Why do Lights Flicker in House?

what does it mean when the lights flicker

Have you ever been greeted by a blinking microwave clock upon getting home? Or have you noticed your lights blink during a thunderstorm? If you experienced these things, you probably wondered what’s behind the occurrence. 

Well, it’s likely that there was a brief disruption to your electric service resulting from a power surge or blink. While a power blink and a power surge both cause flickering lights, they’re not the same thing. Let’s explore what these are and how they affect your electrical system. 

What is a Power Blink?

When your lights flicker briefly, that’s a power blink. Power blinks are brief service interruptions caused by interferences in the electrical system. These interferences may come from damages created by small animals on the wires or tree branches rubbing against power lines. Lightning can also cause flickering lights. 

The blinks are meant to prevent a longer power outage. They occur because a circuit breaker tests the line to check if the damage to the system is gone, and the electrical current can resume flowing. If the lights flickered several times and then eventually remained out, it means that the breaker determined that the damage to the line requires the attention of a maintenance crew for repairs. 

Causes of Power Blink

Flickering lights may arise due to several problems. Some of these concerns are minor, while others require the services of trained personnel. Pinpointing the culprit behind the light flicker will give you an idea of how to resolve the issue. 

Overloaded Circuit

Do flickering lights occur when you switch on a high-wattage appliance? In some instances, this shouldn’t be a cause for concern as it arises from the appliance’s sudden power demand on your electrical circuit. 

However, it’s worth checking if the flickering persists or occurs regularly because the circuit may be experiencing some issues, such as overloading. This means there may not be enough electricity in the circuit to supply the demand. Have a professional electrician check your electrical system to determine the cause of the flickering lights.  

Electric Utility Service Issue

Homes in a specified area often share one transformer. This means that the electrical supply of your house is tied to the electricity usage of surrounding homes. So when a neighbor uses machinery or equipment with a heavy electrical load, it can cause the lights to flicker in your house. 

However, if no one is engaging in heavy electrical use and the lights are also flickering in other homes, the problem may lie with your utility service. An electrician can determine if necessary repairs to the facility are in order or if the power fluctuations are nothing to worry about.  

Fluctuating Electrical Voltage

Homes with a standard 120-volt circuit should receive between 115 and 125 volts. If you have a voltmeter, check your voltage. If it’s over 125 volts, that can be the reason behind your flickering lights.  

There are many explanations why your home’s voltage is too high; most are technical and indicate faults in your power system. Other signs that something’s wrong with your electrical system are frequent bulb burnouts and sudden light dimming.

Excess voltage in a home is a safety hazard and requires the prompt attention of a licensed electrician before it escalates into an electrical emergency. 

Loose, Outdated Wiring Connections

An electrical fire can arise because of loose, outdated, and faulty wiring. In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 67 percent of home fires resulting from electrical distribution or lighting equipment can be traced back to wiring issues. 

Loose wiring or a loose connection often leads to flickering lights. Aside from causing lights to flicker, connection and wiring issues can be incredibly dangerous. A loose connection in a wall socket, light, or switch box can lead to electric arcing. This occurs when electrical current travels or “jumps” over gaps in the connection. The arc can exceed 10,000 degrees F and often sparks a fire. 

Main Connection Issues

Do you notice the lights flickering in only one area of your home? Or is the same thing happening all over your house? If it’s the latter, call an electrician immediately.  

If you can’t find other reasons behind the activity (such as severe weather or transformer issues), the problem could lie with your main meter box connection or service cable connection. These are high-capacity wires, so it’s safer to let an electrician check them out.

Effects of Power Blinks

Power blinks often don’t cause damage to your electronics. Older digital clocks often revert to the default time, which is 12:00, and you’ll need to reset them, while newer models can ride out brief power fluctuations. If the lights flicker while you’re using a desktop computer, it may crash, and you’ll have to reboot, hoping there won’t be any corrupted files. Installing an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) on your PC can help prevent data loss. 

What is a Power Surge?

While most electronics and equipment can sail through power blinks without sustaining damages, the same can’t be said about power surges

A power surge is a sudden overvoltage spike. Modern electronics and appliances are designed to handle slight voltage variations. However, the electrical voltage can reach tens of thousands in a power surge. This massive increase in voltage can damage or destroy your electronic equipment and appliances.  

