Light switches are easy to take for granted. Most will last for decades, and other than an occasional cleaning, they’re essentially maintenance-free. But time and wear will take their toll, and eventually you might find that a light switch in your home is showing telltale signs of failure.
Trust Your Senses
When something seems suddenly different with a light switch you’ve been using for years, don’t ignore it. The best-case scenario is that it’s a helpful early warning sign that you’ll need to replace the switch soon, but the worst-case scenario is that it’s a fire hazard.
One difference you might notice is an unusual sound, often a crackling, popping or hissing sound when you flip the switch. These sounds usually come from live electricity arcing inside the switch, which could pose a hazard.
If there are no unfamiliar sounds, you might still notice a problem through your sense of touch. If the switch or switch plate feels hot, that’s a serious indicator of an electrical problem and a fire risk. There may be excessive voltage coursing through the switch or upstream problems with the wiring in your walls.
It’s normal for light switches to feel slightly warm, especially dimmer switches, which have additional components right behind the switch plate that generate a small amount of heat. There’s no need to call an electrician if the heat is mild. But if it’s so hot you wouldn’t want to keep your fingers there for more than a few seconds, shut off the light switch and call an electrician right away.
A final sensory warning comes from your eyes -- if there’s suddenly a delay between the moment you flip the switch and the moment the light comes on, there’s a good chance that the electrical contacts in the switch are wearing out after years of use. This usually is not a fire hazard, but it’s likely that the switch will eventually stop working altogether. It’s time to have it replaced.
Make the Most of It
If you have a light switch that is going bad, don’t get too stressed out about it. It only takes a few minutes for a licensed electrician to replace it with a switch that’s just like the old one. But you might also think about light switch failure as an opportunity for an upgrade.
Dimmer switches don’t cost much more than traditional toggle switches, but they add a whole spectrum of light levels that can transform the way a room feels. And if you just want to replace the switch itself with something a little different, there are push-button switches and knob switches that may give the room a little more character.
If you could use more electrical outlets in the room, ask your electrician to replace your old switch with a light switch and outlet combo. And if you want a sophisticated switch, ask for models with built-in timers or smart switches, which you can program and control from anywhere in the world using your smartphone.
There’s no need to make a big change, but when a light switch is telling you it’s on its way out, there is a need to listen! Call in your local Mister Sparky electrician to take care of this small problem before it turns into a big one.