Light switch covers, also known as switch plates, offer safety and visual benefits. These plates conceal the wires providing aesthetic appeal and keeping wires away from hands. Sometimes, however, these light switch covers warp, leading to unsightly switch plates and a potential safety hazard.
Eight reasons why light switch covers warp include improper installation, temperature changes, low-quality plates, electrical issues, improper screws, earthquake damage, high humidity levels, or poorly finished drywall seams.
In this article, I’ll explain eight reasons why light switch covers may warp, and because warping may be an indication of a potential electrical issue, I’ll also walk you through how to fix them to ensure a safe, aesthetic home. Read on to learn more.
1. Improper Installation
A common reason for a light switch plate to warp is improper installation. When a cover isn’t adequately secured to the wall, it may warp over time under its weight.
To fix this issue, examine the switch plate. Look for any gaps between the light switch cover and the wall. If you can peer into the wall behind the plate or see the light entering around the edges, the plate isn’t installed correctly. Remove the switchplate and reinstall it, ensuring the plate lies flush with the wall.
In addition to no gaps, you shouldn’t see screws, nails, or other objects protruding from the light switch cover. If there are screws or nails sticking out, they’re likely too big for the plate. You must remove the nails or screws and reinstall the switch plate with proper screws.
If you’re unsure about how to properly install a light switch plate, check out this YouTube video from MasterMind HandyMan for clear, concise instructions:
2. Temperature Changes
Extreme temperature fluctuations may cause light switch covers to warp.
When exposed to extreme heat or cold, the material of the switch plate expands and contracts. Over time, this can cause the light switch cover to warp.
Temperature changes aren’t always due to electrical issues (which I’ll discuss later in this article). In fact, one of the main reasons why a switch plate may end up exposed to such temperatures is poor insulation. For example, if the light switch is attached to an exterior wall, improper insulation can expose the cover to outdoor temperatures.
In fact, during extremely frigid conditions, cold exposure can cause the contacts to freeze over, leading to a light switch that doesn’t work at all.
As such, if you reside in an area that experiences hot summers or freezing winters, these temperatures could damage the light switch cover over time. To fix this problem, ensure that your home is properly insulated from the elements.
Another reason for temperature fluctuations is sunlight exposure. Exposure to UV rays over long periods can cause the material of the switch plate to warp. This is usually the case with light switch covers made of cheap, thin plastic.
You can usually remedy this problem by investing in light switch covers made of high-quality material, which brings me to our next point.
3. Poor Quality Material
Flimsy, low-quality material (especially thin plastics) can cause a light switch cover to warp. Thin plastics are far more susceptible to warping than thicker materials or metal switch plates.
If the switch plate isn’t a complete loss — only slightly bent — you can try your hand at straightening it with a heat gun or hair dryer.
Remove the plate from the wall, apply indirect heat to soften the plastic, then bend it back in place. You can do this with your hands or by placing heavy objects over the light switch cover so it lays flat. Once it cools and remains straightened, reinstalls the plate.
Please note that while this fix may work temporarily, it’s more than likely going to warp again. By exposing the switch plate to heat, you’re weakening it further, making it more susceptible to damage sooner rather than later.
As such, it’s best to just replace the switch plate.
When replacing a light switch cover, opt for a more durable material, such as metal. Plastic degrades over time through microscopic cracks and stretching, so metal makes a much better alternative, especially in the long run.
I recommend the Leviton 84001-40 Gang Toggle Switch Wall Plate, which is available on Amazon. This standard-size wall plate is made of stainless steel with a smooth finish. It’s non-combustible and comes with matching mounting screws.
4. Electrical Malfunction
Electrical issues within a home can cause wires to overheat, leading to switch plates that begin to melt and warp as a result. Most often, this is caused by defective wiring.
When wires wear down (or if the person who installed the switch used the wrong size wires), it can cause overheating and a potential fire hazard.
Pinched or nicked wires, whether from improper installation or a rodent chewing on the cords, could cause a partial ground. A partial ground causes the wires to draw a large amount of current, leading to heat.
You can test the draw of current using an ammeter. Multimeters work, too, but if the draw exceeds ten amps, it could blow the meter’s fuse.
If the draw is too high for a light switch, then it’s imperative that you replace the wires or call an electrician to do so.
Turn off the main breaker in the home and contact an electrician immediately if you notice any of the following:
- Scorch marks on or behind the switch plate
- Switch plate is hot to the touch
- The light switch cover is noticeably melting, not just warped
- You smell smoke or a fish-like odor (which could indicate an electrical fire)
5. Wrong Screws for Light Switch
One problem that most people don’t consider is using domed screws to mount the light switch fixture to the handy box.
While there are some light switch cover plates with indentations to accommodate domed screws, most standard switch plates don’t have this feature.
Therefore, when using domed screws to mount the switch to the electrical box, these screws stick out too far. When you attach a standard light switch cover (one without indentations), it causes a gap between the switch plate and the wall. When tightening the switch plate, the domed screws push against the cover, causing it to bow outward. This leads to a bent or warped appearance.
Fortunately, this is an easy fix. Just replace the domed mounting screws with flat-head screws. If, after replacing the screws, the problem persists, it’s likely another problem entirely. Consider one of the other reasons within this article.
6. Earthquake Damage
If you live in an area that experiences regular earthquakes or only notice the light switch covers warping after a recent earthquake, the issue may be caused by earthquake damage.
Earthquakes can cause significant changes to drywall, such as cracks and misalignment. Therefore, it could be that the drywall within your home has shifted, pushing the electrical boxes deeper into the wall. They may appear recessed or warped.
To remedy this issue, you’ll need to replace the drywall so that it’s properly aligned and reinstall the light switch covers. Unfortunately, this fix may prove costly.
7. High Humidity Levels
High humidity levels within a home can cause issues with switch plates and outlet covers. Excess moisture buildup causes drywall to expand, pushing against the plates. If the switch plates are made of thin, flimsy material, they may bow outward as a result.
Additionally, if builders installed drywall during high humidity levels, the joint compound doesn’t dry properly. As a result, the compound shrinks along the joints, causing misalignment that may affect switch plates, causing them to bow inward or outward. Sometimes the issue isn’t noticeable until significant settling occurs.
You can invest in a dehumidifier if you suspect expansion of drywall due to humidity. Once the issue is remedied, reinstall the switch plates. However, if the problem is starved joints, you’ll have to replace the drywall to rectify the problem.
8. Poorly Finished Seams
When building a home, builders install drywall horizontally with a seam running halfway up the wall. To secure the seams, they utilize mesh tape and a joint compound that acts as glue. Once this “glue” dries, they sand down the seams, making them flush with the wallboard.
Improper installation of the wallboard, however, may lead to a bulging seam, especially when not properly sanded. Since most contractors install light switches approximately halfway up the wall, they may appear warped if placed over a bulging joint.
To fix this problem, you can invest in a nylon thermoplastic cover plate. This material can better withstand irregular surfaces thanks to its flexibility. A more permanent option involves fixing the drywall, though this can be a costly repair, especially when hiring contractors.
If opting for the former solution, I recommend the Leviton 80709-W-2 Gang Toggle Light Switch Plate, which is available on Amazon. This double switch plate is made of a resistant thermoplastic that easily withstands impact, abrasion, and mechanical stress. As such, it makes the ideal light switch cover for situations when the wall isn’t completely flat.
Warping can affect other wall installations, including sidings, making them become noisy and squeaky. If your siding makes noise in the wind, check out my complete guide to find the possible causes. [Why Does Your Siding Make Noise in the Wind?]