Volume 37, Issue 10, October 2002


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  How to Install a Plate on Mirrored Wall
by Jeff Oster

An instruction sheet telling you how to install a mirrored switch plate seems useless. Just put the screws through the plate and turn the screwdriver, right? I’m afraid it isn't quite that simple. Mirror plates are flat on the back, while standard wall plates are not. We have to find a way to have plates sit flush against the wall. Basically, there are two acceptable ways to install a mirrored switch plate.

Using a Gasket or Spacer
Figure 1: Installing a mirror plate with a gasket or spacer. Ears are left in place.

The first method is shown in Figure 1. I’ve used a receptacle for this example, but this will work with any type of electrical device. Drill your mirror with a 2-by-4 cutout (it should be a little smaller for this type of installation). Before installing the mirror, remove the ¾-inch screws holding the receptacle in place so you will be able to pull the plug through the panel (wrap the receptacle with electrical tape so hot leads don’t come into contact with the mirror). You’ll have to turn the receptacle sideways so it fits through the cutout.

In this type of installation you will leave the “ears” on the receptacle. The ears need to be there so they will sit on top of the mirror after installation. They will keep the receptacle firmly in place and prevent it from “floating” in the wall. 

This type of installation still has some minor problems. After the receptacle extension screws are tightened, there is pressure on the mirror from the ears. The hole is the weakest point of the panel. Even if you don’t tighten the receptacle too much, your customer might, and every time something is plugged into the receptacle pressure will be applied to the panel.

The back of the switch plate will touch the ears and screws holding the receptacle in place, causing marks on the plate. These marks can be avoided by using a small piece of electrical tape over the protruding screws. It is a good practice to use this tape anyway. A plate won’t sit flat on the wall unless a spacer or gasketed plate is used. Figure 1 shows that a spacer can be fit behind a plate and held in place by the screw that fastens the plate. The same effect can be achieved by using a plate with a gasket already mounted to it. If the plate is shimmed away from the wall and tape is used, it will not be touched by the ears of the receptacle and no marks will appear when the screw is tightened. 

Using Vinyl Tubing
The second recommended method of installing a wall plate (shown in Figure 2) is the one I recommend. Here, the ears are clipped off entirely. This, of course, eliminates the problems of pressure from the ears on the mirror and the wall plate not sitting flat when the screw is tightened. However, it does leave us with the problem of the floating receptacle that we mentioned before. Here’s how you solve it. As shown in Figure 2, use a flexible spacer around the extension screw. The screw should be tightened so its top surface is slightly below the surface of the mirror—but be careful. If the screw is too far below the surface, the mirror plate may flex and show a distorted image. Again, put electrical tape on top of the screw heads. The flexible shim will compensate for the screw length. It allows the pressure of the screws to be transferred to the box in the wall and not to the glass. This method gives us more leeway when locating the cutout in the panel because the ears don’t have to be sitting on top of the panel. A larger hole (2 by 4 ¼ inches), which eases accuracy requirements further may be drilled. Another advantage of this method is that the installer is not forced into stocking spacers or gasketted plates. A standard plate may be used in this case.
Figure 2: Installing a plate without a gasket. Note that ears are cut off and vinyl tube is used as a spacer.

There are several different ways of shimming a box screw. Some shops take a plastic anchor (found in nearly every mechanic’s toolbox) and cut off the tip to use as a shim. You can buy Shim–ease®, which contains an extension screw and a very strong spring packed in sets of two. We offer vinyl tubing to do this job. It is available in 6-foot lengths that you can cut on the job to suit the application.

Either of the above methods is used by mirror installers around the country. The first method allows you to reinstall the electrical device without doing anything to it, but you have the added cost of a gasket or spacer and pressure on the glass to consider. The second method requires additional labor to cut the ears off, but offers a “safer” installation. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each and choose the method based on your installation requirements. 


JEFF OSTER Jeff Oster is vice president of Mirart Inc., based in Pompano Beach, Fla. 


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