You depend on your lights to provide you with solid, uninterrupted illumination. So, a flickering light bulb can be annoying, distracting, and even unsafe. Once you trace the cause of the flickering bulb, many solutions are low-cost and simple to implement.
What Causes Light Bulbs to Flicker?
With flickering light bulbs, the obvious first step is to re-tighten the bulb. Over time, even the best light bulbs can slowly unscrew or give way somehow, especially bulbs near areas of vibration. Ceiling light bulbs on first-floor ceilings can be shaken due to foot traffic on the floor above. Often, the bulb itself does not unscrew—instead, the hot tab in the base of the socket has given way slightly and is not fully making contact, which causes the light to flicker. Loose light bulbs are fixed by first turning the bulb slightly counter-clockwise, then turning it clockwise again until tight.
Power outlets that service table or floor lamps can cause the bulb to flicker. While the bulb itself may be in good condition, the power source wavers. The cause of this is usually an outlet whose internal metal contact blades have become worn or a loose connection where the wire connects to the outlet. Outlets are solid-state devices and should not be repaired. Replace the outlet.
Faulty Light Fixture
Because they have no moving parts, light fixtures can last for decades. But eventually, time can take a toll on light fixtures as the center hot tab loses tension. Ceiling leaks, foundation shifts, and constant temperature spikes in the attic, too, can affect light fixtures. Also, some light fixtures are simply faulty from the start. With ceiling lights, the solution is usually not to repair the light fixture but to purchase and install a new fixture. Floor and table lamps can be rewired.
Faulty Dimmer Switch
Dimmer switches are especially prone to causing flickering light bulbs because flickering is how dimmers work. Turning a dimmer up or down isn’t like gradually turning a water tap on or off. Instead, a dimmer changes the voltage waveform before it enters the light. It’s a flicker that passes so quickly that the eye cannot discern it. Applying more voltage to a dimmer switch than it was designed for is a major cause of dimmer switch failure. Dimmer switches can also fail when a user is trying to dim a CFL or LED bulb that is not intended to dim or when a dimmer made for use with incandescent bulbs is used on a non-incandescent bulb. Faulty or damaged dimmer switches should be removed and discarded, then replaced with new dimmer switches.
Mismatched Dimmer Switch
LED lights are a great advantage to homeowners over earlier incandescent and CFLs due to their bright light, long service life, and cool operation. But when an LED bulb is matched up with a dimmer switch originally designed for use with incandescent, flickering can occur. Remove the old dimmer switch. Purchase a dimmer switch that is rated for LED lights and install it.
Cables lead from the electric service panel (circuit breakers) to the light switch, and along the way anything can go wrong. Cables located in walls are generally not to blame. As long as they were installed with staples or routed through holes in the studs, these electric cables tend to stay in place.
The problem tends to center around connection points where individual wires within the cable sheathing branch out and are attached to devices or in junction boxes. Loose wiring can be fixed by methodically testing every connection point. If the connection is solid, it can stay. If it is loose, it can be re-connected.
Lights often are on dedicated light circuits—electric circuits that have nothing besides lights on them. But when lights share circuits with other devices, lights can often bear the brunt of the larger devices’ power demands.
Dishwashers, air conditioners, ceiling fans, bathroom exhaust fans, and televisions are just a few of the appliances that can interfere with the operation of a light that happens to share the circuit. When a very large draw—such as an A/C unit or a furnace—begins, any light on the circuit can flicker or lose brightness. Removing the light fixture from the overloaded circuit and creating a fresh circuit is often the cure to this problem.
As you can see, the causes of flickering light bulbs can run the gamut from something as simple as a loose bulb on up to serious issues stemming from overloaded circuits or poor wiring connections along the circuit pathway. Flickering light bulbs can be signs of serious problems that can affect your home and your safety. If you need help diagnosing the issue, give Cathey Services a call! We will be happy to come and help you out.