Light Switch Gets Hot

I turned on a light switch and noticed a few small sparks inside the switch as I turned it on. No big deal, or so I thought.
After the lights were on for awhile I there was an 'electric burning' smell. Sure enough the switch was hot to the touch.
Is it likely that the switch itself is bad and that replacing it will solve the problem? (That I can easily do myself.)
Or could it be a more serious problem for which I should call an electrician?
Thanks in advance for any help...
-- Dave
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It could be a bad switch. Or it could be loose wires at the screw connectors. It's easy to change the switch. Try that first. Of course, kill the power first before changing the switch. If it's just a regular 2 wire switch, it does not matter which wire goes which.
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wires firmly to the new switch. Don't use the back stab wire inserts. Also, if the wire insulation has become brittle, make sure to wrap it well with good electrical tape, or if you have enough slack in the wire, cut the wires back to where the insulation is pliable.
Also, before turning the power back on, check the wires in the junction box that the light is attached to. Make sure they are in good shape and attached firmly. If the insulation is brittle, cut back to where it's pliable if slack permits, or wrap well with good electrical tape.
Watch carefully. If the switch gets warm again, something else is wrong, and you'll need to get it diagnosed.
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Most likely a bad 50 cent switch. The sparks indicate a loose connection. If it is a single switch circuit you should be able to do it yourself with no problems. Just be sure to turn the breaker off before you start. If it happens to be a three way circuit pair a pair of switches, replace both and do one wire at a time.
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Colbyt
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Not really sure why you'd need to replace both switches, other than "if one is bad, the other must be close". But with that mentality should't he be replacing every switch in the house, assuming they're all about the same age?
Also, no need to do one wire at a time -- just make sure you remember what wire went where.
-Tim
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The traveler connections are in different locations on different brands. The color coding if present varies also. The suggestion to change both at the same time is just to keep it simple for the next DIY guy.
Colbyt
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On Sat, 08 Oct 2005 16:53:14 GMT, "Colbyt"

Actually it's more like a $5 switch :) It's a Decora style dimmer with a rocker switch.
It wouldn't surprise me to find a loose connection in there. Some of the electricians that did the work in my house were a bit careless.
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Since it is a dimmer, I would check to see what the load is. The average dimmer is rated for 600 watts, but a combo type with separate switch may only be rated for 300 watts. If the load is acceptable then do as others have said and shut the power off and replace the unit. When replacing, only remove the wires from the dimmer. Do not take apart any other wires in the box that are not connected to the dimmer.

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John Grabowski ( snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net) said...

Also, be aware of derating issues. Many dimmers rated at 600 Watts have a derated value of 500 Watts for ganged installations.
This means, if the dimmer is installed in a location all by itself, or if it is a ganged location where it is the ONLY dimmer, then the 600 Watt rating applies. If it is in a ganged box with another dimmer, then it is only rated for 500 Watts.
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On Sat, 8 Oct 2005 19:01:14 -0400, "John Grabowski"

Wow, thanks for the information. I didn't even think of this. It is controlling 6 100W flood lamps and may indeed be overloaded. Though it has been running this way for over 3 years now...
I assumed that since it was installed by pros as part of a total house electrical upgrade, that they knew what they were doing. But clearly there was at least one bad apple in the group because I later discovered that they wired one of my ceiling fans incorrectly.
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Boy, if you can buy a Decora style dimmer for $5, sign me up. I'll take 50. The sparks aren't necessarily a problem as all wall switches spark when they make and break a circuit. You just usually can't see the spark inside the plastic. Lutron has had issues with this for years on their Skylark models a spark is clearly visible at the sides of the rocker switch, which scares the bejeebers out of a lot of folks. The burning smell on the other hand is a good indication of a problem, so the unit should be replaced. The aluminum face of the dimmer is a heat sink and in normal operation will get pretty hot, so just be sure not to overload the capacity of the dimmer

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On Sat, 8 Oct 2005 19:38:44 -0400, "RBM" <rbm2(remove

Yep, this is the one I have (unless its one that looks exactly the same). I've seen sparks from time inside the switch but didn't worry about it.
I didn't realize it was a $20 switch. I think I'll go to Home Depot and downgrade ;)
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With sparking and a burning smell, I would be concerned with the insulation on the wiring. If you are confident that it has not been impaired, or that you can shorten the wire to where the insulation is good, have a go at it. If you are uncertain, call an electrician.
DaveR wrote:

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Shut that circuit OFF then take out the switch ' the problem might be very obvious !

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