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Any ideas as to why the lights flicker in my house?

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  • Jan 24th, 2006 12:23 pm
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Member
Oct 18, 2005
429 posts
Vancouver, BC

Any ideas as to why the lights flicker in my house?

My house is about 7 years old, and over the past year the lights seem to flicker from time to time. Most often, it is usually during a spike in power use. stuff like turning on a vacuum, turning on the dryer.

when using a washer, after the water fills, then it starts the first spin/wash cycle right? well during this spin cycle, my lights throughout my house can be in constant flicker as each spin is executed.

i've had both an electrician and BC Hydro at my house at the same time seeing what can be done. well not much, the electrician just ensured everything in my breaker panel was tightenned and cleaned and what not, while the Hydro guys inspected the nearby power boxes on the tall wooden poles.

I'm also wondering if the rain has something to do with the flickering. I remember back around November, Vancouver had a bit of a dry spell and I recall my house hardly had any flicker problems during that month.

Well it's been raining in Vancouver for about 30 days consecutive now, and the flickering seems to be much more noticeable as of late.

Anyone have any suggestions?
19 replies
Deal Fanatic
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Nov 15, 2005
8840 posts
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To clarify, it's truely flickering and not like a short dimming?

You are saying that for an instant, the lights and such actually go off? (say 1/10th a second or whatever), versus the lights going dim for a split second when you initially turn the high powered device on?

It sounds like it only does it on big power consumers (vacuum/washer), versus something small like a hand mixer or radio? What about television, does that do it too?
Beans, beans, the magically fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot. The more you toot, the better you feel. So eat your beans at every meal.
[OP]
Member
Oct 18, 2005
429 posts
Vancouver, BC
the lights more go dim for a second then go back to normal. but when something like the washer is spinning, this occurs like every second as the washer is drawing power to perform one revolution.

it generally doesn't occur when I use smaller appliances, but it can (microwave, tv, toaster oven). it can also just happen out of no where sometimes as well.
Deal Fanatic
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Nov 15, 2005
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I'm not an expert, but to me it just sounds like you don't have enough power and when the devices are coming on, they draw the most current.. which bogs down the circuit.
Beans, beans, the magically fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot. The more you toot, the better you feel. So eat your beans at every meal.
Deal Fanatic
Jan 16, 2003
6202 posts
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I'll say that you have a ****** electrical installation in your house. It's a recent home and to save money, electricians put as many devices as possible on each circuit so when a high power device turns on it dims everything.

Try putting CFL "bulbs" instead of the regular bulbs, it might hide the problem. And put a good UPS that filters the current before you blow up your computer.
Member
Aug 11, 2003
434 posts
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FastFokker wrote:I'm not an expert, but to me it just sounds like you don't have enough power and when the devices are coming on, they draw the most current.. which bogs down the circuit.
I can't say that I am an expert either.

There can be a number of reasons why the lights are flickering. We can start by assuming that the house was built to code. (That is might not be true) There is also the possibility that there is a short some place.

It sounds like you have this problem when ever you have high electical loads on the system. You can get temporary spikes in current whenever certain kinds of electrical loads come on. The electicity comes into your house in two alternating phases. You maybe able to minimize the problem by balancing the loads on the two phases.

From "Wiring a House, Rex Cauldewell", quote, "In most main panels, the tabs on each leg of the hot bus are arranged on opposite phases, so balancing occurs automatically. As single pole breakers are installed down one side of the panel, they get automatically put on alternative phases because of the tab/bus design. If a double pole breaker (one that uses both hot legs of a panel) is installed, its current will automatically balance because the breaker by design, fits on opposite phases."

Further, "Inside the house, if two loads of any kind will be on at the same time, put them on opposite phases. For example, if two circuits -one with a freezer pulling 5 amps and one with a refigerator pulling five amps-are put on the same phase, their current in both the neutral and on the service entrance hot leg will add up to 10 amps. If the same circuits are put on opposite phases, 5 amps will flow through each hot leg and add up to 0 amps on the neutral."

A typical 15 amp breaker for the bedroom is a typical single pole breaker. The breakers for electrical dryers are typically double pole.

By code, your washer. should be on a separate breaker. Can include other recepticles in the laundry room. Check to make sure your washer is on a separate breaker. This is easy to check. Shut the breaker to your washer and see if everything else is still on. I don't expect this to be the problem but might as well rule it out. (Best to check your Provincial code if this is important.) Is there flickering on "all" the lights in the house or is there flickering on just "some" of the lights in the house. If there is flickering on just "some" of the lights in the house, then which ones ? Is there the possibility that one phase of your main panel is overloaded and the loads not balanced ? Your washer should be on a single phase breaker. It should be relatively easy to put that breaker on the alternative phase by moving it to one of the "adjacent" (the next one higher or lower on the panel assuming the phases alternate on your panel) breakers in the main electrical panel.

