Do you have lights that mysteriously flicker?

It drives me crazy! It drives you crazy too! That flickering of the lights that remind us of a broken neon sign or possibly a strobe light from a party so long ago. Often there is a problem in only one area of the house. Sometimes the problem only occurs when you turn something else on. And sometimes there is just no rhyme or reason for that annoying flickering.

There could be many reasons for flickering lights. Discovering the reason will involve taking notes like a detective and eliminating the possibilities much like Sherlock Holmes would have done. Most causes of flickering are simple and only cause a momentary flickering. Listed below are many of the common reasons a light might flicker. Most are annoying but some you might need to have investigated by a super sleuth, an electrician.

    Clue #1 – It’s Just One Light That Flickers

Consider that if it is just one light flickering, it’s highly possible that the bulb itself is the problem. First TIGHTEN the bulb before removing it. That might solve the issue. If the bulb was not fully screwed into the bulb socket or if it was screwed in incorrectly it could cause that flicker. If that did not solve the issue, remove and re-insert the light bulb. And let’s not forget the bulb itself could be the problem so trying another new bulb is worth the effort.

    Clue #2 – A Fluorescent or LED light flickering could be normal

Sorry to say, some types of lighting are prone to flickering. Fluorescent lights will often flicker within the first minute after turning them on. This is caused as the phosphors inside the bulb reaches its peak illumination, but they could also flicker when the ballast is failing. With fluorescent lights, flickering seems more common than other types of lighting.

Several factors could contribute to the flickering. The temperature, the age of the bulb, and the actual warm-up cycle of the bulbs are all common causes of fluorescent bulbs flickering. As stated, some flickering is normal but if you are about to reach your tolerance limits, start with replacing your fluorescent bulb. Back to the Detective idea, quickly determine if the new REPLACEMENT bulb flickers. If it does flicker, we have now deduced that the light fixture has a bad ballast. If the fixture is really old, it would be better to replace the fixture instead of the ballast only. Of course, the new fixture will have a new ballast so it’s a Win-Win!

LED lights might flicker when connected improperly or if the dimmer is not designed for LED lights. These two issues are not serious but investigating will help you make a decision on doing something or doing nothing.

    Clue #3 – Faulty Light Switch:

Lights could flicker because the light switch is not doing its job correctly. Try flipping the switch on and off several times or wiggling the switch around a bit. That should actually CAUSE the flickering. Also try shutting the light OFF when there is flickering and turn it back on after a few minutes. If that seems to help, you’re on to something, detective. If you need to do this little activity way too often, it might be a good idea to replace the switch.

    Clue #4 – Dimmer Switches:

Does your flickering light have a dimmer on them? Dimmer switches will cause flickering if the lights are LED and the dimmer is not rated for LED use. Many older dimmers are designed to be use with incandescent light bulbs. They do not play well with LED bulbs. Another thing to consider is that LED bulbs should say they are DIMMABLE. If they do not specifically say that, you should replace them if there is a dimmer on that circuit.

    Clue #5 – House Voltage Fluctuates:

Have you ever noticed that the lights flicker when the AC kicks in? If lights flicker when ANY electric device is turned on, your house voltage is fluctuating. Another clue to voltage fluctuation is that your light bulbs seem to burn out early and often. If your investigative work indicates the house voltage fluctuates, it’s time to call that super sleuth, the electrician

    Clue #6 – Loose Electrical Wiring:

Loose wiring can be a very serious condition and can cause house fires. Basically, all you can do is observe any unusual situations you might encounter. Wiggling a switch or outlet normally will have no negative results but if you see sparks, hear crackling noises or smell that distinctive electrical odor, you need to have an electrician out as soon as possible.

    Clue #7 – Lights Flicker Throughout the House

This is rated seriously high on the ASAP list. Lights flickering all over the house usually means there is a problem at the Main Meter Panel. This can be a fire hazard. Please don’t ignore this problem. It could be a simple fix, but it might be something serious.

    IN CLOSING:

I hope you took the challenge to be a detective and investigate the case of the flickering lights in your home. You chose to not ignore the issue and from your clues you either fixed the problem or now know what needs to be done. If your investigation suggests having the problem checked out by a super sleuth, the electrician, please don’t delay. Make the call.

If you are in the Orange County California area, consider giving Tradesman Electric a call.

We can be reached anytime at: 949-239-7078

That darn Smoke Detector is CHIRPING again!

So, it happened to me recently. My 2 AM unplanned wake-up call. You know, that annoying “Chirp” “Chirp” from you smoke detector that you know from experience will continue until you sell the house. But wait, why does it have to happen in the middle of the night? Seriously, WHY!

I know it could be by design, but I always felt there was more to it than that. So, I set out on a mission to discover WHY it always happens in the wee hours of the night.

Here’s what I found:

Almost all smoke detectors operate on batteries or at least have a battery for backup in case of a power outage. As with all batteries, the power level will eventually fall below a certain voltage level. When that happens, the detector emits a warning of low voltage by chirping. The electricity in a battery is produced by a chemical reaction going on inside the battery. In those wee hours of the night, we usually experience lower temperatures. The colder temp will cause that chemical reactions to occur at a slower rate. That, in turn, will reduced the electrical output from the battery to the smoke detector. That same battery that was OK at noon is now setting off the low battery “Chirp” which indicates that your battery is nearly dead.

To sum it up, it’s colder in the middle of the night so a marginal battery will appear nearly dead and of course, the “Chirp” will start.

We all know temperatures drop during the night. When your battery has lived a long life, and possibly past its prime, its ability to produce voltages may be enough in the warmth of an average day to power that smoke detector, but when the nighttime temperatures drop even a bit, they will slow down the chemical reaction that occurs inside the battery. That, in turn, reduces the electrical output. The smoke detector has no other option than to warn you that its battery is now too weak to function properly. And now we know the reason they seem to always wake us in the middle of the night.

WOW, who would have thought?

More Helpful Hints:
It’s NOT just low batteries that will set off your Smoke Detector. We all know that burning food and fireplace smoke will set off the smoke alarm, but here are a few other issues that will trigger that alarm.

1. Strong chemicals obviously produce odors, but did you know that ammonia and paint fumes can set off your smoke detector too?

2. Do you live with high humidity? That can be more than annoying for you, it can also set off smoke alarms. Many times, the density of the moisture particles in your area will trigger your alarm.

3. Steam can do it too. Just like humidity sets off your smoke alarm, steam coming from a shower or a pot of water boiling on your stove could also set off your smoke detectors.

4. And if that weren’t enough, Dust could also give you a false smoke alarm. If your detector is in an area where you are remodeling or for another reason has a lot of airborne dust, your alarms could be ringing. If that happens, you will need to clean the insides of your smoke detector. Compressed air is the best way to accomplish this task. Tools and fingers, could make the detector unusable.

5. Best idea we can offer is to change your Smoke Detector batteries every year like clockwork. A good way to remember it is a Holiday that will remind you such as Daylight Savings Time. BE SURE to use the highest quality batteries you can buy. I’m sure the extra dollar you spend will prove to be worth it at 3 am on a cold night in the not too distant future.

If nothing suggested stops that annoying “Chirping”, seek the help of a professional. That chirp gets old after a few minutes.

Brought to you by the electrical pros at:

The Tradesman Electric, Inc.
Orange County, California
949-239-7081