10 Reasons Your Lights Are Flickering at home (& What to do)

Did the lights flicker? Perhaps a poltergeist has settled in your house. Maybe the deceased have come back from the grave to haunt you. Jokes aside, flickering lights are not only a nuisance but might also endanger your life if left unchecked. If this has happened to you, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll tell you all you need to know about this issue.

light  bulb

Why are my lights flickering? 10 reasons

Before you tackle any problem, you might first acquaint yourself with the potential causes. Whether the flickering is just a nuisance or a serious problem depends entirely on what caused it in the first place.

Loose Light Bulb

If your light bulb flickers when turned on, it might be loose. Since it is not connected properly, the current which passes through is inconsistent. And so is the light it emits. It is a rather innocuous issue that you needn’t worry about much. It often happens with ceiling lights since gravity pulls the bulbs down. Moreover, you have to reach up to screw the bulb in properly.

Simply tightening the bulb should do the trick in this case.

Bulb Type

Different bulbs behave differently. For instance, fluorescent ones are prone to flickering as they warm up. They might even flicker when the temperature is too cold. If this is the case, you may relax as it isn’t a serious problem. The only thing you can do here is to stop using this type.

Incompatible dimmer switch

dimmer switch

Designed to alter the brightness, dimmer switches are very particular about their bulbs. Typical dimmer switches are made for incandescent and halogen bulbs. Thus, this problem might arise if you use the incorrect switch with a fluorescent bulb. LED bulbs also require their specific dimmer switches.

Unsecure Plug Connection

A loose or damaged plug might also lead to flickering.

Circuit Overload

When multiple lights flicker whenever you turn on a demanding appliance, it might be drawing all the power from the circuit. The overloaded circuit provides less power to other components, such as your ceiling light.

If the flickering is haphazard and brief, it is little more than a nuisance. However, intermittent flickering that refuses to stop is a serious issue. You must have it fixed immediately.

One way to know for sure that a circuit is faulty is to check which lights are flickering. Are all of them in the bathroom? Are they all outdoor lights? A single circuit usually connects lights found in the same room, so this is a telltale sign that something is amiss with it.

Unstable voltage

The standard voltage in most buildings is 120 V. Despite this, oscillation within the interval of 115 – 125 V is common, so you needn’t worry about it. However, professional assistance might be required if it oscillates outside this scale.

Symptoms accompanying rampaging voltage can be quite bothersome. For one, your light bulb is not last as long as it should. Electronics will also go haywire. Not only will they not function as they should, but they might also shut down entirely. Flickering might also occur.

If turning on an appliance is followed by intermittent flickering, it might also point to wayward voltage. Unlike circuit overload, the flickering persists even after you turn off the appliance.

Faulty transformer

The root of the problem may also lie outside your abode. Transformers are devices that alter the amperage/voltage ratio to be usable by your electronics. Faulty transformers provide a fluctuating power supply which manifests as flickering. An issue of this scale tends to affect more than just one house and might be exacerbated if your neighbors use high-wattage appliances. Sadly, you will need to call your electric company to have it resolved.

Faulty wiring

house wiring

Loose wiring is easily the most dangerous reason behind flickering lights. If the flickering deteriorates, all the lights in your house might start to flicker.

But what causes the wiring to go bad? It might simply be the passage of time. Over the years, the metal might start to corrode and lose its ability to conduct electrical current. Or perhaps the wiring is outmoded and incompatible with modern appliances. Improper installation might also be the culprit.

What caused the wiring to go bad is not as important as the threat it poses. In addition to the wires overheating, it might also lead to arcing.

What meaning lurks behind this word? When a wire is split in two, the electrical current must jump the gap between them to go on. Imagine a lightning bolt striking from one end to another. That’s about what it looks like. And just like a lightning bolt, this discharge generates an alarming amount of heat. As a matter of fact, about 70% of home fires result from loose wiring.

Again, you will need an electrician to have the wires fixed.

Problems with the main connection

A faulty main connection usually goes hand in hand with your lights flickering across the whole house. The service cable might also be damaged. If you suspect this is the case, have an electrician inspect the main meter box connection.

Lightning strikes

Believe it or not, inclement weather can also cause flickering. Since lightning is a form of static electricity, it might temporarily affect the current flow when it strikes a power line. In addition to causing flickering, it might sometimes burn your wires to cinders.

Of course, you do not command the weather. But you can still protect yourself against lightning. Various devices protect against such surges, and installing them might be worthwhile. Another solution is using lightning rods. These tall metal rods attract lightning and carry it deep into the ground, where it dissipates.

Lights flickering on one circuit

When lights linked by one circuit flicker, it is a sign that you are overloading it. Did only your bathroom lights suddenly decide that they are Christmas decorations? Or was it those found in your kitchen? Then you are either using too many appliances at once, or you use those which demand great amounts of power. Refrigerators, electric space heaters, and A/Cs are just some examples of high-wattage gadgets.

Beware of using extension cords, as they further divide the current and cause flickering.

To fix this issue, assign these power-demanding appliances to circuits that can handle them. Also, cut down on extension cords.

How do I stop my lights from flickering?

