Why Your Lights Flicker When Turning on Appliances

Scott Dylan Westerlund
Updated August 27, 2021
A close up of an incandescent lightbulb
Kilito Chan/Moment via Getty Images

If the lights in your house flicker when you turn on appliances, you'll need to pin down the source to avoid a dangerous electrical situation

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No, it's not normal for your lights to flicker when you turn on appliances. While you may assume this is just a quirk of your home, it's actually a sign that something dangerous is happening with your home's electrical system. Don't ignore flickering lights.

While the cause of your flickering lights may not be all that complex, any issue that involves wiring or electrical outlets has the potential to be a fire hazard. That's why if your lights are flickering when you turn on appliances, you should contact a licensed local electrician right away. However, we can help you narrow down some of the possibilities behind why appliances make your lights flicker.

1. A Bulb Could Be Loose

Do a bulb check first if just one light is flickering. The bulb may be a little loose in its socket. While a loose bulb often still turns on, it's usually less consistent than its neighbors.

Luckily, you can fix a loose bulb without any electrical skills. Simply give your lightbulb a turn to make sure it’s twisted as far as possible clockwise and that it feels secure. Just be sure you turn off the light and let your bulb cool for a few minutes before touching it.

2. You Could Be Using the Wrong Light Bulb

You can also troubleshoot for this cause fairly easily. If a dimmer and your flickering lights are connected, confirm you're using the right bulbs. You can do this simply by looking up the rating for the bulbs you're using to see if they're rated "dimmer compatible." 

If they’re not, try swapping them out to see if the flickering stops.

3. A Loose Connection Can Cause Lights To Flicker

Loose connections in a switch or outlet can sometimes cause flickering lights. The error could even be in your meter box or electric panel. 

However, you don't want to go wiggling wires around looking for the loose connection if you don't have experience with this type of thing. Bring in a pro to help you identify a loose connection if you suspect this could be the cause.

While you're evaluating your lighting situation, consider a smoother option like new recessed or pendant LED lights.

4. It Could Also Be an Electrical Overload

A happy family having dinne
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All your electronics, appliances, and lights around your home could be drawing too much current, causing the flickering.

Have you recently installed any new appliances? Your home may not be equipped to handle the power load based on its original amp level. A gadget that's drawing too big of a current could cause voltage fluctuations.

If your lights have flickered when turning on appliances for as long as you've lived in the home, your appliances may not be properly grouped on the right circuits. Bring in a pro to confirm that your home is wired properly to handle the maximum allowable load.

If you have an older home, your power level could be as low as 60 amps. While that used to work just fine, things like dishwashers, air conditioners, and smart systems require at least 200 amps to run safely. Consider getting an estimate to upgrade to 200 amps from a qualified electrician. The cost to upgrade an existing electrical system to 200 amps is between $750 and $2,000.

5. Arcing Wires Can Be Dangerous

When separate wiring connections are too close together, or their insulating covers have eroded, you get arcing wires. This happens when electricity jumps from one wire to another. If you hear a “buzzing” sound from an outlet or when you turn on a light switch, you probably have arcing wires. 

The danger here is that two separate connections can start a fire when electricity sparks and jumps from one system to another. A pro can diagnose and fix the problem, usually by replacing the offending wires.

Consider a Flicker a Warning Sign

If the electrical system in your home is wired properly, flickering should be so rare that it's essentially nonexistent. If your lights are flickering whenever you use an appliance, this is a fire hazard.

Continuing to draw from a faulty or overloaded power source is a dangerous game to play, so bring in a professional ASAP. While you may simply need to fix a connection, it's possibly time to upgrade your household load capacity.

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