At first, a crackling noise coming from a light switch may not seem as though it should be a major cause of concern. This is not the case, however, as any type of crackling, popping, fizzing, or buzzing noises indicate an electrical fault in the switch. This seemingly insignificant issue can lead to much more significant hazards with your home electrics if you don’t address it straight away.
If your light switch is crackling, you must immediately shut off the power to the lights at your main breaker box. You should then contact an electrician to inspect your home electrics as soon as possible. A crackling light switch or power outlet indicates a serious fault called ‘arcing’ that can lead to fires or other electrical accidents in your home.
How Does a Standard Light Switch Work?
To give the obvious answer to the question, light switches control the operation of the corresponding lights. Standard light switches, otherwise known as single-pole switches, toggle between an ‘on’ and ‘off’ position. This enables you to switch the lights on and off as you please.
We can take a closer look at these single-pole switches to better understand how they work. Electrical fixtures like lights receive a constant current of electricity; this electricity runs in a circuit from your mains supply to the lights via insulated wiring. Before reaching and powering the light, the electricity has to pass through the light’s switch.
When the switch is flipped to the ‘on’ position, it completes the electrical circuit, and the light will turn on. Oppositely, in the ‘off’ position, the switch interrupts the electrical circuit, turning the light off. Other types of switches like dimmer switches have more complex operations, but this is a brief explanation of how a basic switch works.
What Causes a Light Switch to Crackle?
A crackling sound coming from a light switch indicates an electrical fault within the switch’s wiring. This is not a normal sound, only occurring when the switch or wiring is damaged or faulty.
As we’ve mentioned, current constantly flows through electrical devices and their wiring during their normal operation. When the system is working correctly, this current flows in a direct path through the insulated wiring to the outlet. The outlet or switch shouldn’t make any audible noises under these proper working conditions. On the other hand, an outlet or switch with faulty wiring will give off an audible crackling sound. This sound indicates an electrical issue known as ‘arcing’; we further explain what arcing means in the following section.
What Causes Arcing in a Light Switch?
When a wire is arcing, this means that the electricity is jumping along the wire rather than flowing in a constant unbroken path. The electricity essentially sparks from one part of the wire to the next instead of being safely contained within the system’s wiring.There are two main causes for arcing in a light switch; either the switch is defective or worn out, or it has damage to the insulation of its wiring.
Switch is Defective or Worn-Out
A crackling light switch may indicate that the switch itself is defective or at the end of its life span. It’s inevitable that parts of your electrical system will wear down as they age; with usage, the switch will gradually deteriorate, causing loose or faulty connections that then lead to arcing. This is likely the case if your home electrics are on the older side. If the light switches are relatively new, it could simply be the case that the switch is defective or was incorrectly installed.
Switch Has Wiring with Damaged Insulation
The crackling sound in a light switch could also be due to the wiring having damaged insulation. The metallic element in electrical wiring is protected by a layer of non-conductive insulation; this insulation is necessary to keep the electrical current safely contained within the wires. Without proper insulation, the electricity will spark outside of the wiring. This is what causes the arcing that gives off an audible crackling noise from the switch. Again, such damage occurs as an inevitable consequence from the ageing of the wiring.
Is a Crackling Light Switch Dangerous?
A crackling light switch can be very dangerous. This is therefore an issue that needs addressing immediately by yourself, or ideally, by a qualified electrician.
To reiterate, a crackling light switch is a clear sign of arcing somewhere in the system. This of course creates a safety hazard, as the electricity is not being safely contained within the system’s wiring. If you don’t fix the issue, you put your home at a significant risk of fires and other electrical accidents.
What to Do if Your Light Switch is Crackling
As is the case with most electrical issues, it’s best to contact a qualified electrician upon hearing a crackling light switch. It may be possible to replace the light switch yourself if you have experience with this type of repair; otherwise, you shouldn’t attempt to carry this fix out yourself.
It goes without saying that working with electricity can be extremely dangerous if you lack the necessary skills and experience. Attempting to fix a crackling switch or socket without the appropriate know-how is a bad idea; you could potentially harm yourself or others in your home, or put your property at risk of fires.
With that said, you should still take the first step towards ensuring the immediate safety of your electrics by shutting off the light’s power at the mains. This will instantly stop the flow of electricity to the faulty switch, preventing further damage from occurring. You should then contact an electrician and explain the issue you’re facing; they will understand that this is an emergency and should arrange to see you at their next convenience.