Help, My Lights are Flickering!

    Photo: Clarita/

    When the lights are flickering in your house, a number of possible reasons might be causing the problem. If you start to notice lights behaving unreliably, get the situation taken care of ASAP. There's a potential for the risk of electrical fire or serious injury as a result of a short or another fault in your wiring -- problems which are usually easily resolved by an electrician. 

    Take note of when the flickering is happening and where (the whole house, a specific room, a single circuit). Also keep track of when; does it happen when other appliances turn on? At a given time of day or night? Constantly? The more information you have when you call an electrician, the easier it will be to get the problem repaired. The following list of possible causes will help you troubleshoot flickering lights.

    Unstable power supply. Lights often flicker (or brown out) during storms for this reason. In threatening weather, it's a smart idea to unplug appliances, make sure anything you absolutely must have on is connected to a surge protector, and be prepared for a full outage. If the weather is fair or the power company is not reporting problems, however, the problem could lie with the power drop to your house, or the distribution inside your house. These voltage fluctuations can be very dangerous, so it's important to get them looked at.

    Isolated circuit problems. Have one flickering lightbulb? Make sure it's not a problem with the bulb itself -- unscrewing and screw it back in again to seat it properly. If your light's still flickering, there may be a loose wire in the fixture or the outlet. Switch off the power to investigate and as necessary, tighten the connection. If you notice black streaks or charring marks, it's an indicator that there might have been a short in the circuit. This could also be a sign of a larger problem.

    Too much draw. Do you notice flickering lights when a certain appliance kicks on? You may have a circuit that's close to overloaded. Redistribute the load on the circuit by plugging things in along a different circuit (HINT: That means not using a million extension cords and surge protectors). Should you continue to observe problems, talk to an electrician about installing a dedicated circuit for a power-hungry item. (You already have dedicated circuits for your heater, stove, fridge, and dryer, right?)

    Those pesky neighbors. Unless you're living off the grid, you're probably sharing an electrical transformer with one or more neighbors, which means that when they're drawing a lot of power, you end up with flickering lights. Should this be a recurring problem, it could indicate that they're having voltage fluctuation problems or that they're running some highly inefficient appliances. If you can determine which neighbors seem to be the source of the problem, you might want to talk to them to express concerns.

    Katie Marks writes for

    Updated February 26, 2018.

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