How to Troubleshoot an Electrical Switch That Feels Hot

Hot electrical wall switches are a fire hazard and should be fixed immediately.
Hot electrical wall switches are a fire hazard and should be fixed immediately. (Image: worn light switch - on image by Five Arrows from Fotolia.com)

An electrical wall switch that is warm or hot to the touch requires your immediate attention. House fires caused by poor electrical connections are devastating in terms of property loss and can also be the cause of loss of life. If you have basic electrical knowledge and a few tools, you can troubleshoot the overheated switch and determine the source of the problem in 20 minutes or less.

Things You'll Need

  • Flat-head screwdriver
  • Phillips-head screwdriver
  • Voltage tester

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Turn the power off to the circuit operated by the switch.

Remove the switch cover screw with the appropriate screwdriver. Turn the screw in a counterclockwise direction. Lift the cover off from the switch.

Turn the switch to the on position.

Verify the absence of power using the voltage tester. Touch each of the two tester probes to the terminals on the switch to test. If the switch still feels hot, allow it to cool before proceeding.

Remove the top and bottom switch bracket screws with a screwdriver. Pull the switch out from the electrical box as far as the wiring allows.

Check the wire terminals for a loose connection. Check the wire ends for evidence of arcing and the body of the switch and terminal screws for physical damage.

Determine how many outlets and other electrical appliances are on the same circuit as the overheated switch.

Check the circuit breaker or circuit fuse at the main electrical panel for proper amperage rating.

Tips & Warnings

  • Light circuits should operate on 15 amp circuits with 14 gauge copper wire. Outlets operate at 20 amps and are wired with 12 gauge copper wire.
  • Never reinstall the overheated switch. Internal parts of the switch are likely damaged and the switch should be replaced.
  • Remove all accessories or appliances overloading the circuit.
  • Do not expand existing circuits using extension cords. This practice can create overloads that are a fire hazard.
  • Never install higher than rated amperage circuit breakers or fuses.
  • Always work safely with electricity.

References

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