘better’ option would be
a timer switch, while a ‘best’ option would be a humidity sensor
switch.”

Salimbeni-Schnoll believes that the most important thing a
distributor, contractor, or installer can do is to stay up to date on
the latest building codes, standards, and products.

“Understanding these will not only allow distributors to select the
right product for the application, but also position them as a trusted,
go-to resource for future installations,” she said. “Additionally,
having broad knowledge of the range of products and solutions will allow
distributors to focus on providing end-users with ‘upgrades’ that they
might not otherwise have been aware of.”

Susan Bloom is a 20-year veteran of the lighting and electrical products industry. Reach her at susan.bloom.chester@gmail.com.

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