May 24, 2024

Flickering lights is one of the more common electrical issues and something that can occur for a variety of different reasons. Some of the issues that can cause this to happen aren’t all that serious and may be something you can fix on your own. That said, flickering lights can also indicate that there is a fairly major issue with your electrical system that requires immediate attention. In this article, we’ll show you all of the various issues that can cause lights to flicker so that you know when you need to hire an electrician.

Light Bulb Issues

Flickering lights can sometimes be a sign of a major electrical issue, but the issue can also occur simply due to an issue with the light bulb that you can easily fix by yourself. If you have just a single bulb that keeps flickering, the first thing to check is that it is fully screwed into the light socket. If the bulb is slightly loose, it can lead to slight fluctuations in the power flowing to it that cause it to occasionally flicker or go out.

Compact fluorescent bulbs and fluorescent tube lights always start flickering when dying, so the solution in this case may simply be to replace the bulb or tube. If you have an LED light that starts flickering, you may also want to try replacing it to see if that fixes the issue. That’s because LED lights don’t suddenly burn out like other bulbs and instead slowly start going out. As an LED bulb starts to fail, it will also almost always begin flickering at times. This usually starts off as just an occasional flicker and will slowly progress to the light almost continually flickering or turning on and off at times.

If you have LED bulbs that are controlled by a dimmer switch, you also need to make sure that they are dimmable bulbs. A non-dimmable LED will work in a dimmable light fixture, but will often end up flickering any time you use the dimmer switch to turn the brightness down. Using a non-dimmable LED in a dimmable fixture will also almost always end up in the bulb starting to fail and needing to be replaced far sooner. LED bulbs will typically last for at least 10 to 20 years depending on how often they are used, but a non-dimmable bulb controlled by a dimmer switch can sometimes fail in just a few years.

Wrong Type of Light Switch

This is another issue that only applies to light fixtures that are controlled by dimmer switches. The older dimmer switches found in many homes were specifically designed for use with incandescent bulbs. This means that they supply more power to the fixture since incandescent bulbs are much higher wattage compared to LEDs and compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. Even when the fixture is dimmed, the amount of watts flowing to it is much higher than needed to power an LED or CFL and will often result in the bulb flickering whenever it is dimmed.

Unless your dimmer switch was installed in the last 10 to 15 years or so, you can be almost certain that it was designed for incandescent bulbs and is incompatible with LEDs or CFLs. In this case, the solution for overcoming the issue and preventing the lights from occasionally flickering is to have an electrician replace the dimmer switch. Doing so will also enable your light bulbs to last far longer since the high wattage supplied by an old dimmer switch will almost always cause lower-wattage LEDs and CFLs to fail far more quickly.

Damaged Light Socket

Screw-in light sockets have a spring-loaded metal tab or contactor inside them that connects to the light bulb so that power flows from the fixture to the bulb. This contactor can often get bent or flattened over time to where the bulb no longer makes secure contact with it. When this happens, the power flowing to the bulb will sometimes fluctuate and lead to the light flickering at times. This issue can actually be dangerous since it can sometimes lead to the current arcing between the socket and bulb and producing sparks that could cause a fire.

An electrician can sometimes fix this issue simply by bending the contactor back into place. You should never try to do this yourself unless you’ve made sure to shut the power to the fixture off or else you will likely get a nasty shock. If bending the contactor back into place doesn’t work, an electrician will usually be able to replace the socket instead of having to replace the entire light fixture.

Wiring Issues

Now we’re getting into the much more serious issues and the reason why flickering lights are never something you should ignore. A light that keeps flickering is often a sign that there is a loose connection or a frayed wire either inside the fixture itself or somewhere in the circuit it is on. The reason why these issues are so serious is that they can lead to a dangerous arc fault occurring, which is when the current jumps or sparks between the live wire and neutral wire. This usually results in a massive power surge flowing through the circuit that can damage or ruin anything wired to it.

While this surge should overload the circuit and cause the circuit breaker to trip, it can still cause lots of damage. One reason is that a power surge can also instantly cause electrical wires to get extremely hot and start melting or even catching fire. The sparks produced when the current arcs can also easily lead to an electrical fire. These potential risks are why we always recommend having an electrical safety inspection performed if your lights are flickering and tightening or replacing the bulb didn’t fix the issue.

Electrical Panel Is Too Small

Another extremely common reason that will cause lights in various parts of a home to flicker is that the electrical service panel isn’t sufficiently large enough to meet all of the home’s power needs. In this situation, you’ll usually notice that at least some lights often flicker at times when your central air conditioning first comes on. You may also notice that your lights dim or slightly flicker for a few seconds when using other 240-volt appliances like a clothes dryer or sometimes even when using a vacuum, hair dryer or microwave.

Many homes only have a 100-amp electrical service panel, and some homes built before the early 1960s only have a 60-amp panel. The National Electrical Code has required all new homes to have at least a 100-amp panel since 1962. The issue is that a 100-amp panel is usually only sufficient for a smaller home that has no more than two or maybe three 240-volt circuits. If the panel doesn’t have sufficient amperage, you often have issues with the AC system or other higher-power appliances and devices temporarily causing less power to flow through the other circuits. This power fluctuation is then what causes the lights to flicker or dim.

If you often notice the issue, it’s a fairly certain sign that you need to have your electrical system upgraded with a higher-amp service panel. A 150-amp panel is usually sufficient for most homes, but larger homes or those with more 240-volt circuits may need a 200-amp or even 400-amp panel.

If you’re dealing with flickering lights or any other electrical issues, Black-Haak is always here to help. We’ve been serving Greenville and the Fox Valley area since 1956 and are ready to help with all of your electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling needs. If you need to schedule an electrical inspection or any other home service, give us a call today.

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