Sure, flicking interior lights can be annoying. Especially if you are trying to read a book, or do something technical with your hands. Though did you know that flickering lights in your home can be a potential sign of a much more issue that goes beyond an issue with the light bulbs or light fixtures? Sometimes flickering lights can be a sign of a more serious problem with your home’s electrical system.
This could include things like changes in the incoming voltage, power surge problems with the local grid, loose connections, or light bulbs that aren’t rated for the wattage of the fixture. Just to name a few., and more. The truth is this sort of “Horror Movie” lighting effect is likely related to one of more issues that need your timely attention.
Clearly, it’s time to take a closer look at what causes interior house lighting to flicker and what needs to be done to properly correct it.
Why Do The Lights In My House Flicker?
The truth is, there are a lot of things that can cause your house lights to flicker. Some of them are minor, and annoying, while others are a more overt sign that something serious is going on. This includes some of the following things.
Incorrect Bulbs For The Light Fixture
Twenty years ago, your indoor lighting options were limited to incandescent light bulbs and fluorescent lights. As light bulb technology has continued to evolve new light bulbs have come on the market that will fit in older fixtures. Though there might be incompatibility issues between the bulbs and the fixtures. If you bought a bulk pack of CLF or other alternative light bulbs, to replace many bulbs in fixtures throughout your home, they all could start flickering intermittently.
LED lights can also be prone to flickering when the fixture they are connected to doesn’t have a driver or a properly installed dimmer switch.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that traditional fluorescent bulbs have a special ballast to control the amount of current flowing through the bulb. In older fixtures these inductive ballast devices can wear down and cause the fluorescent bulbs installed in the fixture to flicker.
Loose Light Bulbs
Sometimes in a rush to change a lightbulb, you might not get the bulb all the way tight. Though this is likely going to be an issue with a single flickering light. Unless you live very close to train tracks or a mine site, this wouldn’t cause multiple bulbs throughout your house to flicker.
A Multi-Bulb Light Fixture Going Bad
If you have older light fixtures, or the wiring leading to your light fixtures in your house have been replaced years ago by “Pit Tailing” it is possible for the connection to the fixture itself to come loose. This would cause a single multi-bulb light fixture, like an old-fashioned kitchen light to flicker.
Loose Connections At The Circuit Panel Or Fuse Box
All the wires in your house have to eventually find their way back to the circuit panel or the fuse box to truly complete the circuit. If you have older wiring from before the 1990s, or you have recently performed some do-it-yourself updates of your circuit panel, it is possible for the connection at the circuit breaker to be the underlying cause of your flickering lights.
In a scenario like this, a loose wire, an improperly secured circuit breaker connection, or looseness in a terminal can cause loose connections, or create resistance. This in-turn causes arcing, which can lead to overheating as well as an increased risk of a serious electrical fire at the circuit panel.
With this type of electrical issue, the flickering lights in your home would most likely be limited to all the lights on a single circuit with loose wiring. You would also notice things like scorch marks, an electric smoky smell or even whiffs of smoke on the circuit panel. When the lights flicker, you might also hear a sizzling noise.
Lights that flicker when high voltage appliances like a microwave or refrigerator compressors turn on is a common sign of a voltage-based issue. If the flickering lights in your home go on longer than when the appliance is on, it might be a sign of a more serious electrical issue.
Most of the time, the electricity flowing into homes lingers around 120 Volts. While minor fluctuations from abnormalities in the local power grid is normal, the voltage in your home should always be between 115 and 125 volts.
If your flickering lights are continuing even when high draw appliances aren’t active, then you need to have a professional electrician look into the issue. They can test your system and the incoming power at your circuit panel to determine the primary cause of the flickering lights.
Tips To Deal With Flickering Lights
If the lights in your house have been flickering there are a few simple things you can do to help remedy the issue or at least get a head start on the troubleshooting process.
- Tip #1: If a single light is flickering, try tightening the bulb. Sometimes the simple vibrations in a home can wiggle a bulb slightly affecting its connection with the socket.
- Tip #2: Check the wattage rating of the light fixture to make sure it is compatible with the fixture. If they aren’t compatible, try using a different bulb that is within the stamped or printed wattage rating.
- Tip #3 Check your circuit breaker or fuse box for signs of arcing or loose wiring. If you do see loose wires, do not touch them. If possible turn off the main power or the faulty circuit breaker and contact a professional electrician.
- Tip #4 Looks For Loose Wiring
If you have an older home and the previous owner did some of their own wiring or pig tailed their wiring updates, it might be that the wiring, wiring nuts or similar wiring connections are loose. You might be able to tighten wiring nuts on your own, but any other wiring adjustments should be handled by a licensed electrician.
Flickering Lights & Electrical Fire Risk
Other than a loose light bulb, most of the underlying causes of flickering lights come with significant electrical fire risk attached to them. It is definitely not the sort of thing you should ignore. Especially if you have noticed sizzling sounds, sparking or the smell of smoke near your circuit breaker. Every year electrical fires account for an estimated 51,000 house fires.