Replacing a bad bulb

Most of you have likely changed a bulb at least once in your life. For our DIY novices, we offer this simple guide to explain the art of bulb-changing.

  1. Turn the incriminated light bulb off and wait for it to cool down. This step is necessary, as changing an active bulb might lead to shock.
  2. If it is ceiling lights you have to replace, make sure you grab a ladder. Standing on the tips of your toes might seem tempting, but you might be unable to screw it in properly. Remember, a loose bulb will flicker.
  3. Unscrew the old bulb.
  4. Having chosen a compatible new bulb, place it in and screw it tightly.
  5. Turn on the switch to see if you were successful in the installation.

Voltage test

  1. You will require a voltmeter or multimeter for this task. If you are using a multimeter, set it to measure voltage. Other information is not relevant.
  2. The test itself has to be performed with the power on. We advise against touching the metallic components with bare hands – equip rubber gloves for better protection.
  3. Place each probe into one of the socket slots and wait for it to stabilize. Hold the voltmeter in one hand to avoid turning your body into a circuit while you wait.
  4. Read the voltage. If it is outside, it is more than 120 V. There is a problem with the installation. On the other hand, if you read no voltage at all, the socket is disconnected from the circuit.

Fixing a bad light switch

  1. Pull the light switch up and down and see if the lights flicker as you do so. If yes, the switch might be loose. In case you use a dimmer, move it up and down slowly. The change in brightness must be smooth. Otherwise, it isn’t installed properly.
  2. Cut off the power supply to the circuit to which the lights are connected. You can achieve this at the circuit breaker. Do not skip this step, as it is extremely important. Tampering with an active circuit might lead to electrocution. Always try to turn on the light switches to double-check.
  3. Remove the wall plate and the switch itself using a screwdriver. Wear rubber gloves or a screwdriver with a rubber handle as an extra precaution. Store the screws safely since you will need them to place the switch back in.
  4. Take out the switch. Be gentle, or you might tear the wires. Tighten the screws which connect the wires to the switch. Once the screws hold firmly, release the pressure to avoid damaging the switch.
  5. Reassemble the switch and restore the power supply to this circuit.
  6. Check if the problem’s gone. If not, it might be rooted elsewhere.

Fixing a bad circuit breaker

circuit breaker
  1. If multiple lights in your house flicker, your breaker box might be the cause. The screws inside might come undone eventually, meaning you receive an inconsistent power supply.
  2. Before you do anything, you have to switch off the entire main breaker. Working on an active breaker might lead to injury. However, this will disable the electricity in your house. Make sure you have a flashlight ready so you can inspect it properly.
  3. Unscrew the breaker panel to expose the internal wires. Use a screwdriver with a rubber handle to protect yourself.
  4. Inside, you will find numerous screws that connect the breakers to wires. If some have become loose, tighten them. Do not use too much force if they are tight enough, or you might damage them.
  5. Put the breaker panel back on.
  6. Restore the power and turn on the light to see if it fixed the flickering.

Should neither one of these methods remedy the issue, it is time to call a professional electrician. Since the issue likely lies in the wiring itself, you will be unable to deal with it alone. Schedule the appointment as soon as possible to prevent possible damage.

FAQ

Should I worry about flickering lights?

The issue is probably mild if only a single light bulb flickers in the entire house. The cause behind the flickering is likely the bulb itself, which can be easily remedied by tightening it. In some cases, you might have to replace it entirely.

However, multiple lights flickering should be addressed without delay. Whether an overloaded circuit or loose wiring causes it, it can put your life in jeopardy. The dangers include electrocution and fire hazards. Sadly, you will not be able to handle repairs of this scale yourself.

Can a flickering light bulb cause a fire?

It depends on how prevalent the issue is. One malfunctioning light bulb will be little more than a thorn in your side. But if all lights in the house flicker, it might be an omen of an impending fire. We urge you to inspect your electrical system immediately if this is what happened to you. Faulty wiring is the main culprit behind home fire accidents.

When should I be worried about light flickering?

To find the answer to your question, you must first find the cause behind the flickering itself. You have a reason to worry if the lights are acting up across whole rooms or even the whole house.

On the other hand, a lone light bulb that flickers is unlikely to cause you any harm.

Can a faulty main breaker cause lights to flicker?

An improperly wired main breaker might indeed lead to obnoxious flickering. This tends to happen when you turn on an appliance that consumes a lot of power. If you are feeling handy, you can attempt to fix it yourself. However, do so only if you are comfortable with your abilities. An electrician will get the repairs done with no risks on your part.

Conclusion

To sum up, flickering lights are a nuisance at best and a health hazard at worst. To determine the severity of this issue, you must first find the cause. When just one light bulb flickers when turned on, it cannot cause much harm. Tightening it usually fixes the issue.

But your circuit might be overloaded if multiple lights flicker, such as all the lights outdoors. Reducing the strain it takes is the best way of dealing with the overload. If all lights in the house start flickering, it points to a larger issue. Either your main breaker or the wiring itself is faulty. These issues increase the risk of fire and should be addressed without delay.

Some of these problems can be solved on your own, but the most severe ones require professional assistance.