A slight mistake can ruin your equipment or pose a safety risk.
Therefore, whether you plan to hire an electrician or prefer the DIY route (if you possess the skills), you want to understand the project before embarking on it.
So, Can You Replace A 15-Amp Light Switch with A 20-Amp?
Both 15-Amp and 20-Amp outlets can be connected to a 20-Amp circuit, BUT ONLY 15-Amp outlets can be connected to a 15-Amp circuit. There are two good reasons for that. Firstly, connecting a 20-Amp window air conditioner or any other appliance to your 15-Amp circuit is highly unsafe because you would be overloading. The second reason is that the 20-Amp plug won’t fit on the 15-Amp outlet.
The above incoherence and similar situations may have left you wondering whether swapping your 15-Amp light switch with a 20-Amp alternative would be OK and whether you’d face the same problems.
YES – It Is Okay to Replace Your 15-Amp Switch with A 20-Amp Option
There are two reasons why it is okay to do so.
Firstly, your switch is not a real load that would draw electrical power from the circuit, meaning upgrading would carry little risk.
For instance, you won’t have to worry about the gauge of the wiring used to link the switch to the circuit.
If it were a receptacle, you’d have had to consider the wiring gauge to avoid fire risk.
A thin wire (or high gauge wiring) will get red hot or burn if the receptacle overloads.
The second reason is that you won’t have to deal with incompatibility issues.
For instance, if you replaced your 15-Amp outlets with a 20-Amp outlet, you’d be disappointed to realize that a 20-Amp plug can fit in a 15-Amp outlet, BUT a 15-Amp plug can’t fit in a 20-Amp outlet.
Fortunately, appliances with 20-Amp plugs are extremely rare nowadays.
However, the most reassuring thing is that you are upgrading your switch, not downgrading.
When it comes to light switches, you are better off upgrading than downgrading, especially if the replacement will come close to or match the amperage of the circuit.
Read on to understand why.
If You Are Dealing With A 15-Amp Circuit, It’s Still OK to Upgrade Your Switches, but You Might Have to be Content with Frequent Trips
Putting a 20-Amp switch on a 15-Amp circuit is like putting a slightly larger connector between two pipes of the same size.
There’s no real change in how water is delivered until the pump demands more water, in which case you will hear noises in the connector.
The 5-Amp difference between your switch (20-Amp) and the circuit (15-Amp) may create an opportunity for faults which may bring other issues.
Fortunately, circuits are equipped accordingly. If things get out of hand after upgrading your switch, your circuit breaker will trip to prevent an escalation.
The only problem is that the circuit may frequently trip to the point of annoyance.
If You Are Dealing With A 20-Amp Circuit, You Are Simply Matching It with an Appropriately Rated Switch (20-Amp), Which Is a Good Thing and Allowed
It only makes sense that you match the circuit with the fixture.
If the room is being serviced by a 20-Amp circuit, then it would be prudent to install 20-Amp switches and outlets to avoid encountering issues.
Look at it as a car whose wheels are being upgraded to match the manufacturer’s specifications – the chances of rolling into a ditch will reduce dramatically.
It is also worth mentioning that 20-Amp switches are generally more heavy-duty than their lowly-rated counterparts, although the brand may have a say.
NEC Section 404 Has Your Back
All the requirements for installing light switches are outlined in section 404 of the National Electrical Code.
Switches and other fixtures usually are rated twice: according to the maximum voltage they can handle and the maximum current (or simply the current) they will safely carry.
That’s why, on close inspection, you will see two different digits written on or inside the plate.
These ratings (both the maximum voltage and maximum current) mean you can use a 15A switch on a 20A breaker lighting circuit.
- Also, you could install a 10A switch or similar rating on the same home circuit because the same breaker can withstand any level of amperage/voltage below its rating.
- However, you can’t use a 25A or 30A switch because these ratings are above the breaker’s rating.
- The trick is always to ensure the amperage of your switch is below the circuit breaker’s rating.
- Otherwise, undesirable things may happen to your devices. For more information, check NEC 404.14.
It is an offense for a contractor or builder to violate the regulations outlined in the NEC, meaning they are liable to damages that may arise from a violation.
On the other hand, a homeowner will get away with it if he violates the code.
However, the house is unlikely to pass inspection, and the insurance company won’t cover the costs of the damages arising from a violation.
While upgrading from a 15-Amp switch to a 20-Amp alternative on the circuit is okay, there are a few setbacks you should know.
For example, if the lighting load changes in the future, you might also need to change the switch; otherwise, it will overheat even if everything else is working perfectly.
So be sure to consider future improvements before upscaling.
Also, you might need to exercise extra precautions if you live in an old home with old wiring that is not up to today’s standards.
Rules are rarely consistent in electrical power distribution, so you need an independent approach to switch improvement.
It is always advisable to consider an array of relevant factors, including the amperage of the circuit.
However, upgrading your 15-Amp switch to a 20-Amp option requires fewer considerations, especially if the circuit is rated 20-Amp.
Putting a 20-Amp switch on a 15-Amp circuit is very much like wearing a slightly oversize shoe.
On the other hand, a 20-Amp switch fits snuggly on a 20-Amp circuit.