Causes of Power Surge

A power surge can occur for several reasons, both artificial and natural.

  • Electrical overload: This occurs when there’s an excessive power demand from a single circuit. For example, if your air conditioner and other high-wattage appliances are plugged into one circuit, a power surge may happen when you turn them on simultaneously. 
  • Short circuits: Problems with your wiring or circuit breakers can lead to brief spikes in voltage. 
  • Lightning strikes: When lightning hits a power line close to your home, it causes a massive spike in voltage. The surge can be so high it will damage electronics and equipment plugged into your home’s outlets. 
  • Faulty wiring: Improper grounding or damage to your wires can cause a power surge, as anything that comes in contact with an exposed live wire can drive up its current.

Effects of Power Surges

In the event of a power surge, the chances are high that some or all of the appliances plugged into the affected circuit will sustain damages. The heat created by the spike in voltage can lead to melted wires and burned-out circuit boards. 

Power surges pose a dangerous threat to your life and property as they can spark a fire. 

Power Blinks vs. Power Surges

Power blinks are brief interruptions in your electricity service. They’re often caused by a fault or short circuit on a power line or protective device reacting to the fault. This reaction helps to prevent a longer outage. The fault can occur due to several reasons, such as tree branches making contact with the wires. 

Meanwhile, power surges are sudden spikes in voltage in the electrical system. The brief but massive influx of energy may arise due to external or internal factors. Examples are the switching of high-wattage appliances in your home, problems with lines and transformers, and lightning strikes. The sharp hike in energy can damage or destroy electronics that are plugged into wall outlets when the surge occurs.  

Protecting Your Devices from Power Surges

Although modern electronics and appliances can handle minor voltage fluctuations, the voltage rises many times beyond what’s normal for these electronics and devices during a power surge. Moreover, the heat created by power surges is so intense that it can melt equipment and wires, thus causing serious damage to anything plugged into an electric socket. 

You can’t prevent power surges. Sometimes, they occur out of the blue, and you won’t have time to react to protect your appliances by unplugging them from sockets. The best way to safeguard sensitive electronics and high-ticket appliances is by installing surge protection devices, like surge protector power strips or whole-house surge protectors.  

If you live in an area that experiences frequent severe weather, investing in a whole-house surge protector would be a wise investment, as power surges often occur during intense storms. This type of surge protector is hard-wired to the main panel. It comes at a cost but will be worth it as it helps keep your high-price electronics from getting fried. 

FAQs

What Causes Electricity to Flicker On and Off?

Several reasons can cause electricity to flicker. Switching on a high-wattage appliance is one. Tripping circuit breakers, damage to the main breaker, and problems with power lines and transformers can also cause flickering lights. Sometimes, the lights also flicker before a longer power outage occurs. 

Can Breakers Go Bad Without Tripping?

Circuit breakers are designed to trip. That’s their job, and by doing so, they protect your electrical system from further damage and your home from a fire. A breaker trips when it detects an electrical overload to stop electricity from flowing through a particular circuit. But sometimes, breakers can fail to trip. Faulty or old breakers may not be able to detect the electrical issue and won’t trip.  

Should I Worry if My Lights Flicker?

Lights often flicker in many homes. Several reasons why this occurs exist. Some are harmless, while others need looking into. Common reasons for flickering lights are severe storms, line problems, an overloaded circuit, and damage to your service panel. You should have your system checked by a licensed electrician if your lights often flicker to be safe. 

What are Three Warning Signs of an Overloaded Electrical Circuit?

Call an electrician promptly if you observe these signs. An overloaded electrical circuit is a fire hazard, and you’ll need to resolve the problem before it becomes an emergency. The signs to watch out for are:  

• Burning smell from outlets and switches 
• Lights that flicker or dim when you turn on your appliances 
• Buzzing noises from outlets and switches 

Conclusion

Power flickers may seem minor, especially if they don’t lead to a prolonged outage. However, some reasons why they occur need the attention of a professional electrician. Don’t try to investigate or resolve the issue yourself. Working with electricity is dangerous and should only be done by those who have undergone the necessary training. 

In case of an outage, reach out to your utility company to determine the cause and get an estimated restoration time. 

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