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Visible electrical system

Visible electrical system: solutions and advantages

Different ways to create a visible electrical system safely, without compromising project aesthetics and visual impact

When it’s not possible to install a traditional concealed electrical system, you can opt for a visible electrical system. But is it safe? Is it compliant? How is it implemented? Here are the best solutions to ensure style and safety for your project.

Is a visible electrical system compliant with regulations?

If you propose a visible electrical system to your client, one of the first concerns you’ll encounter is undoubtedly about the system’s safety and compliance with the current regulations..

However, it’s essential that the installation is carried out carefully and precisely by a qualified professional, possessing the necessary authorization.

The regulatory compliance of a visible electrical system depends on various factors, including the correct design and installation of the system, compliance with safety regulations, and local specifications. This includes the proper arrangement of sockets, switches, electrical protection devices, and other components according to user needs and building characteristics.

Electrical systems executive table created with Edificius-MEP

Electrical systems working drawing created with Edificius-MEP

Materials and electrical components used must comply with safety standards, be approved, and certified. This includes electrical cables, sockets, switches, junction boxes, and all other elements of the system.

The system installation must be performed by qualified and competent personnel capable of adhering to regulations and safety procedures throughout all project stages.

After installation, the system must be inspected and tested by an authorized technician to verify compliance with safety regulations and to ensure that it has been executed properly. Upon completion of the inspection, a certification should be issued attesting to the system’s compliance with current regulations.

Visible electrical system: what is it?

When electricity began to be introduced into residential buildings between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, all systems were installed visibly, using ceramic and metal components and round or flat section cables.
After the Second World War, the use of visible systems gradually declined in favor of concealed ones, finding application only in small businesses or service environments.

Today, the visible electrical system seems to be back in fashion, thanks to the rediscovery of vintage style, the growing passion for lofts, and the interest in the recovery of disused industrial buildings.

A modern visible electrical system is entirely similar to older ones, but it obviously uses more modern components, although often with a distinctly retro style. Technically and normatively, there are no contraindications, provided that the installation, as already mentioned, is carried out by a specialized technician, who issues a certification of regular execution of the works relating to the system.

As with traditional system projects, it is recommended to start with the development of a system diagram, indicating the placement and type of sockets, light points, switches, electrical panel, and any other component to be included (telephone, data, TV, etc.). The diagram will be essential both to present the necessary authorizations to the competent authorities and as a document to be used on-site for its implementation.

In the case of visible systems, the creation of a 3D model that helps to visualize the final result can also be useful. In practice, starting from the 3D architectural model, with a BIM software for MEP systems modeling, you can directly insert channels, sockets, lights, etc. in 3D and establish their exact positioning. You can create renders and realistic views of the project complete with systems and be sure that the result will be appreciated by the client. Automatically, you will also get the plans and diagrams of the system with the corresponding legend.

Once the external system is installed, it will be increasingly easier to make any modifications or additions to expand an existing system, creating an additional one and bringing it up to code.

Currently, there are many alternatives on the market: many manufacturers catalog one or more systems of this type, allowing the realization of a visible electrical system that makes aesthetics its strength.

Let’s discover the main alternatives for a visible electrical system.

PVC surface pipes

The simplest and most economical way to proceed is to use rigid circular pipes, in PVC, to accommodate the passage of electrical cables. These will be fixed to the wall with special pipe clamps. Junction boxes, sockets, and control points will always be of the external type, strictly visible. This solution doesn’t offer much choice in terms of colors, as external PVC pipes are usually light gray. However, with patience, it’s possible to repaint the channels according to your needs, matching them to the background walls for a camouflage effect or playing with color contrasts to emphasize their presence. The important thing is to pre-study the position of the channels so as not to obtain a disordered and aesthetically unattractive result.

PVC channels

If you want to create a more elegant visible system, you can use classic channels, available on the market in various types and colors.
The only thing to pay attention to is the choice of special pieces for angular, T, etc. fittings.

Skirting board cable ducts

Another alternative solution to the classic concealed system can be the use of skirting board cable ducts. These are architectural elements designed for the passage of electrical cables along a room’s perimeter. They are usually installed near the floor (but it’s possible to choose profiles suitable for creating cable frame moldings to be applied along the ceiling perimeter or at different heights along the walls) and provide a channel in which it’s possible to hide electrical cables so they’re not visible. This not only offers a neater and cleaner appearance to the environment but also helps to reduce the risk of trips or damage to the cables. This solution can be a valid alternative when the aesthetics of the visible system aren’t particularly appreciated but it’s complicated to create a concealed system.
Skirting boards and cable frame moldings can be made of various materials, including PVC, metal, or wood, and are designed to accommodate a variety of electrical cables. They may be available in different sizes and finishes to adapt to the design and style of any environment.

“Vintage” style surface installation

For lovers of vintage style or for rustic or historically valuable buildings, the best solution is to use braided cables, just like those used in houses from the 1930s and 1940s. The effect is guaranteed, especially if other visible components are carefully chosen. Rotary switches, available in wooden or bronzed finishes, surface-mounted junction boxes, visible roses, and metal tubular channels, together with decorative braids and ceramic insulators, will create a unique and fascinating installation. In this case, the choice of light points can also reflect the chosen style.

Advantages and disadvantages

Opting for a visible electrical system isn’t always a style choice. Sometimes it can be a real necessity linked to the impossibility of creating traces in existing walls.
The most common cases include load-bearing stone walls, where it’s complicated or too expensive to make traces, exposed masonry or floor undersides with wooden beams where the corrugated cannot be hidden by plaster, or simply works where it’s chosen to minimize the impact of the works in terms of costs, times, and inconveniences for the occupants (dust, noise, etc.). In other cases, however, the visible system can be a clear style choice, for a vintage, rustic, or industrial design.

But what are the pros and cons of a visible electrical system?

Here are the advantages:

  • affordable cost: compared to a traditional concealed system, a visible system offers an excellent quality-price ratio, guaranteeing high safety standards;
  • less masonry work: you avoid expensive masonry work to create the necessary traces for a traditional concealed system;
  • easy maintenance: in case of malfunctions or modifications, access to the system is more direct and doesn’t require masonry demolitions;
  • adaptability and versatility: it integrates perfectly with the surrounding environment and can be easily customized to meet different aesthetic and functional needs;
  • impactful aesthetics: a visible system can become a refined design element, helping to define the style of the environment.

The disadvantages:

  • greater vulnerability: compared to a concealed system, a visible system is more exposed to accidental damage or unauthorized interventions;
  • higher costs for particularly elaborate design solutions: if you opt for high-quality and design solutions, costs may be higher than for an underground installation.

If you’re interested in the topic, also read “Exposed Plumbing: The Advantages of 3D Modeling“.