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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I was awoken abruptly this morning by my wife saying there was smoke coming from a wall switch. Long story short the 4 speed ceiling fan switch was on fire.

I removed the switch and capped the wires. The wiring and the box seem fine.

Shouldn't the circuit breaker have tripped? Should I replace it? Anything else I should be aware of before I install a new switch? I'm very comfortable doing the repairs. I'll check the fan for problems that could have led to this. I'm just not sure if the breaker should be replaced. It looks and feels fine when switched on and off although that doesn't mean they are not defective.



 

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Most likely a loose connection to the switch. Loose connections can develop lots of heat even while drawing far fewer amps needed to trip a breaker.

All the rest of the wiring, from the fan down to the breaker, should be okay. Just double check the last 2 inches of wire ends going into the switch for melting or scorching. You will need to trim off any burned covering before wiring up the new switch.

(Added later) A multi-position switch can make a bad connection inside and burn up if the slider or knob is put in between notches or detents.
 

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If the load is not high enough the breaker will not trip. It looks like it failed internally or had a loose connection .
 

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If the breaker was an AFCI it should have tripped. Otherwise not enough current to overload a regular breaker. It doesn't take very much current to make a switch burn up.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks guys!

I hard wired the connection to check amperage. There are two fans (no lights) on the circuit. Both on high were pulling about 1 amp. The switches available at the home improvement centers are rated for 1.5 amps yet says for one fan only. Do I really need to order a higher amp switch? The one that was in there was only 1.25 amps.
 

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2 amps on a switch rated for 1.25 amps will almost certainly cause it to burn up. And not trip the breaker.

You'll need to get a switch rated for at least 2 amps or the same thing will happen again.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
2 amps on a switch rated for 1.25 amps will almost certainly cause it to burn up. And not trip the breaker.

You'll need to get a switch rated for at least 2 amps or the same thing will happen again.
Sorry for the confusion. Both combined were 1 amp measure at the switch. I'm assuming the 1.5 amp switch is adequate. However, after reading the specifications stating for one fan I wanted to make sure. Seems fine to me but assumptions and electricity are never a good thing lol
 

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My understanding is code requires things to be installed according to manufacturer specifications, and in this case the switch specifies one fan only.

So by law, yes, you need a multi-fan switch or a switch that does not explicitly indicate the number of fans it can control.

If you are thinking of doing something else, I would not do that something else when replacing a switch that just had an electric problem. You want a switch that (1) your wife will be confident is okay, and (2) to keep it from being your fault if it catches fire again and sets your house on fire (no reason it should, but juries and by extension insurance companies do sometimes care about context, as will you while you are kicking yourself).

Disclaimer: not an electrician.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thanks for everyone's help. I went to Home depot and there happen to be an electrician there while I was looking. He showed me the correct one to get. It is a 1.5 amp but does not indicate one fan only. He did say the one that says one fan would be fine as well but for 2 more dollars it was a no brainer.

It turns out the capacitor in one of the fans was bad. I have no idea if that could have caused this but it's repaired now as well.

btw, Trisodium Phosphate is a heck of a cleaner. I used it to get the black smoke off the wall. That stuff works great!

Thanks again
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
You mean 15 amp switch right? I have never seen a switch in a residential setting rated at 1.5 amps. Its always been 15 and 20 amp rated.
No. I really did mean 1.5 amps. These aren't standard single pole light switches. They're intended to control ceiling fan speeds. If you look at the label on the back of the old one it say 1.25A Max. It does seem odd but they all seem to be 1.5 amps or smaller.
 

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It does seem odd but they all seem to be 1.5 amps or smaller.
Why do you find it odd ? A typical 52 inch fan draws something in the 60-85 watt range (fan only) on high speed, less on medium or low. (Some fans get down to 10 watts on low.)

The 1.25 amps is a generous number and lets the speed control work on older fans and larger fans.

In residential applications, most fans are individually controlled. I prefer individual control of fans even when you have a room large enough for two.
 

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Circuit breakers are unsual critters. At times like you had, it will still feed voltage even after the "Sacrificial Lamb" gets cooked to a crisp. other times they will trip immediately.

The short that you had, was just a slow baking one that is why fires happen in the home and why AFCI's have been pushed ao hard. Along with regular maintenance to replace any worn out outlets or switches.
 

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The short that you had, was just a slow baking one that is why fires happen in the home and why AFCI's have been pushed ao hard. Along with regular maintenance to replace any worn out outlets or switches.
Regular maintenance? What does that mean in the context of switches and outlets? Are you supposed to replace them before they stop working? Or do you just mean using the self-test function on outlets that have them?
 

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There's the inside of those things, 4 current limiting resistors for your 4 speeds. No PTC or fuse inside. Whoever designed such a POS and allowed it to be sold should be castrated and have their hands lopped off.

Garbage design, built with garbage components.
 

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Circuit breakers are unsual critters. At times like you had, it will still feed voltage even after the "Sacrificial Lamb" gets cooked to a crisp. other times they will trip immediately.

The short that you had, was just a slow baking one that is why fires happen in the home and why AFCI's have been pushed ao hard. Along with regular maintenance to replace any worn out outlets or switches.

What do you mean by slow backing and sacrificial lambs?
 

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Circuit breakers are unsual critters. At times like you had, it will still feed voltage even after the "Sacrificial Lamb" gets cooked to a crisp. other times they will trip immediately.

The short that you had, was just a slow baking one that is why fires happen in the home and why AFCI's have been pushed ao hard. Along with regular maintenance to replace any worn out outlets or switches.
Not unusual when you understand how they work. The OP did not have an overload or short so the breaker was never going to trip. The Op had either a component failure or a loose connection that heated up. An AFCI may have tripped from this issue.

Breakers trip immediately from dead shorts either to neutral or ground or to the other leg of the panel.
 
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