Flickering Lights: Common Causes and When to Worry

Flickering lights or household lights that dim periodically can be a nuisance, but usually there is a benign cause behind the flickering. However, flickering lights can also be an indication that there is a larger issue with your electrical system, in which case ignoring the issue can have serious consequences such as home fires. Before you start to worry, investigate the problem further. You can often diagnose the cause of flickering lights by observing the flickering pattern—when does it happen, for how long, how frequently, and so on. Here are some of the most common causes of flickering lights in a house and how to identify them.

Pattern: One light flickering
Probable Cause: You have a bad bulb or the bulb is loose in its socket. It’s an isolated problem, solved by switching out for a new bulb or simply screwing the bulb more tightly into its socket. Just remember to turn off the light before removing or adjusting the bulb to prevent burning or shocking yourself.

Pattern: Multiple lights flickering in a contained area
Probable Cause: If the problem is affecting multiple light fixtures but staying within a single room or region of your home, it’s probably an issue with the circuit. You’ll want to call an electrician to diagnose the issue more precisely. It’s best to do this sooner rather than later, because a loose connection in a circuit can be dangerous is left uncorrected.

Pattern: Lights flicker when a large appliance powers on
Probable Cause: Large home appliances add considerable load to your central circuit breaker, which can cause lights to flicker throughout the house, just as the bathroom light might dim or flicker when you switch on your hairdryer. You should consider having an electrician inspect your system to determine whether it’s time for an electrical service upgrade.

Pattern: Lights flickering all over the house
Probable Cause: If flickering lights are not contained to one area of your home and are not associated with a large home appliance switching on, it may be a sign that there’s a larger problem with your electrical service, such as loose service conductors in your central electrical panel. Loose connections are a fire hazard, so call an electrician ASAP to come evaluate your electrical system.

Pattern: Neighbors are also experiencing flickering
Probable Cause: Flickering lights throughout the neighborhood means that the problem is coming from the electrical company, not stemming from an issue with any individual home’s electrical service. Compare notes with your neighbors and then contact the electrical company to report the problem.

As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to ignore flickering or other variations in your home electrical service. Even if the flickering seems harmless, it could be a sign of a more serious underlying issue with your electrical wiring that could present a dangerous fire hazard to your home. Particularly if the flickering increases or changes in any way, call your electrician for an inspection just to be safe.

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2 thoughts on “Flickering Lights: Common Causes and When to Worry

  1. It makes me happy that the cause of one flickering light could basically be a bad or loose bulb. That’s easy enough to fix. However, I’m also grateful to learn when flickering lights in your home might be a sign there’s a bigger problem and you need to call an electrician.

  2. I didn’t know that flickering lights all over the house might be a sign of a loose connection in the central panel and that it might be a fire hazard. My family moved into this house about three weeks ago, and this morning the lights started flickering. I think it’s happening all over the house, so maybe I should call an electrician to see if they can fix the problem before a fire starts.

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