7 Reasons Why Your Lights May Be Flickering
Updated: Nov 12, 2018
This is a common question I'm asked all the time. There are many reasons you could be experiencing flickering lights in your home, and I understand that it can be daunting to figure out or even explain to people what could be going wrong. Just like everything that's complicated, all we need to do is break it down with simple questions so we can find the solution to why your lights may be flickering.
Before we begin, I would like to remind you that electricity is very dangerous when it's not treated with care. It is always best to have a licensed electrician help you with your residential or commercial property. I created this check list so that you can understand your property a little bit better and possibly point out something that your electrician might not have thought of.
1. The Bulb May be Defective or Near the End of its Life.
The easiest and cheapest thing to try is changing the bulb with one you know that works. Sometimes when a bulb is near the end of its life or if it is defective, it will flicker inconsistently. The nice thing about this problem is you can fix it without an electrician.
2. The Switch May be Broken or Not Connected Tightly.
One way of testing if this is the issue is by leaving the switch in the on position and wiggling the switch left and right, if the light starts to flicker because of the movement of the switch, then there could be a loose connection behind the switch or the switch is broken and should be replaced. Sometimes the movement on the front of the switch is not enough to show flickering and could still be loose behind the switch. Your electrician should be able to tell if it is the switch or the connection of wires to the switch.
3. There May be a Loose Connection Somewhere in the Circuit.
One way of finding out if this is the issue is by checking the receptacles in the area with something that will let you know that there is power such as a lamp or a plug tester. I like to give the receptacle a wiggle with whatever I plug into it because like the last issue, there could be a loose connection behind the receptacle. If you find that the light flickers when moving the receptacle then the receptacle should be replaced. If there is no power in some of the receptacles you might have a loose connection somewhere in the circuit.
4. You May Have a Loose connection at Your Breaker Panel or a Damaged Breaker.
This is where an experienced electrician should be able to spot a loose or burnt connection safely without hurting themselves or damaging your property. I find this problem is one of the rarer issues but can still happen.
5. Light Bulb is Shaking.
This can be caused by a ceiling fan nearby or someone walking on the floor above the light fixture. This problem technically is not the light flickering but the light shifting fast through the glass which gives the illusion of a flickering light. This can be remedied by making sure the light fixture and the bulb socket is secured tightly.
6. Incorrect Specialty Switch with a LED/CFL Bulb.
Some examples of a specialty switch are a dimmer, motion switch, timer, etc… If you have these devices controlling your light and you have a LED/CFL bulb in the light fixture, then a possible issue is the specialty switch is not rated for LED/CFL bulbs and/or your LED/CFL bulb was not designed to be controlled by a specialty switch. When you or your electrician purchases a specialty switch or energy efficient bulb, it should say “dimmable” on the package. If your property is older than 2005 most likely your bulb or switch is not rated “dimmable”.
7. Electrical Surges in the Circuit.
This can be one of the harder issues to solve or even explain but I will try to simplify it as much as I can. If you look at your breaker panel, most panels will have breakers on the left and breakers on the right. Say you have a vacuum plugged into a circuit that is powered by a breaker on the left side, when you turn on the vacuum, the motor will need an extra boost of electricity to start moving. The breaker that is powering it (left side) will take power from the right side. The side effect of this is, all the breakers on the left side will get an increase of power and the right side will get a decrease in power, this part is called an electrical surge. In reality there is more going on than what I explained but this should help you understand it a little better.
Now that we know what an electrical surge is, we can start figuring out if that is the cause of the lights flickering. When your lights flicker, check if anything in the house started running like your furnace, dryer, hair dryer, treadmill, etc… You might notice the light brighten or dim. If you find out that an appliance is affecting the light then the solution to this can be a number of ways:
Plug the appliance into a different circuit. This does not always work or it creates the same issue somewhere else.Relocate the breaker to a different slot in the panel. Again, this might not work or creates the same issue somewhere else.Install a surge protector in the main panel. This is a filter that will stop electrical spikes but will not protect against electrical drops, so you might still have the issue. I recommend this product anyways because it will protect your electronics in your home.There are expensive filters called VFD (variable frequency drivers) that work much better than a surge protector but they are thousands of dollars to install, so usually my customers will live with the issue.Tighten ALL the connections throughout the circuit. If there is a slightly loose wire anywhere in the circuit, the surge can make the lights flicker more.
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