Troubleshooting A Flickering Light: Do You Need An Electrician?

Posted on: 16 October 2015

Flickering lights can be more than just annoying. A flicker that repeats over time can indicate an electrical problem that should be looked at sooner rather than later. When should you handle it yourself, and when should you consult a home electrician? Here are three causes of flickering lights and what -- if anything -- you can do to troubleshoot the cause of each.

1. Light bulbs or fixtures are causing problems. 

This is often a simple fix: Screw the bulb more tightly into the socket, or remove the bulb and reseat it to establish a better connection. But it's not always so simple. Some types of fixtures are challenging to access, depending on their location. For example, many types of ceiling or recessed lighting fixtures aren't easy to open. And don't forget that bulbs may be hot; leave the light off for several minutes or use a hot pad or oven glove to protect your hand when handling a potentially hot bulb.

Finally, some types of bulbs are simply more prone to flickering, such as in fluorescent lights. If your fluorescent or LED light is flickering, try replacing the bulb entirely. If that doesn't work, you will either need to live with the light or hire an electrician to replace the entire fixture to one that uses a more pleasing type of bulb.

2. Your wiring is loose.

This is probably the most common reason why lights flicker, and it could be an easy fix. Turn off the power to the flickering light fixture at the circuit breaker so you can safely examine the connecting wires. You may be able to tell if wires are loose where they feed into the fixture. If you have some electrical knowledge, you can tighten connections inside the electrical box and check to see if that helps the problem.

More likely, especially if you are experiencing more than one light flickering, you have a problem with the connection coming into the electrical box or even into the whole house. This calls for an electrician to evaluate the problem and come up with a fix for the loose wiring.

3. The voltage is fluctuating. 

Do your lights flicker every time you turn on the oven or run the air conditioning? A typical U.S. household should run at 120 volts, and can vary a few volts in either direction without much issue. But high-wattage appliances can pull more power if the wiring is not properly installed or if the circuits are overloaded. That voltage surge can cause lights to flicker.

Another sign that your voltage is a bit off is that your bulbs will burn out more frequently than they should. Or, you may notice that recipes burn or are underdone at the normal cooking time -- in other words, your oven isn't getting the right amount of power. Electric motors and computers can also run oddly or shut down randomly. Pair flickering lights with any of these symptoms, and you may be looking at a voltage issue.

While you can use a voltmeter to confirm fluctuations in voltage in your home, fixing the problem is likely to require some rewiring or upgrades to your electrical box. Call your home electrician to help determine the best solution.