HELP: wall switch sparks when turned off

Discussion in 'Misc DIY' started by DK, Apr 7, 2006.

  1. DK

    DK Guest

    We have a wall switch -- actually three switches -- thatcovers our
    combination bathroom light, fan, and heater (and all-in-one ceiling unit).
    The switches to the light and fan work fine, but with the heater, we would
    occassionally notice a spark when we used the switch to the heater. Then the
    heater quit working. When I took out the old switch, it was fried where the
    heater wires connected, so I put in a new switch.

    Now, we occassionally get a spark at the wall switch if the heater is turned
    on and off right away. The spark occurs only when we push the off button.
    Doesn't happen every time, just when it's turned on and off quickly -- as
    happens on occassion when someone accidentally turns on the heater when they
    meant to turn on the fan or the light.

    Is this spark anything to worry about, and if so, what can I do to fix it?
    This was the only one-piece 3-switch wall unit I could find, and it's
    supposed to be made specifically for these 3-in-one bathroom
    fan/light/heater units.

    Your advice would be appreciated!!

    --
    DK
     
    DK, Apr 7, 2006
    #1
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  2. DK

    RBM Guest

    Re: wall switch sparks when turned off

    It's really not. All switches spark internally when they make and break
    connections. The heavier the load, the larger the spark.


    "DK" <> wrote in message news:xajZf.556$...
    > We have a wall switch -- actually three switches -- thatcovers our
    > combination bathroom light, fan, and heater (and all-in-one ceiling unit).
    > The switches to the light and fan work fine, but with the heater, we would
    > occassionally notice a spark when we used the switch to the heater. Then
    > the heater quit working. When I took out the old switch, it was fried
    > where the heater wires connected, so I put in a new switch.
    >
    > Now, we occassionally get a spark at the wall switch if the heater is
    > turned on and off right away. The spark occurs only when we push the off
    > button. Doesn't happen every time, just when it's turned on and off
    > quickly -- as happens on occassion when someone accidentally turns on the
    > heater when they meant to turn on the fan or the light.
    >
    > Is this spark anything to worry about, and if so, what can I do to fix it?
    > This was the only one-piece 3-switch wall unit I could find, and it's
    > supposed to be made specifically for these 3-in-one bathroom
    > fan/light/heater units.
    >
    > Your advice would be appreciated!!
    >
    > --
    > DK
    >
     
    RBM, Apr 7, 2006
    #2
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  3. DK

    buffalobill Guest

    yes, start worrying.
    who: you and an electrician
    what: check the amperage of the heater and the switch to see if switch
    is sufficient amps. check the circuit breaker size and wire size and
    see what other devices may be sharing the same circuit.
    where: at the heater electrical plate, at the switch rating label, at
    the electrical panel.
    when: asap
    why: to avoid overheating of electrical items and avoid repeating the
    burnout of a heater if it was caused by underrated switch or overloaded
    circuit or insufficient wiring size.
    visible sparking is not normal.
    faq at:
    http://www.landfield.com/faqs/electrical-wiring/part1/
     
    buffalobill, Apr 7, 2006
    #3
  4. DK

    Guest

    its probably nothing to worry about.
     
    , Apr 7, 2006
    #4
  5. DK

    mm Guest

    On Thu, 6 Apr 2006 20:23:15 -0500, "DK" <> wrote:

    >We have a wall switch -- actually three switches -- thatcovers our
    >combination bathroom light, fan, and heater (and all-in-one ceiling unit).
    >The switches to the light and fan work fine, but with the heater, we would
    >occassionally notice a spark when we used the switch to the heater. Then the
    >heater quit working. When I took out the old switch, it was fried where the
    >heater wires connected, so I put in a new switch.
    >
    >Now, we occassionally get a spark at the wall switch if the heater is turned
    >on and off right away. The spark occurs only when we push the off button.


    It has two buttons, huh. Is this like the switches they made 50 years
    ago?

