Why Do Lights Flicker? Strange Signs And Science Explained

Tanya Parkhi
Jan 24, 2024 By Tanya Parkhi
Originally Published on Oct 22, 2021
Edited by Luca Demetriou
Lights and lanterns in the night
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 4.9 Min

You may have observed this strange phenomenon in your home, and wondered why the lights are flickering.

Though unusual, it certainly does raise concern due to the delicate nature of a home's electrical system. So when is the flickering normal, and when should it be considered a dangerous occurrence?

There are a number of factors that can cause lights to flicker, some of them being quite harmless, and others bringing up the cause for concern. As a homeowner, it is vital to be able to recognize the signs of any malfunction in the electrical circuit system. Negligence or overlooking any faulty wiring can result in great damage to appliances, property and even death.

If you enjoyed this article, do check out our other pages on why do things float and why do the clocks go back.

What are the different times and types of light that might flicker?

Light bulbs and tube lights may flicker depending on the type of light bulb as well as the surroundings.

Fluorescent bulbs can tend to flicker while they are turning on, or in cold temperatures. Fluorescent lights flickering periodically are nothing to worry about, as this is quite normal.

Another type of bulb that can flicker under the wrong circumstances is an LED light. Sometimes these bulbs are used with dimmer switches, which are quite incompatible with LED lights of lower voltages. Dimmer switches are designed to work with lights of higher electrical load, which is why they do not work well with lower voltage LED bulbs.

Another problem that can plague lights of any type are loose connections and wires. If only one light or lamp is flickering, then it might simply be a matter of a loose connection with the plug. Remove the plug from the wall socket and reinsert it, or wiggle it around to make that it fit properly. If adjusting the switch or socket doesn't do the job, the fault likely lies with the bulb itself. Loose connections can also be caused by the circuit breaker or an outdated electrical panel, not just by wires.

The problem may also lie with the voltage, with fluctuations in voltage causing flickering in lights when a large appliance is turned out, unexplained dimming of all the lights and lights burning out. If this happens, check the voltage of your house and make sure that it is within the ideal range. If it is not, then consult with an electrician immediately. The same phenomenon can occur when heavy electrical load is experienced, having too many electrical appliances on at the same time, which the system cannot bear.

Are flickering lights a sign?

Flickering lights are a common trope in horror movies, used to amp up the spookiness level and scare the watcher! However, that is not the sign we are talking about here. Flickering lights in house are definitely a sign that there is something wrong with your electrical connection, or that the light is faulty.

Depending on the type of light bulb, the intensity of the lights flickering and the response to adjusting the switch or plug connection, you may need to take action if the flickering persists. Any damage to the house's electrical circuits can cause massive damage in the form of short circuits, electrical fires or burnouts.

A person changing the LED bulb

Is it dangerous if your lights flicker?

Though not dangerous in most scenarios, there are a few situations when flickering lights spell out danger. The most dangerous cause of flickering lights is having loose or faulty wiring.

Loose connections in switches, circuit boxes and outlets can lead to 'arcing' - where the electrical current jumps over gaps in the connection, caused by the broken or damaged wire. Arcing can cause the wire to heat up to temperatures of around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which will spark an electrical fire. Electrical fires are highly dangerous and can cause devastating damage, hence if you suspect that there might be loose wiring in your house, it is always better to play it safe and call an electrician to look into the matter.

Though an overloaded circuit is not as dangerous as loose wiring, it can still release large, sudden bursts of electricity, which can cause flickering of the lights, and in the worst-case scenario cause a short circuit and damage any connected appliances. When large appliances use a lot of electricity, more as they are starting up, it can cause a voltage drop. As the voltage picks up again, it can release bursts of energy which can overload the system and damage your appliances for good.

How do I stop my lights from flickering?

Depending on the type of lights in your home and the problem, some instances of flickering light bulbs can be solved by simply adjusting the wiring, loose light or light plug. If you have LED bulbs attached to a dimmer switch, it is advised to change the switch type for better performance, as they are incompatible with each other. Any loose connection or wiring damaged due to old age or other factors must be fixed or changed immediately, preferably with the help of an electrician. This is to prevent any electrical fire breakouts and keep the electrical system of the house running smoothly.

In the case of fluorescent bulbs, if your house is in an area with a constantly cold climate and the flickering lights are getting annoying, it is advisable to change the type of bulb entirely, as this issue cannot be fixed.

With any other issues such as circuit overloading, burnouts or voltage problems, inexperienced people should call an electrician to deal with the issue as improper handling can cause more harm than good.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for why do lights flicker then why not take a look at why do we only see one side of the moon, or why do my clothes smell after washing?

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Written by Tanya Parkhi

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Economics

Tanya Parkhi picture

Tanya ParkhiBachelor of Arts specializing in Economics

Tanya is a skilled content creator with a passion for writing and a love for exploring new cultures. With a degree in Economics from Fergusson College, Pune, India, Tanya worked on her writing skills by contributing to various editorials and publications. She has experience writing blogs, articles, and essays, covering a range of topics. Tanya's writing reflects her interest in travel and exploring local traditions. Her articles showcase her ability to engage readers and keep them interested.

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