What Causes Flickering Lights and Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Them

We have all experienced the odd feeling of being in a room, and thinking the lights just flickered. Sometimes that flickering is more pronounced and obvious, while other times it is very subtle. Regardless of how significant the flickering, it’s important not to ignore it.

In a properly wired and functioning electrical system, there won’t be any flickering at all. However, when this starts to happen, it indicates something is amiss. It can be a very simple and easy fix like tightening a light bulb, but it may be something more significant like a short.

Because of the possible significance of the problem, you should take the time to track down the reason you have flickering lights. Here are some ideas of where to start.

Simple Fixes

Many repairs around the house are quite simple, and really don’t need a professional repairman to fix them. Rather, a little patience and time will solve many simple problems. Some problems with flickering lights can be easily fixed if you know where to look.

The first question to ask is if there’s a problem with the light itself. The way you can determine this is to check if all the lights are flickering or just a single light. If it is just one light, the issue with that light.

First, check the light bulb, make sure it is tight in the socket. If it’s loose, it will flicker with a slight movement, such as someone walking by. Likewise, check the wiring in the light itself. Sometimes the wiring comes loose from the socket or there may be a short in the wiring itself. Try wiggling the wire to see if it causes additional flickering.

If you are working with fluorescent ceiling lights, it could very well be the ballast going bad. These are all relatively simple things to check and replace if needed.

If your problem doesn’t seem to be solved by checking these things, bring in the professionals to help solve the problem.

Old Wiring

Another common challenge in older homes is outdated wiring. In newer homes, the wiring may last for 50 years or possibly longer. However, older homes may not have the copper wire used today.

One common problem that causes flickering lights is aluminum wiring, which is prone to oxidizing over time. Once the process starts at a weak point, such as a connection, then it can ruin the entire line. The oxidation increases resistance, which creates more heat. This is a common cause of wiring-related fires.

Also common with old wiring is old circuits and circuit breakers. We will talk more about these in another section, but they can easily cause flickering lights. Consequently, it may not be as simple as replacing a wire in your wall. Rather, it may be necessary to look at the entire system and identify what needs to be replaced to keep you safe.

If your problem is old wiring, it may be isolated to a single circuit or may occur throughout your entire home. It also may be sporadic, depending on what else you have on the circuit at the time.

Loose Connections

Loose connections are a big problem for electrical circuits. When a loose connection occurs, it increases resistance in the circuit, producing more heat. It also increases the risk of electrical arcing. This is the flash you might see when electricity jumps from one point to another.

The problem with arcing is it causes extreme temperatures, reaching up to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That certainly is enough heat to spark a fire. If there’s a lot of dust build up in your walls or in the electrical outlets, that acts as tinder for getting the blaze going.

As mentioned above, these loose connections can easily occur where the wires connect to the socket in the light. They can also occur where the wires connect to light switches, wall sockets, and at the breaker, or it could be a combination of these areas. So, start with the simplest area, then work backward to the hardest.

Working with electricity is dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing, so leave this to the professionals. Be sure to disconnect the power before attempting to check any of these. If you are looking at a lamp, simply unplug it. However, if you are checking light switches or sockets, be sure to turn the breaker off.

If the connections are loose at the breaker, you will likely experience flickering from multiple lights on the same circuit. Therefore, you probably won’t experience flickering on other circuits unless they also have an issue.

Overloaded Circuits

Another very common issue that can cause flickering lights is overloaded circuits. Circuits are especially prone to overload in older houses. When a home is first constructed, there is some thought put into how many amps are needed to supply the entire circuit. The common home circuit is 120 volts and 15 amps.

Think of amps as the amount of water flowing through the pipes, while volts determine the pressure in those pipes. Electrical appliances run off a certain number of volts. However, the number of amps is what determines how many appliances can run off a single circuit.

What happens with older homes is that more gets added to a circuit than it was originally intended to hold. In other words, there is a demand for more amps than what it was intended to handle.

Overloaded circuits can also happen when you add extension cords or outlet extensions. If you find you’re constantly looking for more outlets, you probably need to expand your home’s electrical system.

If you are on an older system, then you may want to consider adding new circuits. This is something you should work with a professional electrician to solve. A lot of work could be involved when reworking how your home is wired to avoid a hodgepodge electrical system.

The system overload may also spawn from too much draw from a single appliance. Think of your air conditioner, furnace, and refrigerator. When these turn on, you may experience either flickering or dimming of your lights throughout your home. If this is the case, you want to have a professional service the appliance causing the draw.

Primary Service Issue

Another possible issue is that you have an issue with your primary electrical service. This is what brings electricity into your home. If you are experiencing flickering throughout your home, it may be an issue with the service coming in.

A professional electrician will be able to evaluate everything coming from the service box to the endpoints. You’ll need to work with your electrical provider to check the line coming from the power line to your service box.

Black Lion Heating & Air Conditioning is ready to help you solve all these flickering light issues. Whether it is caused by an electrical issue or an appliance needing service, our team is ready. Other services we provide include heating and cooling installation, repair, and maintenance. Give us a call today in the Seattle area to schedule your consultation.