    REgardelss, I haven't seen what Joey describes. Maybe he is right on.

    But just because the first switch was damaged at the screws (did you
    make the screws tight enough when you installed it, btw?) this one
    might have a different problem.

    Is this a silent, barely detent switch? I don't know how they work,
    compared to the noisy clearly-detent swtiches that I've taken apart,
    but when the lights are off I've seen sparks inside both kinds of
    switches, and afaik, that's ok.

    Insidethe plastic case. If the sparks are on the outside, that's bad,
    but how would you see them if you don't see them through the handle or
    button? And that would mean they are inside, which is ok, afaik.

    >Doesn't happen every time, just when it's turned on and off quickly -- as


    In other words, when you were aiming for the light switch but hit the
    heater instead. So it is dark in the room, and even lighter loads than
    a heater will often make a spark that is visible in the dark through
    white or cream colored parts. (If you have a brown switch, you won't
    see anything.)

    >happens on occassion when someone accidentally turns on the heater when they
    >meant to turn on the fan or the light.
    >
    >Is this spark anything to worry about, and if so, what can I do to fix it?
    >This was the only one-piece 3-switch wall unit I could find, and it's


    But you've already replaced one of the switches. Was it a special
    replacement switch, or did you use an everywhere available one??

    If special, I can hardly believe it's not rated for the heater, but
    anything can happen. You can check the rating on the stitch. It is
    often embossed in the metal plate that screws to the box and holds the
    actual switch, so you only have to take off the cover.

    >supposed to be made specifically for these 3-in-one bathroom
    >fan/light/heater units.
    >
    >Your advice would be appreciated!!
     
    mm, Apr 7, 2006
    #5
  6. DK

    Tony Hwang Guest

    DK wrote:
    > We have a wall switch -- actually three switches -- thatcovers our
    > combination bathroom light, fan, and heater (and all-in-one ceiling unit).
    > The switches to the light and fan work fine, but with the heater, we would
    > occassionally notice a spark when we used the switch to the heater. Then the
    > heater quit working. When I took out the old switch, it was fried where the
    > heater wires connected, so I put in a new switch.
    >
    > Now, we occassionally get a spark at the wall switch if the heater is turned
    > on and off right away. The spark occurs only when we push the off button.
    > Doesn't happen every time, just when it's turned on and off quickly -- as
    > happens on occassion when someone accidentally turns on the heater when they
    > meant to turn on the fan or the light.
    >
    > Is this spark anything to worry about, and if so, what can I do to fix it?
    > This was the only one-piece 3-switch wall unit I could find, and it's
    > supposed to be made specifically for these 3-in-one bathroom
    > fan/light/heater units.
    >
    > Your advice would be appreciated!!
    >

    Hi,
    I'd feel the switch plate for warmth. If it is maybe the contacts are
    pitted too much. I'd just replace it. There is such a thing as spark
    proof ones(used in hospitals or in the mine; better made).
     
    Tony Hwang, Apr 7, 2006
    #6
  7. DK

    mm Guest

    On Fri, 07 Apr 2006 06:27:31 GMT, Tony Hwang <> wrote:

    >
    >> Is this spark anything to worry about, and if so, what can I do to fix it?
    >> This was the only one-piece 3-switch wall unit I could find, and it's
    >> supposed to be made specifically for these 3-in-one bathroom
    >> fan/light/heater units.
    >>
    >> Your advice would be appreciated!!
    >>

    >Hi,
    >I'd feel the switch plate for warmth. If it is maybe the contacts are


    Great idea.

    >pitted too much. I'd just replace it. There is such a thing as spark
    >proof ones(used in hospitals or in the mine; better made).


    I think they still make sparks like others, but the whole area
    (volume?) is enveloped in some sort of oil so the spark can't ignite
    anything.
     
    mm, Apr 7, 2006
    #7
  8. DK

    Guest

    I fix laminating machines for a living. They have similiar current draw
    to a heater since basically they are a 1500 watt load. they have a
    built in switch that can be seen sparking internally in a dark room. If
    I plug one in and use my wall switch it sparks too from the load.

    if the swich is working and not hot to touch I would forget about it.
     
