When I was turning off ligths last night on my way to bed, I noticed a switch that was quite warm. I flicked it off and on noticed that it was arcing (blue, sometimes organge flash/spark behind the wall plate). I took off the cover, took out the switch and noticed that the black insultation around one of the wires connected to the switch had melted a little.

not sure whether this is related but . . . That switch is for some overhead lights in the kitchen - one fixture that hangs over the island and another set of pot lights. The lights in the fixture are halogen (4). Both the bulbs in the fixture and the pot lights seem to blow often. We've in the house since June 2013 and I've probably replaced 6-8 pot lights and 4 or 5 of the halogen bulbs for the fixture.

  • Time to replace that switch, at least. – keshlam Mar 6 '15 at 16:23
  • Is it a simple snap switch, or a fancy dimmer or smart switch? – Tester101 Mar 6 '15 at 17:15
  • I had this exact problem. My switch turned out to be a very old captive mercury switch rated at 5amp. Obvious answer for me was to change it out. – BrownRedHawk Mar 6 '15 at 17:59
  • Do you have copper or aluminum wiring? A risk/symptom of aluminum wiring is arcing. This can be caused by the use of the use of copper fixtures on aluminum wire. – Freiheit Mar 6 '15 at 20:30

It's good that you found this, in the worst case, this situation can lead to an electrical fire.

Check Connections

First thing to do is turn off the power, and check all the mechanical connections at the switch. If this is aluminum wiring please comment and I'll update the post, as there are other considerations if so.

Are there wires doubled up on a screw (they should not be)? Is any of the wiring loose? The wire should be wrapped around the screw or connected to the pigtails using wire connectors (depending on type of switch) like this:

Example wiring to switch example dimmer

Check for overloading

Calculate the total current draw on this circuit (controlled by the switch) by adding up the wattage of each bulb. This must not exceed the rating of the circuit, switch and wiring.

Most single pole switches are rated at 15A (1800W at 120V) but older ones may be less. Dimmer switches are also often less, often at 600W.

If you calculate more than 1400W, post a comment and I'll add some additional detail to consider about overall circuit loading and wire sizes.

Replace switch

If the switch is particularly old or feels loose or "mushy", simply replace it with a new one.

I'd actually replace it no matter what, since it's shown signs of overheating which could at least mean it's been damaged (even if the switch itself wasn't the initial cause).

You might also consider 'spec' or 'commercial' grade which are slightly more expensive but are much higher quality and will last much longer.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.