Flickering Lights

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I've got a flickering light problem to track down.
The circuit has a few living room outlets on it with 2 incandescent lamps plugged in and a couple of 4' florescent shop-light style fixtures in the basement. Three times in the past week or so, all 4 of these fixtures started flickering for few minutes and then stopped.
I plan to remove the breaker box cover and check the connections at the breaker and neutral bus, but I'm looking for other suggestions in case everything in the box is tight.
Could a bad florescent bulb or fixture cause all four lamps to flicker? How about a bad breaker?
Any other thoughts?
I wish it wasn't so intermittent so that I could track it down easier. A couple of days between each episode is a real pain.
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On 11/19/2012 11:56, DerbyDad03 wrote:

Check each device in the circuit for loose connections. Replace anything with backstab connections (where the wire is just stabbed into a slot) with devices with screw terminals and ensure that connections are tight.
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I had this issue on a circuit at my rental, wired circa 1957 or so.
Wire nuts weren't used to tie wires together--they were crimped and then a cap was put over the crimp. With the wires live, poking at the 3 crimped hot wires in the box caused the lights to flicker (and another circuit to go completely dead).
Pulling the cap off, the wires appeared to be crimped very well, but they were still loose in the crimp.
And I have to agree with Bob in the previous post. I quit using the "backstab" on outlets and switches over 20 years ago.
scott
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If they were solid instead of stranded wires, the crimps do not hold very well. Wire nuts seem to work ok on solid or stranded wire.
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There is not a backstab receptacle or switch anywhere in my house.
When it happens again, I plan to unplug each fixture one at a time to see what happens. Unfortunately it doesn't happen for a long enough time during each occurrence for me to have time to do much unplugging, powering off, etc. The fixtures flicker for about 15 seconds, barely enough time for me to get out of the recliner.
I may swap some lamps around from different circuits to see if I can "move" the problem and narrow it down to a particular device. For the basement florescents, that's going to mean extension cords and the loss of the use of the switches. It's just a PITA since it could be days before it happens again.
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On Mon, 19 Nov 2012 13:20:58 -0800 (PST), DerbyDad03

Is it possible it is happening outside your house (ie, a brown-out)? You may only be noticing the one circuit because it has the lights on it and that it what gets noticed. If it is just that one circuit, I think you are on the right track suspecting a loose connection in the panel (or a box closer to the panel than the first flickering light) or a bad breaker. It could be a bad fixture but that seems less likely. Good luck.
Pat
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I called the neighbor and asked him if he had experienced any flickering lights. He's another DIY'er and an engineer, so I know he would have noticed. He said no.
I also ran upstairs yesterday and checked another circuit while it was happening and didn't notice a flicker. We'll keep looking...
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Friend of mine had flickering lights. The answer turned out to be to remove the double 100 breaker where the power comes in. Switch it off, unsnap it from the panel. Don't touch the big feed wire. Sand the bus bar with emery cloth, and scrape with screw driver end. Big hit of No=Al=Ox and put it back on. Use flashlights, and due caution.
Christopher A. Young Learn more about Jesus www.lds.org .
I called the neighbor and asked him if he had experienced any flickering lights. He's another DIY'er and an engineer, so I know he would have noticed. He said no.
I also ran upstairs yesterday and checked another circuit while it was happening and didn't notice a flicker. We'll keep looking...
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It appears to have been a bad breaker. I swapped the wires between 2 breakers and the flickering moved to the other circuit almost immediately. It was a dual breaker and it looks like one breaker went bad.
The circuit that was flickering probably gets more use than any other circuit in the house. There's a couple of living room receptacles with lamps plugged in, the basement ceiling fluorescents, 2nd floor landing light, basement landing light, kitchen ceiling fixture, etc. These are lights that are used every day for hours at a time.
Anyway, I changed the breaker. Since it was an intermittent problem, we'll wait and see, but I'm pretty sure the problem's been solved.
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Thanks for the field report. We can learn from your experience.
A friend of mine has been having nussiance trips on the kitchen circuit. I've got a breaker to put in, but not been able to schedule. I suspect he needs more circuits in the kitchen.
Christopher A. Young Learn more about Jesus www.lds.org .
It appears to have been a bad breaker. I swapped the wires between 2 breakers and the flickering moved to the other circuit almost immediately. It was a dual breaker and it looks like one breaker went bad.
The circuit that was flickering probably gets more use than any other circuit in the house. There's a couple of living room receptacles with lamps plugged in, the basement ceiling fluorescents, 2nd floor landing light, basement landing light, kitchen ceiling fixture, etc. These are lights that are used every day for hours at a time.
Anyway, I changed the breaker. Since it was an intermittent problem, we'll wait and see, but I'm pretty sure the problem's been solved.
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One time, a friend of mine had flickering, in the entire house. Power came in through a double 100 breaker. One night after he came home from work, we switched off the double 100, and pulled it out of the box. Careful, as the wire connected to it was live. The metal bar in the center of the panel had corrosion, which we scraped off.
Looking back, I'd have used inverter, battery, and dremel tool. A dose of NoAlOx on the breaker and bar, and went back together. Looking back, I'd have used dielectric grease. But, he sold the house and I can't go back and redo it. The flickering was cured.
Christopher A. Young Learn more about Jesus www.lds.org .
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A fluorescent tube that's nearing the end of it's life will flicker and "roll" and do stuff that it doesn't do when it's in good condition, but it won't cause other lights to flicker.
I expect the problem is more likely to be that there are power surges in the electric power being supplied to your house. You don't see the effects of those surges on appliances like TV sets and computers because TV sets and computers have large capacitors in their power supplies to "smooth out" the voltage and current they supply to the appliance.
Maybe before you do any more on this: 1. talk to your neighbors to see if they've noticed their lights flickering too, and
2. on your lights, turn the lights off, take the bulbs and/or tubes out, and clean the contacts on both the bulbs and tubes and inside the sockets. You can use electrical contact cleaner for this.
--
nestork


