Flickering Lights: Common Causes & What You Can Do

August 30, 2021 | Cristina Dinulescu

flickering lights

Flickering lights are fine when it comes to faux flames and Christmas tree lights, but generally not ok when it comes to your lighting fixtures. Not only are they a bit of an annoyance, but they can also signal more serious issues.

There are several reasons why you may have lights flickering in the house, and some causes are easier to fix than others. Pinpointing the reasons why your lights are flickering is therefore essential and you should always consult a licensed electrician.

Many people see flickering light bulbs as an occasional occurrence which they associate with being harmless, but if this happens more often or on a regular basis, then it’s definitely not harmless. It can be quite a severe issue and it’s high time you had that checked out.

When lights flicker, it’s the result of a fluctuation, often a reduction, in the circuit voltage, which makes the lights dim for a brief moment. However, these rather abrupt changes from low voltage to high can damage your electronics, and sometimes even cause electrical fires. 

3 Things To Check With Flickering Lights

If you are seeing a flickering light bulb in your home, there are a few things you can check before calling an electrician. Nonetheless, once these simple steps are complete and you still don’t see improvement, make sure you contact a qualified electrician.

1. Tighten loose bulbs

As obvious as this sounds, one simple reason why you may experience flickering lights could be that the bulbs are not tighten enough. Before you do that though, make sure you turn the power off. Also, use a glove in order to protect your hand from the heat.

By screwing the bulb in tighter you make sure the bulb is making proper contact with the socket, as loose contact is a very common cause of intermittent flickering. This doesn’t apply solely to lamp bulbs or chandeliers, even recessed lights can loosen.  

2. Upgrade your switches

Sometimes, the source of the issue is not the bulb or the light connection, but rather the wall switch. If you have old dimmer switches, which were originally constructed to work with incandescent bulbs, they most likely won’t work well with LED lights.

Hence, if you notice that the flickering lights are the ones connected to a dimmer, then that’s likely the reason why. This means that the loose or even poor wiring could potentially be happening behind the switch, in which case you want to check with an electrician.

Before you do that though, you might want to make sure that the bulbs and dimmers are compatible. You can easily do that by checking the ratings for both. Mismatches in ratings can lead to common problems, such as flickering, but also buzzing. 

3. Upgrade your bulbs

If you’ve upgraded the switches and the flickering doesn’t stop, there’s one more thing you can try before calling an electrician. Replace old incandescent light bulbs with smart bulbs, as these don’t even require a physical dimmer switch. 

Dimming your lights through the bulb is more reliable and, in many cases, it solves a lot of the dimming problems caused by switches or old wiring. Plus, smart bulbs are usually more efficient and eco-friendly.

Causes of Flickering Lights

If none of the simple fixes described above helps with the lights flickering in your house, then chances are you have a house-wide issue, which definitely requires a certified electrician. If there is a wiring problem and it’s extensive, then your lighting fixtures are not the only ones at risk. 

There can be damage done to your appliances and electronics as well, not to mention the risk of an electrical fire. Here are the most common reasons why your lights are flickering: 

Overloaded circuits

While lighting fixtures are not big consumers, chances are you have other appliances or electronics on a circuit. HVAC units and large appliances can actually cause lights to flicker, as they draw a large amount of current from the circuit when they power on.

This can happen in many cases, even if you have a well-designed electrical system where these large loads have their own dedicated circuit. Sometimes, it’s not critical, but you should definitely have an electrician check it out if the flickering is consistent, persistent or severe. 

While the issue can be with the appliance, chances are that the circuit breakers are not up to par or that inadequate wiring is involved. In both cases, you need a licensed electrician to verify your electrical panel and your wiring. 

Overloaded circuits are quite dangerous, they can harm the appliances, overheat the wiring and even cause electrical fires. 

Loose or outdated wiring 

As mentioned above, old wiring can also be the reason why your lights are flickering. It’s also a major cause of house fires and it’s definitely not something to ignore. Household wiring should only be inspected by a licensed, experienced electrician.

The NFPA estimates that around 67% of all home fires are caused by wiring issues that make their way into electrical distribution or lighting equipment. Loose wiring, whether it’s in your light fixture, outlet or anywhere else, can lead to arcing, a phenomenon that makes electrical current “jump” over gaps in connections. These arcs can get really hot, exceeding 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which means they’re prone to sparking electrical fires.

Issues with the utility service

Depending on where you live, more often than not your house will share a transformer with your neighbors. This means that the electrical supply coming from the utility company is tied not only into your load, but also the respective loads of the surrounding houses. 

Therefore, if there is heavy electrical use in one of these homes, it can actually cause your lights to flicker. It’s also possible, although more unlikely, that the problem lies with the utility service. Again, an experienced electrician will be able to determine the exact cause.

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