9 Common Causes of Power Going Out For a Few Seconds
You’re seated on the couch, comfortably reading or probably watching TV, when the house is suddenly plunged into darkness. You groaned inwardly. Not another power outage. But before you can begin your search for a torch, the lights come right back on. Although you may have breathed a sigh of relief, you can’t help but worry and start thinking about faulty wiring or other potentially dangerous problems with your home’s electrical connections.
Should you be worried when the power goes out and then comes back on, or should you treat it as part of the quirks of the electrical grid? There are many possible reasons behind the event. Let’s look into the most common ones so you’ll know what to do the next time it happens.
Power Flickering Off & On
Flickering power is a complete but momentary power outage, often lasting for just a second or two. The lights may also flash on and off a few times before the power goes out entirely. This indicates a short-term voltage fluctuation in the power system, causing the lamps to dim as the brightness they emit is proportional to the applied voltage.
Common Causes of Power Flickers
When you lose power only to have it back on again, it often means that the circuit breaker tripped. However, that is not always the case. In some instances, it can point to more serious issues, such as a short circuit somewhere in your electrical system.
Each reason behind flickering power requires a different response. Knowing the common causes will tell you whether to head for the breaker panel to check your circuit breakers, contact the power company or call an electrician.
1. Tripped Circuit Breaker
Do you live in an older house with a single-circuit system? Then, the reason the power goes out briefly could be the circuit breaker tripping. This happens when there’s not enough electricity in the circuit to supply the sudden demand. For example, if your hairdryer, electric iron, and dishwasher are all on the same circuit, you can lose power if you switch them on simultaneously. The circuit breaker trips to prevent overloading, which poses a fire risk.
If your main circuit breaker trips frequently, check its age by looking at the serial number on the service panel. On average, circuit breakers last around 35 years, although some will start developing issues by their 25th year. Meanwhile, consider an upgrade if you have a single-circuit system, especially if the circuit breaker keeps tripping.
2. Bad Breaker Switch
You checked the main circuit breaker, and it works fine. So how come the power goes out and comes right back on every so often? The culprit could be a bad breaker switch. A broken switch can cause brief power outages even if the circuit breaker is fine. Bad breaker switches can make you lose electric power in just one room, the one that particular breaker controls, or even the whole house if you have an old breaker.
You can replace a breaker for around $45 to $60. However, it would be in your best interest to swap the entire circuit breaker if several switches are out and the unit is over 30 years old.
3. Overloaded Circuit
Overloading a circuit is never a wise thing to do. It can damage your electrical system and even cause a fire. A circuit gets overloaded when you plug too many appliances and electronic devices into one circuit. The circuit breaker can’t handle the electrical demand, and the power goes out.
Try to understand the breakers in your home and how they work to help you prevent overloading your electrical system. Figure out which outlets are connected to a specific circuit so you don’t plug all your power-hungry appliances and electronics into a single circuit, thus creating electrical problems. The service panel should be labeled clearly, indicating which circuit breakers control which part of your house.
4. Short Circuit
Short circuits occur when the electrical current follows an unintended, shorter pathway instead of following the circuit. The shortcut the electrical current takes can trip the breaker, and the power goes out briefly before coming back on. Faulty wiring, frayed lines, and problems in the electrical system are the most common causes of a short circuit.
A short circuit is dangerous and needs your immediate attention. Hire an electrician to determine what’s causing the short before it does serious damage to your entire electrical system or even causes a fire.
5. Service Panel Damage
Damages to the service panel can cause electrical problems that lead to momentary power outages. Service panels, like other equipment, can develop issues at any time. A breaker or fuse may need replacing, or water may have gotten inside.
Whenever the power goes out and comes back on quickly, this is one reason that should come to mind. It may require a relatively easy fix. However, it will often require the services of a trained electrician. Someone with scant knowledge about electricity should never handle electrical issues. So call an electrician to check for damages to your service panel.
6. Bad Weather
Inclement weather comes with several events that can cause electrical problems in a house and lead to a temporary loss of power. Lightning storms can make the power flicker on and off, while a lighting strike delivering thousands of amps can wreak havoc with your home’s electrical grid, leaving you without electricity.
Meanwhile, high winds can down a power pole or snap a power line, causing an outage. In some cases, lightning strikes can trigger a massive power cut and make your area lose power for days.
7. Power Line Problems
Power lines deliver the electricity to your home, so any issues that affect them can cause an outage, either prolonged or temporary, to your home. Anything from a downed power line to scheduled maintenance to the electricity distribution facilities can shut down the power in your area.
Lightning storms and strong winds can also seriously damage power lines, so if weather conditions are terrible and the lights flicker, problems with power lines may be the reason. It can even mean that the next time the power goes out, it might not come back on and the flickering power can turn into a prolonged outage.
We mentioned how intense winds could topple power poles and snap power lines, leading to an outage. But it’s not just the wind that can damage power lines and other electricity distribution infrastructure. Rain and snow can do the same thing. If the power in your home goes on and off during inclement weather, be prepared for a longer outage. Just because the power returns quickly doesn’t mean it will stay on. The weather is notorious for causing prolonged outages.
