Light switches are beautiful in their simplicity.
The first quick-break light switch was invented in 1884, and the first toggle switch in 1916.
And the designs (of the internal components, at least) haven’t changed much since then.
A light switch is probably the most-used thing in your home or at least the most-used electrical item.
But despite that, they don’t actually need replacing too often.
There’s no recommended amount of time for replacing a light switch. They only need replacing if the switch starts to fail. Light switches will commonly last for 20 years or more without any problems.
Let’s delve a little more into that. I’m going to explain:
- Why there’s no recommended schedule for replacing light switches
- The typical lifespan of toggle and dimmer switches
- How you can tell when one needs replacing
Is There a Recommended Schedule To Replace The Light Switch?
With many electrical items in your home, they have a recommended lifespan. Therefore, you should aim to replace them to ensure they don’t deteriorate and become unsafe.
That’s not the case for light switches, and I’ll explain why in the next section. But the result of that is that there’s no actual time frame for you to replace the switch as long as it continues to work.
Indeed, many people will replace a light switch more for cosmetic reasons than practical ones.
Plastic switches will, over time, start to change color, or they might get scratched or worn from just being used.
A light switch will rarely fail because people prefer to replace them when redecorating long before they’ve had the chance to stop working.
What Is The Typical Lifespan Of The Light Switch?
How long should you expect a light switch to work for?
As I already said, at least 20 years is the average amount, although plenty have lasted for longer, up to 40 years or more in some extreme cases.
In fact, original light switches are often preserved in period properties because they’re considered a design feature.
Although it’s worth remembering that there’s more to the switch than what you see on the wall, and some older homes may have replaced the internal components but retained the classic design.
So why do light switches last so longer than many other electrical components? The answer is simply down to how they work.
Most electrical components have an on-state and an off-state. When they are off, they aren’t doing anything.
And when they are on, an electrical current is creating some form of reaction, whether it’s lighting up an LED diode, generating heat, or whatever the component is designed to do.
It’s easy to confuse switches as working the same way because they have an “on” and “off” position, but that’s not the same.
The only difference between a light switch being on or off is whether the circuit is open or closed.
That simply means that the only components under duress are the wiring, which just carries the current and the spring mechanism of the switch itself, and that’s only under pressure when you flick the switch – it’s not a constant tension.
Think about how many fractions of a second the light switch is actually being ‘used’ every day – that’s why they last so long.
Do Toggle Switches Last Longer Than Dimmers?
Everything I’ve said above about how simple light switches are referred to as toggle switches with a simple on/off function.
Dimmer switches are a little different because they have additional components in them – they have to regulate the current to either dim or brighten the light(s) that they are connected to.
This is an extra layer of complexity and means that dimmer switches run warmer than a standard light switch, contributing to wear and tear over time.
As such, you can probably expect a dimmer switch to last for around 15 years on average – still pretty good innings for a piece of electrical equipment!
It should also be noted that because dimmer switches are a little more complex, more can go wrong with them if you buy a cheap one. But, again, the chief culprit is the capacitors that regulate the light – low-quality capacitors will fail faster.
Buying cheap dimmer switches means they’re likely to be manufactured with more inexpensive capacitors and, therefore, fail sooner.
When it comes to electrical equipment, always buy from a reputable brand if you can, and verify its quality with independent reviews.
Also read: Can You Leave Light Switch In The Middle?
How Do I Know It’s Time To Replace The Switch?
Now that we’ve established that replacing a switch is likely to be rare, it’s worth highlighting some of the potential problems and signs that would let you know it is time to act.
If your light fixture is made using plastic and it develops an actual crack, you should replace it as soon as possible. It’s not just cosmetic – while you’re unlikely to get a shock through a hairline crack, it could develop into something worse over time.
It’s not worth taking the risk.
Light fixtures might start making popping or crackling noises when you switch them on or off. It might just be the switch itself, but it could also be a sign of the electricity arcing, which is a fire hazard.
Switch the light off, and don’t use the switch again until you’ve replaced it.
Toggle switches shouldn’t ever feel warm to the touch. However, it’s not uncommon for dimmer switches to have a slightly higher temperature.
But you should always be comfortable using them. If they get so hot that you can’t touch the switch for more than a few seconds, it’s a danger and needs to be replaced.
If there’s a delay between the flicking of the switch and the lights turning on, that means the contacts in the switch are wearing out. It’ll not cause any dangers, but it will get worse over time, so it’s worth replacing the whole switch as soon as it’s convenient.
Switch getting loose
Suppose the actual toggle or dimmer switch is getting loose. The toggle doesn’t have that springy snap, or the dimmer dial feels like an old steering wheel that needs a few turns to do anything. In that case, it just means that the parts are worn out.
You won’t repair it, and a new switch won’t cost too much.
Buzzing noises get louder
This one’s more for dimmer switches. Dimmers will sometimes have a very low ambient buzzing noise, which is OK.
But if it gets louder, you’ll want to swap it out to make sure it’s still safe to use.
Of course, these are just the problems that may make you want to swap out a light switch, but there are upgrade options as well.
You might want to swap your toggle switch for a dimmer (just make sure that, if you have LED bulbs, they’re rated as dimmable) , or upgrade to a wireless light switch, or one with a motion sensor.
That should make it clear why these fantastic little inventions just keep working for so long and the signs to watch out for so that you don’t get too complacent with your light switches.
Just because they are so long-lasting doesn’t mean you should ignore one of the warning signs above if they do crop up.
When was the last time you replaced light switches in your home?
Have you progressed away from even using switches, leaving them permanently on in conjunction with smart bulbs?