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Tips & Tricks Blog


Why Are the Lights Flickering?

08/02/18

LED, incandescent and compact fluorescent light bulbs

There are a lot of abnormal electrical issues that can go unnoticed, but a flickering light bulb isn’t one of them. It’s visible, annoying and potentially alarming if you’re not sure what’s causing it. And it shouldn’t be ignored -- while the most likely explanations are harmless and easy to fix, a flickering light could also be an early warning sign of dangerous wiring problems.

Start With the Bulb

If you only have one flickering light, your best hope is that there’s simply a problem with the bulb. And the problem could just be that the bulb is a little off-kilter. Unscrew the bulb and screw it back in carefully. If your bulb was simply making a poor connection, that may fix it.

If you’re using a CFL or fluorescent bulb and the flickering only lasts for a few seconds after the light is turned on, this is completely normal. If you find it jarring, you can always switch to LED bulbs, which are more energy efficient and activate at full luminescence as soon as they’re turned on.

It’s also possible the bulb is burning out or is faulty. Try replacing it with a different bulb. If the new one works fine, it’s likely that the old one was simply due for replacement.

If your flickering light is attached to a dimmer switch, the problem could be that you’re not using a compatible bulb. Not all light bulbs are dimmable, and incompatible bulbs may flicker or even strobe when used with a dimmer switch. Read the packaging carefully when purchasing replacement bulbs for dimmable fixtures.

Process of Elimination

If the flickering continues after troubleshooting the bulb, you should see if you can narrow the source of the problem to a wall outlet, light switch or the light fixture itself. If your flickering light is a hardwired ceiling or wall light, start by investigating the light switch. Does the flickering occur or intensify if you lightly touch the switch? Can you hear a crackling sound or see arcing electricity when you flip the switch? Those are signs your light switch is wearing out and should be replaced.

You can investigate the switch of a plug-in lamp the same way, but you should also try running the lamp in a different electrical outlet. If that solves the problem, the offending outlet should be inspected and likely replaced.

If it’s neither the switch nor the outlet, the problem could be within the wiring of the fixture or lamp itself. Unless it’s an expensive fixture, it may not be cost effective to try to repair it. Consider replacing faulty plug-in lamps or having a licensed electrician replace a hardwired fixture.

Searching for Surges

A power surge in a home’s electrical system is a common cause of lights that flicker or temporarily glow brighter. It doesn’t have to be a major power surge like one from a lightning strike; smaller power surges occur whenever a large appliance starts up. 

Try adjusting your thermostat so that you can watch the light at the exact moment your air conditioner turns on. If you see the flicker or brightness right at that moment, it’s safe to assume that everyday power surges are the cause. These surges aren’t a safety concern, but they can cause cumulative damage that can shorten the lifespans of things like light bulbs and electronics.

If the flickering does not correspond with any large appliances starting up, it’s possible that something is causing uneven voltage levels in your electrical system. Fluctuating voltage can damage sensitive electronics and even start electrical fires, so it’s important to have this issue inspected immediately and repaired as needed.

All bulbs go bad eventually. But paying attention to unusual bulb behavior can help you get the jump on electrical problems in your home. If you need help replacing fixtures, investigating power surges or tackling any other electrical issue, reach out to your local Mister Sparky today.



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