Get your emergency supplies ready even before the lights start flickering. Have a fully charged cell phone, torches, food, and water because the chances are high that the weather can shut down the power for an extended period.
Animals, such as squirrels, rodents, and birds, build homes or nests near your home’s electrical system and can damage the power lines in the process. They may peck or chew at the lines or short-circuit some connections.
Although wires are insulated, the material isn’t strong enough to withstand continuous gnawing from sharp teeth. If a squirrel or rodent, for example, manages to chew the wire all the way through, your home will lose power. You’ll need to call an electrician to resolve the problem.
How to Identify the Source of Power Flickers?
Because having electrical trouble in your home can be dangerous, you may want to identify the reason behind those power flickers. There are several ways to determine where the problem lies and what to do about it.
- The power flickers throughout the whole house regularly: Possible causes are problems with your home’s outdoor connections, faulty wiring inside the house, or a malfunctioning circuit breaker. Call an electrician to pinpoint the exact cause and apply the necessary fix.
- The power in a single room goes out but doesn’t turn back on: The cause could be an overload on the breaker for that room. This can happen when you simultaneously turn on several power-hungry appliances connected to the same circuit. Unplug some electronics and reset the breaker to solve the problem.
- The power flickers in the middle of a storm: The flickering power may be due to trees or branches rubbing against power lines, or a wire a few distances away may have been hit by lightning. If your home’s power doesn’t usually flicker without a storm, you don’t have to do anything about this type of power flicker.
- The power flickers in a particular set of rooms or area of the house: The issue may lie with the connection between the rooms and the breaker for that area. If that checks out, the trouble could be in a major connection that delivers power to those rooms.
- The power flickers in only one room: The cause could be the outlets in the room. The strip surge protectors might be worn-out and need replacing. If you have a room-specific breaker, check if it’s in good working condition.
Using a Surge Protector
A surge protector is an equipment that has two functions. First, it lets you plug multiple appliances or electronics into a single power outlet. Its second and more important purpose is to protect your electronics and devices from a high-voltage power surge.
A typical surge protector will divert the excess electricity into the outlet’s grounding wire if the voltage rises above the acceptable level. This helps ensure that regardless of the incoming electricity level, only a specified amount gets to the device or appliance. The surge protector keeps your electronics safe by preventing excess electricity from getting into the device.
With a surge protector in place, you won’t have to worry about power surges damaging your electronics and devices. Thus, installing a whole home surge protector would be a wise move if you live in an area that experiences frequent voltage fluctuations or where there are frequent storms.
This equipment can be pricey. However, the protection it offers your expensive appliances and devices would be worth the investment.
Hiring an Electrician
Unfortunately, when it comes to power that goes off and turns back on, you’ll likely need the services of a trained electrician to resolve the issue. Don’t attempt to do it yourself, as tinkering with electricity poses the risks of electrocution.
Be prepared to spend around $100 to $550 to fix issues regarding flickering lights. This can include repairing faulty switches, fixing breaker problems, and minor wiring repairs. More complex electric work, such as replacing the breaker, will add to the price. Upgrading a circuit breaker will usually set you back $1000.
How Long Does it Take an Electrician to Replace a Breaker Box?
On average, it takes around 4 to 6 hours to replace a breaker box. This does not include any additional rewiring or moving of the panel.
How Do I Find out What’s Tripping my Circuit Breaker?
An overloaded circuit is one of the common reasons a breaker trips. However, that’s not always the case. To find out the exact cause, go to your panel. After determining which of the breakers tripped, unplug all the circuits’ appliances and devices before resetting the breaker. If it trips immediately without anything plugged in, then the problem may not be due to an overload but because of a short circuit. If the breaker doesn’t trip, start plugging the electronics on the circuit one by one, pausing each time. If the breaker fails, you know that the circuit is overloaded.
Will a Breaker Trip Before Fire?
The circuit breaker’s job is to stop the flow of electricity to prevent an overheating circuit, which, in turn, can help avert an electrical fire. However, breakers aren’t foolproof. They can fail, which means they won’t trip. Also, if you keep resetting the breaker, it may give out at some point and stop tripping. If that happens, the overload will overheat the wiring insulation and lead to an electrical fire.
How Much Does it Cost to Fix an Overloaded Circuit?
The easiest fix for an overloaded circuit is to move some appliances or devices from the overloaded circuit and transfer them to another circuit. However, if the overloaded breaker gets busted, you’ll need to have it replaced by a licensed electrician. This will cost you between $100 and $200, including parts and labor.
It’s worrisome when the power goes out and then comes back on because it could indicate something wrong with your home’s electrical system. However, don’t jump to conclusions and assume you have a short circuit or faulty wiring. It could be just due to the weather, or the problem may lie with the power company’s facilities.
If the problem occurs regularly, have a licensed electrician check everything out. This will ensure that there are no loose connections and other issues with your electrical system, which could potentially cause a fire.