Do you have the washing machine, the furnace, your family room, your computers and the kitchen appliances on the same phase. Just go down your main panel and see what electrical loads are on each breaker. Assuming that alternative breakers are on the same phase, what kind of electrical loads do you have in common with your washing machine. High loads are typically things like your microwave oven, dish washer and furnace. Your stove and oven should be on a double breaker. I am not sure about individual elements. :|

You can not always assume, that even if the work was inspected and installed by professionals, that it meets code. I have two furnaces in my house. I upgraded my furnaces about four years ago. The installation was inspected by the city and approved. The two furnaces were on one 15 amp single pole breaker. The name plate peak current on the two furnace motors exceeded 15 amps. We can debate the probabilities of both furnaces coming on at exactly the same time. (most breakers also allow a time delay) The two furnaces are now on two separate and adjacent single pole 15 amp breakers.
Deal Fanatic
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Nov 13, 2005
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I'm not an expert but it sounds like your running too much power on 1 circuit. Do you have 60/100/200 amp service in the house????

sk :)
[OP]
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Oct 18, 2005
429 posts
Vancouver, BC
sunnybono wrote:I'm not an expert but it sounds like your running too much power on 1 circuit. Do you have 60/100/200 amp service in the house????

sk :)
hmm... most of that and the post above me are way over my head.

but yes, the lights throughout my WHOLE house will flicker when like the washer is spinning. though, the flickering is more noticeable in the living room than in the rooms or kitchen. I do have flourescent lights installed in my kitchen though. my living room is still using the stock chandalier lights when the house was first built.
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Nov 15, 2005
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Unfortunately if you've already had an electrician and BC hydro check it out, with no solution.. there probably is no EASY solution.

Perhaps try turning everything off you can think of, keep one of the lights on when running the washer. See if having almost no load on your system, STILL makes the lights dim.

If it still dims with minimal power consumption, then it must be something else besides lack of power supply. If it goes away, then it's likely that you are drawing near maximum loads when high amperage items click on.. helping that as already stated would be using lower power items, like compact flourescents to help ease the load.
Beans, beans, the magically fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot. The more you toot, the better you feel. So eat your beans at every meal.
Member
Aug 11, 2003
434 posts
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cyberknight wrote:hmm... most of that and the post above me are way over my head.

but yes, the lights throughout my WHOLE house will flicker when like the washer is spinning. though, the flickering is more noticeable in the living room than in the rooms or kitchen. I do have flourescent lights installed in my kitchen though. my living room is still using the stock chandalier lights when the house was first built.
I can see that there can be quite a number of possibilities. I think it would be useful to establish some facts first inorder to narrow the possibilites. You told us that your house is about seven years old. New houses require building permits, electrical inspections etc. I am assuming that this was all done when the house was originally built. Is this house in the country or is it in an established subdivision in the city ? Has there been any additions or changes since the original construction and has the changes been made by qualified trades people or did someone just hire a handyman to do the changes. Like, did you add a new air conditioner or renovate the basement and add new electrical loads ? Is the flickering lights something that has just started recently or is it something that you have lived with for several years ?
Does this just happen when you have the washing machine on or does it happen all the time ? When some lights flicker, do all the lights flicker in the whole house or just certain lights ?

What is your knowledge level on household electricity ? None, a little bit ? I don't know what you know about the electrical panel and electrical circuits. Do you know what an electrical breaker is ? Should we explain that ?

