Having lights in your home that often flicker can be annoying. Some of the issues that can cause this to happen aren’t that big of a deal and something you may easily be able to fix on your own. That said, flickering lights can also be a sign of a serious electrical issue and a major safety hazard, so it’s important to take immediate steps when this issue occurs.
Loose Light Bulb
Any time you have only one light that frequently dims or flickers, you’ll want to shut the light off and check to make sure that the light bulb is fully screwed into the socket. If the bulb isn’t screwed in tightly, it won’t make full contact with the socket. This can lead to the power fluctuating and causing the light to flicker or suddenly go much dimmer.
Loose Connection in the Light Fixture
If tightening the bulb didn’t fix the issue and that one light keeps flickering, it’s time to contact a professional electrician. In this situation, you can be almost certain that there is a loose wire or connection in the light fixture. This is not an issue that you should ignore. A loose wire can cause a short where the current arcs between the hot wire and the neutral wire and creates a major fire hazard. If the current does arc, it will lead to a massive power surge and cause the breaker to trip. In the split second that it takes the breaker to trip, the wires can get so hot that they catch fire. The sparking current can also potentially catch nearby insulation or other building materials on fire.
When inspecting the fixture, your electrician will check to make sure that the socket itself isn’t damaged. Screw-in sockets have a spring tab in the center that makes contact with the bulb and supplies electricity to it. Over time, the tab can get flattened to where it’s no longer as springy and doesn’t make a good connection with the bulb. This can cause the power to occasionally fluctuate or cut out, leading to the bulb flickering. The good news is that your electrician can usually replace the socket fairly easily without having to replace the entire fixture.
Incompatible Light Bulb or Dimmer Switch
If you have any LED bulbs that are on a dimmer switch that often flicker, it typically means that either you’re not using the correct bulb or that the dimmer switch isn’t compatible with LED bulbs. Not all LED bulbs are dimmable, and using a non-dimmable bulb in a dimmable light fixture will often lead to flickering. The bulb will usually work normally when the brightness is turned up but may flicker quite a bit any time you adjust the switch and dim the light.
If you’re sure that your LED bulb is dimmable, it typically means that you’ll need to have an electrician replace the dimmer switch. Older dimmer switches were made to be used with incandescent bulbs and supply a much higher voltage, which means they don’t work well with low-voltage LEDs. If the dimmer switch isn’t compatible, the high voltage will also typically cause your LED bulbs to burn out much more quickly.
Bad Wire or Loose Connection in One Electrical Circuit
There are also situations when all of the lights in one room or area frequently flicker. If the problem is confined to just one area, it usually indicates that there is a problem with the circuit that those lights are on. As with a bad wire or loose connection in a light fixture, this is something that should be checked out by a licensed electrician immediately due to the risk of an electrical fire.
Electrical Panel Doesn’t Supply Sufficient Power
Another common occurrence is when lights in various parts of the home flicker when any 240-volt appliance turns on. This most commonly happens when a central AC unit starts up, but it can also occur when you turn on your clothes dryer or when an electric water heater starts. This issue indicates that you need to have your home’s electrical service upgraded, as your electrical panel doesn’t supply sufficient amps.
Unless you have a fairly small home with only two or maybe three 240-volt appliances, you usually need at least 150- or 200-amp service to ensure your electrical system has sufficient power. The amperage of your electrical service panel determines the total number of watts that can be used at one time. If you only have a 60- or 100-amp panel, your electrical system typically won’t be able to supply enough watts to power a large 240-volt appliance and everything else in your home at one time.
Air conditioners and other large appliances draw much more power when starting up. If you don’t have a high enough amp service panel, this massive current draw can cause the AC or other appliance to use up much of the available power. When this happens, it results in the current flowing through the other circuits temporarily dropping, and this drop in current is what makes your lights dim or flicker for a few seconds.
Electrical Service Issues
If you have lights in various rooms that frequently flicker even when you’re not using any 240-volt appliances, it usually means that there is an issue with the electrical service coming into your home. This is another situation where you’ll want to take immediate action to pinpoint the specific cause. One possibility is that the voltage coming into your home is too high. This is something that an electrician can check for using a multimeter to measure the voltage in any outlet.
If the voltage is too high, you’ll have to contact your electricity company to have them fix the issue. High voltage can put extra strain on appliances and electronics and cause them to wear out sooner. If the voltage is too high, your electricity bills will also be higher than they should be since more power is flowing into your home and causing your appliances to use more electricity.
Another possibility is that either the hot or neutral wire in your electrical service panel is loose. This is also an extremely serious issue since a loose service wire is a major fire hazard. The only way to know if there is a loose service wire is to have an electrician inspect your service panel. If they detect that one of the wires is loose, you’ll then need to contact your electricity company since they are the only ones who can legally repair your service connection. Luckily, this is something that utility companies have to do for free.
At John Henry's Plumbing, Heating, Air, and Electrical, we’ve been providing expert electrical repair and installation services to the Lincoln and Omaha areas since 1996. Whether you’re dealing with flickering lights or any other issues, our licensed electricians can quickly determine the cause of the problem and get it repaired. To schedule an inspection or any other electrical, heating, cooling or plumbing service, give us a call today.