    , Apr 7, 2006
    #8
  9. DK

    RBM Guest

    <> wrote in message
    news:...
    >I fix laminating machines for a living. They have similiar current draw
    > to a heater since basically they are a 1500 watt load. they have a
    > built in switch that can be seen sparking internally in a dark room. If
    > I plug one in and use my wall switch it sparks too from the load.
    >
    > if the swich is working and not hot to touch I would forget about it.
    >
     
    RBM, Apr 7, 2006
    #9
  10. DK

    RBM Guest

    Absolutely correct, the heaters are 1500 watt and the units often come with
    rather cheesy triplex switches, for light-heat-vent, and of course the heat
    switch with the heavy load will arc and burn out sooner than the others


    <> wrote in message
    news:...
    >I fix laminating machines for a living. They have similiar current draw
    > to a heater since basically they are a 1500 watt load. they have a
    > built in switch that can be seen sparking internally in a dark room. If
    > I plug one in and use my wall switch it sparks too from the load.
    >
    > if the swich is working and not hot to touch I would forget about it.
    >
     
    RBM, Apr 7, 2006
    #10
  11. DK

    DK Guest

    Re: wall switch sparks when turned off

    Thanks everyone for the advice.

    Now I'm really confused :) Many are saying "don't worry about it unless the
    switch gets hot from the spark" (it doesn't get hot, and doesn't spark at
    all unless I swith it on and off fast) and others are saying "call an
    electrician immediately, it's not normal and the switch might be
    overloaded."

    Is there anyone else out there -- especially electricians -- who care to
    weigh in on the matter?

    --
    DK
     
    DK, Apr 7, 2006
    #11
  12. DK

    mm Guest

    Re: wall switch sparks when turned off

    On Fri, 7 Apr 2006 17:22:00 -0500, "DK" <> wrote:

    >Thanks everyone for the advice.
    >
    >Now I'm really confused :) Many are saying "don't worry about it unless the
    >switch gets hot from the spark" (it doesn't get hot,


    I don't think it is the spark you see that might make it hot. It is a
    bad connection inside the switch. Greater than average sparking could
    be a symptom of that. But the spark you see only take a tenth of a
    second. Not enough time to make much heat in a functioning circuit.
    But, when the switch is closed (ON), when the two contact points of
    the switch are resting against one another, if the connection is
    still** bad, it will generate heat for the entire time you are using
    the heater. That's when, after a while, you will be able to feel some
    heat, and you shouldn't feel any. There shouldn't be any heat
    generated when the switch is resting closed. (Well, maybe a
    "microscopic" amount, but nothing close to what your senses should be
    able to detect.)

    **There is always a bad connection^^ for a fraction of a second when
    turning a mechanical*** switch on or off. It's the small period of
    time when the two contacts of the switch are not actually touching,
    but are still close enough that current can jump across the space in
    between. You can look at some very high quality relays, for example,
    and see tiny sparking between the contacts.

    ^^It's a bad connection because it is not fully open-- there is some
    current flowing; but it is not a good connection -- the resistance is
    substantially greater than zero.

    ***As opposed to a transistor switch, like an SCR (selenium controlled
    rectifier, iirc), which I'm not trying to discuss.

    >and doesn't spark at all unless I swith it on and off fast)


    No, it sparks every time^^^. You don't see it when it's not dark in
    the room.

    ^^^Every time you turn it off, or on, or both. I'm not sure which.
    Except once in a while it might not. :) but it is not because you flip
    the switch twice quickly in succession. For you it is quick. For the
    electricity, they are two separate events, one not affecting the
    other.

    > and others are saying "call an
    >electrician immediately, it's not normal and the switch might be
    >overloaded."


