It can be scary moving to a new house or apartment, especially if the establishment is old to the neighborhood. Sometimes the doors creak a little more than you’re used to, or the cabinets don’t shut all the way, or the appliances fail to operate correctly. When I first moved to my new/old apartment, I faced all of these minor annoyances. However, none were as alarming as one peculiar phenomenon: every time I used my microwave, the lights would flicker and dim until my food was done cooking.
While my meal was always properly warmed and the lights always went back to normal, it was still a little unsettling. Was this indicative of a larger problem? Below, we’ll review the cause of my situation, as well as some other common reasons house lights go dim (other than your light dimmer switch, of course!).
If your lights dim when you are running an appliance, such as a dryer, air conditioner, or microwave like in my case, check to see if the lights are on the same circuit as the appliance. You might be simply dealing with an overloaded circuit – meaning your circuit is outdated or wired to run more appliances than it can handle. This is typically the case if you are living in an older abode. Although annoying, overloaded circuits due to appliance usage are common and not typically a danger. However, if you find that your lights are dimming beyond the use of the appliance, or if the appliance is tripping your circuit breaker, another reason could be behind the dimming. It’s time to call an electrician.
Problems with the Power Grid
Has your area experienced some bad weather lately? A transformer may have blown, or the service feed coming into your house may have been interrupted. Both are common occurrences during a storm. The problem may even be at the local utility substation. Brownouts (all-around dim lights) are not as common as blackouts, but they can happen when there is a city-wide power shortage or an unusually high demand for power.
Another reason your lights could be dimming unexpectedly is because the wiring throughout your home is outdated or insufficient to handle the amount of current it uses. When the electrical service has a demand for too much current, the voltage can drop, causing your lights to dim. Many older houses have this problem; they simply weren’t built to handle the electrical loads of today’s modern household, which typically features many devices or appliances that all require large amounts of power. If this is the case, you may require new wiring or a new service – ask an electrician.
Loose or Corroded Neutral Wire
If the lights in your house are fluctuating between bright and dim, you could have a more serious problem on your hands. You might have a loose or corroded neutral wire in your circuit breaker. The circuit breaker contains three wires: the first is red or black (the “hot” wire) the second is white (the “neutral” wire) and the third is a green or bare (the “ground” wire) which is only used for safety purposes. The first two wires are responsible for providing power to your household circuit. The neutral wire simply provides a return path to earth ground in the electrical panel to complete the circuit. A broken neutral wire means that the return path to the electrical panel is incomplete, which can cause imbalances in the two main power wires. When your lights brighten they are receiving too much voltage, and when they are dimming, they are receiving too little. If this problem worsens, your electrical devices could end up receiving far too much or too little power and become damaged. Loose or bad connections are the major cause of fires and other safety hazards. Contact an electrician as soon as possible.
Remember, these are just a few common reasons house lights go dim. There are, of course, many other possibilities. If you have continual trouble with dimming lights, always consult an electrician.