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Rick
Rick, Master Electrician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 467
Experience:  10 yrs as a electrician. Have my own company.
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Is it normal to smell a slightly sweet smell from a lightswitch.

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Is it normal to smell a slightly sweet smell from a lightswitch. The particular lightswitches are new (I just replaced the old ones). The smell is faint enough where you actually have to have your nose up the lightswitch to smell it. I wouldn't characterize it as a burning smell (e.g. burning plastic), but just a smell I can't adequately describe.

The particular switches are 3 way switches, which control 4 fluorescent can lights in the kitchen. The bulbs themselves are several years old and have some debris at the bottom of them -- not sure if an old fluourescent can build up too much resistance.

Thanks.

Sparky :

Hello, my name is XXXXX XXXXX I'm here to answer any of your electrical questions.

Customer:

Hello!

Sparky :

Hi. I've never heard of that before. However because they are flourescent can lights they take very little power to run, and the switch should be a regular on off switch. Is it a dimmer?

Customer:

Nope, not a dimmer. Just a 3 way switch. The switchplates don't feel hot at all.

Customer:

And, after awhile I will turn off the power and pull the switch out just to see if the black casing is or warm and it is not.

Sparky :

I don't think there is anything to worry about, but just to feel safe about it, you may want to remove the switch from the wall, after turning the power off of course. Inspect it for any burn marks, have a look at the wire, and make sure everything looks normal. No brown marks on the wire.

Customer:

Okay. If there was a problem to worry about, would that generally result in warmth, burn smell, visual evidence of burn, etc.? I just want to make sure that if there were an issue with arcing or a loose connection, that it would make itself known to me in time for me to do something.

Customer:

Also, are there such things as arc fault switches or other safety switches that cause the breaker to trip if a switch was arcing?

Sparky :

If there are marks on the wire, see if the wires are connected under a screw and tightened up, or if ther are stabbed into the back of the switch. If they are the stab in the back type, remove the wires from their locations and put them under the screws instead. The stab in the back connections become loose over time. There are arc fault breakers that can be installed at he panel. However depending on the age of the home, and the style of wiring that was originally installed by the electrician the arc fault breaker may not work.

Sparky :

If they end up being the stab in the back, make sure you put the wire on the screw right next to the hole each wire was in. On 3 way switches it is important to make sure the wires are connected in the appropriate locations.

Customer:

Okay. I installed them on the terminal screws and the connections are tight. I sometimes worry if they are too tight, but I'm not sure if that is possible. I suppose after I check for evidence of any burn, and assuming I don't find any, I could just let it lay for a week or so and see if it goes away. Maybe there's some stuff that burns off in the beginning at the contacts or spring. I don't know -- it's really faint and you have to really try to smell it.

Sparky :

Yes you can over tighten them, but believe me, you will know if you do that because you'll be buying a new switch. I would go ahead as you just described and see what happens. You can go ahead and rate my service , and if you still need continued help, you can come back to your question and I will continue to help you. I doubt you will need any further assistance, but I will be here for you if you do.

Customer:

You mean the switch would crack or split?

Customer:

Okay, I'll rate it. Thanks again!

Rick and other Electrical Specialists are ready to help you
Just wanted to say thank you for the excellent rating. It is greatly appreciated. If you have any more electrical questions, please let me know. Here is my profile page. Thanks again.

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