    Some posters may have thought the sparking was not coming from inside
    the switch. You didn't say explicitly. Others might have a different
    image of how big the sparks are. Those who say no problem think the
    sparks are short because they are contained in a small place (the
    inside of the swtich) and only the light they cast is rather great.
    At least it seems that way in the dark.

    Other posters might agree with me about what is happening and might
    still think it is dangerous. I don't know why.

    >Is there anyone else out there -- especially electricians -- who care to
    >weigh in on the matter?


    I'm not an electrician, but I've used electric switches since I was 2.
     
    mm, Apr 8, 2006
    #12
  13. DK

    Ben Miller Guest

    Re: wall switch sparks when turned off

    "DK" <> wrote in message news:6DBZf.106$...
    > Thanks everyone for the advice.
    >
    > Now I'm really confused :) Many are saying "don't worry about it unless
    > the switch gets hot from the spark" (it doesn't get hot, and doesn't spark
    > at all unless I swith it on and off fast) and others are saying "call an
    > electrician immediately, it's not normal and the switch might be
    > overloaded."
    >
    > Is there anyone else out there -- especially electricians -- who care to
    > weigh in on the matter?
    >
    > --
    > DK


    Switch contacts always arc, every time they open. The amount of arc depends
    on the load... a motor or heavy appliance will cause more than a light bulb.
    Whether or not you see it depends on the construction of the switch and the
    amount of light in the room. If there is a gap around the operating lever,
    you may very well see more than if there isn't.

    Having said that, however, if the switch is old it may be arcing more due to
    worn contacts. If the switch is new, it is probably OK. Only someone
    looking at it can tell you for sure.The only way to know is to have an
    electrician check it out, or change the switch.

    Ben Miller

    --
    Benjamin D. Miller, PE
    B. MILLER ENGINEERING
    www.bmillerengineering.com
    >
     
    Ben Miller, Apr 12, 2006
    #13
  14. DK

    RicodJour Guest

    Re: wall switch sparks when turned off

    mm wrote:
    >
    > I'm not an electrician, but I've used electric switches since I was 2.


    Tall kid.

    R
     
    RicodJour, Apr 12, 2006
    #14
  15. DK

    user Guest

    Re: wall switch sparks when turned off

    On 11 Apr 2006 20:41:18 -0700, RicodJour <> wrote:
    > mm wrote:
    >>
    >> I'm not an electrician, but I've used electric switches since I was 2.

    >
    > Tall kid.
    >


    Probably not - both of my 2 year olds were expert wall switch
    manipulators. Amazing how high they can jump at that age. ;-)

    - Rich
     
    user, Apr 12, 2006
    #15
  16. DK

    buffalobill Guest

    buffalobill, Apr 12, 2006
    #16
  17. Re: wall switch sparks when turned off

    DK wrote:
    > Thanks everyone for the advice.
    >
    > Now I'm really confused :) Many are saying "don't worry about it unless the
    > switch gets hot from the spark" (it doesn't get hot, and doesn't spark at
    > all unless I swith it on and off fast) and others are saying "call an
    > electrician immediately, it's not normal and the switch might be
    > overloaded."
    >
    > Is there anyone else out there -- especially electricians -- who care to
    > weigh in on the matter?
    >


    Apparently the switch you are talking about is one
    that comes with the ceiling unit and you replaced
    it with a similar set of switches.

    I'm not an electrician but I can use my brain and
    have no trouble installing or repairing normal
    house wiring. Anytime you can see a switch spark
    there is something wrong and you need to replace
    it. Ask yourself these questions, Do you have any
    other wall switch that sparks? If you have an
    electric stove, do you see sparks when you turn on
    or turn off a burner? Do you have motors that you
    turn on and off and you see sparks at the switch?
    The answers should be no, and your brain should
    note that a spark at a switch is unusual and means
    trouble.

    Either your heater element draws too much current
    for the switch, or the switch is of extremely poor
    quality or the connections are poor.
     
    George E. Cawthon, Apr 12, 2006
    #17
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