Several Lights Flickering:
Could Be Trouble...
Since the beginning of January 2002 my
husband and I have seen our lights flicker, sometimes staying out for 3
seconds than back on. My husband checked the circuits in the basement and
all is well. What could be the problem? My husband hasn't done anything
more to find the cause, but I want to know. I should mention that our
neighbors lights have been fine, so it's definitely internal. As well all
the lights go out throughout the house and sometimes they do not. Thank
you in advance for your time.
all the symptoms that an electrical system can have, a group of lights
that flicker is the scariest, in my opinion. I suspect that you are
getting some arcing somewhere. Arcing occurs when wire connections are
close but not fully touching. The electric current jumps the gap, like
lightning, and creates some heat. This heat could be minor, or it could
be a serious problem, depending on how much current is jumping across
the gap, and how wide the gap is.
This is not the same as a short circuit, although both can give off
sparks. A short circuit occurs when the hot wire touches the neutral or
ground wire, and normally the circuit breaker or fuse will trip,
shutting off the power.
Arcing can occur for hours, days, weeks, even years, and it will
never trip a conventional circuit breaker.
And arcing can cause enough heat buildup to START A FIRE. I don't
want to alarm you, but this could be serious.
Two years ago in my own home, I noticed that ALL of the lights in the
house were flickering. If a single light flickered I would suspect that
the bulb had a loose filament (a trivial problem) or the bulb was loose
in the socket. But in this case I discovered that the Main Breaker was
arcing. I could hear the arc sound when I pressed my ear to the breaker,
it made a little "fzzzt fzzzt" sound. And the breaker was warm.
This was on a Sunday night. I made sure all the major current-drawing
automatic appliances (the electric water heater and the refrigerator)
were turned off that night, just to minimize the heat build up. No power
draw, no heat problem. The next day I tried to find a replacement main
breaker, but that brand was no longer sold, so I did a sudden-instant
main breaker panel replacement. I was up late that Monday night.
Anyway, I would strongly recommend that you call an electrician at
the earliest possible opportunity. I suspect that a wire has come loose
somewhere, and troubleshooting this is not something I can explain in an
e-mail. But you can try shutting off various circuits to see if the
flickering can be narrowed down to a certain area. Many newer houses
have all of their lights on one or two circuits, so it's possible that
the problem is limited to a lighting circuit. I strongly suggest you
turn off all lights at night (most people do anyway) and perhaps even
the water heater if it's electric. Turn off the fridge at night if its
lights are flickering. And make sure you have working smoke alarms. I'd
put a battery-powered smoke alarm near the breaker panel, for now, just
Please have this problem examined by a knowledgeable person.
Bruce W. Maki, Editor.