When you reach to your light switch to turn it off only to find that the light switch is hot to the touch, you have a problem. This is not a normal phenomenon, and it indicates that there are serious issues hiding behind your walls. Just like wall outlets, light switches have a limit on how much power they can handle, and different switches are rated for different levels of power. If you’re asking too much from the wall switch, it can get hot. In this article, we will discuss reasons why this might happen.
Can light switches go bad?
Light switches have several moving parts. Over time, they wear down. Connections can become loose and plastic parts may break. So, yes, your light switches can “go bad” and will need to be replaced.
When you’ve put a fresh light bulb in the fixture but the switch still doesn’t turn it on, that’s a clear sign that the light switch has died. Here are some other signs that a light switch is going to need replaced.
- Temperamental light fixture
We’ve all had a “finicky” light switch. Sometimes it turns on, sometimes it doesn’t. It might flicker for a second before turning on, even after you’ve replaced the bulb. If this is happening, the proper connections are not being made within the light switch and it’s time for a new one.
- The switch sparks
On occasion, you may see a small spark when you flip the light switch off. This is called a load arc, which happens when the connections within the light switch are pulled away from one another. If, however, there is a large spark that makes an audible “snap,” the light switch has gone bad. If this happens and you see smoke or scorch marks, it’s definitely time to get a new light switch.
- Noisy switch
Your light switch shouldn’t make any noise. So, if you start to hear any clicking, buzzing, or other sounds coming from the switch, something within the switch is not working properly. It’s time to replace that switch.
- Switch is warm to the touch
When turning a dimmer switch off, you may notice that it feels a little warm to the touch after having been on for a while. This is normal. However, it is not normal for a standard toggle light switch to feel warm. If a switch feels warm, it’s time for a new one.
- The switch doesn’t feel right
A light switch that is loose or a little jiggly is an example of often overlooked wear and tear. Likewise, if you flip the switch and it feels stiffer than usual, the switch mechanism is worn and should be replaced before there’s trouble.
Types of light switches: Standard vs. dimmer vs smart home
There are differences between dimmer and smart home light switches and their use of electricity that may contribute to the light switch feeling hot, such as:
- Regular light switch — Usually have a rating of 15 amps and 1,800 watts max.
- Dimmer light switch — The majority are rated for 600 watts, but some are designed to handle up to 1,000 watts.
- Smart home light switches — The majority are rated for 600 watts.
How many watts can a standard light switch handle?
The maximum allowable wattage rating can usually be found on the front of the switch, underneath the cover plate. Usually, standard 15 amp light switches have a maximum allowance of about 1,800 watts, while a 20 amp light switch can handle a maximum of 2,400 watts.
How many watts can a dimmer light switch handle?
Dimmer switches are rated for a maximum number of watts they are designed to handle. Dimmer switches come in a wide range of ratings, such as 150 watts, 300 watts, 600 watts and 1,000 watts, depending on the type of dimmer used. To figure out whether a dimmer switch is overloaded, you can add up the wattage of the lights that are being controlled and compare that with the rating on the dimmer switch. For example, if an incandescent dimmer is rated at 600 watts, you can’t assume you can use 24 of the 25-watt LED fixtures. A good rule of thumb is to allow 100 watts for each LED fixture, so in this case, the 600-watt dimmer can handle only 6 LED fixtures. (Make sure you match the proper dimmer with the type of bulbs you intend to use. Nowadays you can find dimmer switches that can operate on LED, CFL or incandescent bulbs.)
Take note that on/off switches don’t typically get warm or hot but dimmer switches do. This is often because of excess loads caused by having either too many lights under the same dimmer or using higher-wattage bulbs than recommended in the fixture. Even though it’s normal for a dimmer switch to get warm, there can be a problem when it’s too warm. Keep in mind that the closer the load gets to the max rating, the higher the chances of increased heat on the dimmer.
How many watts can a smart home light switch handle?
Smart home light switches are no longer the future; they are for the here and now. From smart dimmer switches to smart on/off switches, smart light switches are a great energy-saving solution, giving you wireless remote control of your lights from the home, office or anywhere else via a smartphone. The maximum wattage of what a smart home light switch can handle depends on what model you choose and what type of bulb you have, so be sure to check. It depends on whether you’re using dimmable LED and CFL bulbs or higher wattages with incandescent or halogen bulbs. Some smart home light switches have a maximum load of about 1,000 watts, but typically the maximum is 600 watts.
Common reasons why your light switch is hot
Warm light switches are a sign that too much electricity is running through them. Does a hot light switch mean that something is wrong? First, it’s important to identify whether your light switch is traditional or a dimmer. If your traditional light switch is hot to the touch, you’ll need to call an electrician. It’s not all that unusual for dimmer light switches to be warm to the touch, but anything that feels abnormally hot could be a sign of a larger issue, such as:
- The wires connecting to the switch are loose.
- A light switch is overloaded (i.e., too many lights or fans are connected to the same switch, causing it to need to draw more current than it’s rated for).
- There is faulty wiring behind the switch, bottlenecking the electrical current.
- The switch is failing in such a way that a small spark happens each time a light is turned on and off, thereby creating heat. If this is the case, the light switch will need to be replaced.
- A light switch may have been installed incorrectly.
How to keep a light switch from becoming hot
Making sure the common reasons above don’t happen will prevent your switch from overheating. First, you’ll want to make sure the switch isn’t overloaded. Switching to LED lighting can help reduce the load on light switches. Another thing you can do is add an additional switch to reduce the load on a single switch. In other words, split the load into 2 separate switches. Of course, make sure the switch itself isn’t failing; it can wear out over time.
Ensure proper wiring. Hire an electrician to inspect the wiring to ensure that it’s not faulty. (Note: A professional diagnosis by an electrician could cost anywhere from $200 to $500.)
Is a hot light switch dangerous?
A hot light switch can have long-term effects, such as increased electricity use and a shorter life span due to higher-than-rated wattage use. But besides that, light switches that retain heat over long periods of time can gradually break down the wire insulation, creating cracks and making the wires lose their insulative properties. This can cause dangerous short circuits and arc faults, or even fires.
Light fixture safety warnings
It’s important to take safety precautions when working with electricity. The basic guidelines regarding the safe handling of electricity documented below will help you while working with electricity:
- Always avoid contact with water when working with electricity. Never touch or try to repair any electrical equipment or circuits with wet hands. It increases the conductivity of the electric current.
- Always shut off power to the circuit before working with electricity.
- Be aware that even after the circuit has been switched off, there is a chance that power still may be present. To ensure that all the wires are dead, use a circuit voltage tester (you can get one at any hardware store).
- Wear work gloves for additional safety.
Get a remote diagnosis with Anew
If there is an electrical issue after looking at a light switch, it might be symptomatic of a more serious issue — such as excessive loads caused by having too many lights under the same dimmer or using higher-wattage bulbs than recommended in the fixture. You may want to consider getting a professional opinion. Anew offers an easy, efficient and affordable repair service with remote diagnosis for only $20.
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