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On Tue, 20 Nov 2012 00:47:33 +0000, nestork

But it might make them appear to if they are all in the same room. My first stab would be to swap that shoplight with one someplace else and see if the problem continues.
Jim
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Already did...no flickering.

So you're saying that the fluorescents won't cause other lamps to flicker, but I should clean the bulbs and sockets on all four fixtures? Does that mean you're saying that dirty incandescents can cause the fluorescents to flicker? Or are you saying that all four fixtures are flickering because they're all dirty?
You know what, I'm not sure exactly what you're saying the cause might be.
BTW...I turned all fixtures on over 6 hours ago and nothing has flickered all night.
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On 11/19/2012 1:56 PM, DerbyDad03 wrote:

Look at the ballasts and see what the environment operating temperature is. Most indoor ballasts are designed to reliably start the lamps at 40F. For outdoor or unheated shed applications you can get 0F ballasts. One thing that is often overlooked is grounding the metal fixture housing. Believe it or not, in cooler temperatures above 40F a fluorescent tube fixture may not light if the metal housing is not grounded. O_o
TDD
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The fluorescents have been working fine in their current location for over 15 years with just the normal bulb changes. They are also grounded. Plus the flickering isn't on startup, when it happens, it happens after they are warmed up.
Besides, I don't think a cold starting problem with a fluorescent fixture would cause 2 incandescent fixtures to flicker, would it?
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On 11/20/2012 10:40 PM, DerbyDad03 wrote:

Oh no, I didn't realize that your incandescent lights were flickering too. My mistake for failure to grok your situation. If the power is daisy chained through other devices, you may have a bad wire nut or wiring device with a bad internal or external connection. Hopefully there is no (shudder) aluminum Romex in your home. I often use The Jesus Method to find breakers and the smoke test to find bad connections but you really need to have experience and spotters on hand to use the smoke test. It would surprise you to know that many bad connections can be found by listening to the various junctions when a circuit is loaded to maximum capacity just short of tripping the circuit breaker. I have an ultrasonic leak detector and infrared thermometer I've used to find bad connections or malfunctioning breakers. Years ago, I worked for an electrical contracting company that started using real time thermal imaging to detect malfunctioning equipment and bad connections. A good infrared thermometer is cost effective for a home owner to purchase these days with the ultrasonic detectors being a bit expensive and thermal imagers being too costly for a do-it-yourselfer to justify the expense with even the least costly commercially available units. There is a fellow who came up with a home-brew add on for an iPhone. ^_^
http://www.techhive.com/article/2000424/this-hack-turns-your-iphone-into-a-cheap-thermal-imaging-camera.html
http://tinyurl.com/dy8c9lt
http://www.instructables.com/id/Thermal-Imaging-Phone-Camera /
http://tinyurl.com/d28o8fj
TDD
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>listening to the various junctions when a circuit is loaded to maximum capacity >just short of tripping the circuit breaker.
Long ago we had a break in an underground line at work. A whole section of the campus was without power. The line ran a long distance through a wooded area and was the ancient concentric conductor style. (shield was conductor, not ground)
We had a specialist come in with something he called a "thumper." Apparently it is pulsed high voltage DC. It makes a noise like a gunshot when it arcs over the break, allowing you to locate it.
This time it didn't work. After a number of pulses it stopped arcing. The break had welded itself together. It can't have been much of a connection but it held a few years until the line was scheduled for replacement anyway.
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If you weren't able to locate it, how do you know the break had welded itself together?
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On Wed, 21 Nov 2012 12:57:40 -0800 (PST), DerbyDad03
I know what a Thumper is. Does it look like this?
http://images2.fanpop.com/images/photos/6300000/Thumper-thumper-6334501-492-550.jpg
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