To me, flickering lights means that the light is not getting the amount of electricity required to keep the light on without flickering. There is a bottleneck somewhere in the system. Either from the street to the main panel (BC Hydro system), within the electrical panel or from the main panel to the individual lights and appliances. The electricians have instruments that can measure voltage and current. Was BC Hydro able to tell you that everything was ok before the main panel ? ie no problems on their system. They also have line splitters and meters that can quickly tell them without opening up the appliance (such as your washing machine) how much current the appliance is using when it is operating.
Deal Addict
Sep 16, 2005
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I know of a time when I was working at another home with flickering probs. It would flicker every time a power tool was started. Say A saw. Turn on the saw, VRRRRRRRRRRRRRr!!! and the light would flicker off for a sec just when turning on. I guess it's poor electric. or it's using up a lot of what it can give out. or just get better lights.
Member
Aug 11, 2003
434 posts
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john widow wrote:I know of a time when I was working at another home with flickering probs. It would flicker every time a power tool was started. Say A saw. Turn on the saw, VRRRRRRRRRRRRRr!!! and the light would flicker off for a sec just when turning on. I guess it's poor electric. or it's using up a lot of what it can give out. or just get better lights.
This is generally what happens on a single 15 amp circuit if it was built according to the electrical codes. The power comes into the main panel and goes through the main breaker. From there, the power is distributed through a number of smaller breakers. The smallest breaker that you have is a 15 amp breaker. The codes would specify the minimum sized copper wire that the electrician can use and the maximum number of plug ins. In this case the smallest wire that can be used is a 14 guage copper wire and the maximum number of outlets is 12 recepticles. That can be any combination of individual lights and outlets (two recepticle plug ins).

So, you start the day and plug in a radio and a couple lights. Then someone plugs in a circular saw. My circular saw is rated at 15 amps. Lets say that yours is 14 amps but draws as much as 16 amps of current as it starts up. You have now momentarily overloaded your circuit and your lights will flicker while the saw starts up. Once it has come up to speed the load will likely fall down below 14 amps. Then you start cutting a board. As you apply the loads the current that the saw goes up again.

What is the breaker doing back in the panel ? The breakers are designed to take short term bumps in current. But if the current exceeds 15 amps for too long , it will trip and all your power will go off. Also when the temperature of the breaker starts increasing, the breaker will start triping at a lower current.

No one really knows for sure what people are going to plug into a standard circuit. So, the codes permit a maximum of a combination of lights and recepticles assuming that each light or recepticle will require on average 1 amp. Twelve of these will give you 12 amps. The 14 guage copper wire that the electrician is permited to use would be ok for 15 amp of current. So, the codes automatically have a safety factor built in of 20%. ie you have a load of 12 amps and the wire is good for 15 amps. It would be unreasonable to design standard residential houses for continuous use of power tools. So, that is why your lights are flickering when you turn on a power tool.

Generally the solution to this problem is easy. You just plug your power tool onto a separate circuit from your lights and radio.

A house that is built to code follows a number of rules. I just gave a simple description of one electrical circuit. The codes would specify plug arrangements in each of the rooms. Things like, your refrigerator has to be on a separate circuit. This is so that someone doesn't plug the microwave oven into the same circuit as your refrigerator. What you can plug in, the wire size and the breaker size is all laid out. The code goes on and on.
So, if someone tells me that the house was built to code and no one messed with it through the years, then I have a good idea how the house was wired.

When problems start occuring, the first area to look at is what has changed.
Some "handymen" want to cut corners. Lets say that they are doing a small renovation in the bathroom. The homeowner wants to add a couple lights, a bigger bathroom fan and a new recepticle for the hair dryer. Lets say that the existing circuit already has a computer tied in someplace and already has 12 recepticles. So, the handyman adds another 4 amps and the handyman has saved time and money. He doesn't have to spend the time going to get and pay for the permit and he doesn't have to wait around the house for the electrical inspection. In most cases, the breaker will trip when the circuit is overloaded and the homeowner will be inconvenienced. In some cases you can have a fire or serious injury because a recepicle was not ground faulted.
[OP]
Member
Oct 18, 2005
429 posts
Vancouver, BC
yeah this has been more of a recent problem. year or so? I initially didn't give it much thought and assumed it would just go away, but I notice it happening more and more now, even when I don't use the large appliances. generally all the lights in my house will flicker when it occurs. I can say that it is much more noticeable on the non-flourescent lights in my house when it does occur.

when BC Hydro looked at the main panel outside they said there was nothing wrong. and the electrician couldn't find anything real conclusive when examining the breaker panel and what not.

no major renovations. the only thing I can think of is that, I did have someone do some work on my security system. for a while, my security system would go a litle haywhire, like being set off out of no where. I haven't had any problems since having it looked at. but that seems like a minor load, even if there was an additional minor load added.
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Nov 15, 2005
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Security alarm was going haywire, going off for no reason?

Sounds like there really is some kind of power issue, probably a fluctuation in power levels is what caused the alarm to think someone was tampering with it and it set itself off.

Again, since you've had professionals in the house with no idea of what it is, it sounds like you may have to live with it.

Unless, you wanna give Mike Holmes a call!
Beans, beans, the magically fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot. The more you toot, the better you feel. So eat your beans at every meal.
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