Lights Flicker Off and On But Circuit Breaker Doesn't Trip?

Ryan Womeldorf
by Ryan Womeldorf

When the lights go out at home, we have quick ways of checking out the problem. Generally speaking, it can be as simple as one of three things: checking the bulb, ensuring that the switch is in the proper position, and taking a look at the circuit breaker.

When lights are flickering on and off but the circuit breaker isn’t tripping, this means that the voltage running through your house isn’t up to par. Check the breaker and the wiring. If the wiring looks loose, or the breaker is malfunctioning, you will need to call in a professional to fix the problem.

This guide will walk you through what to do in that instance and any other potential causes for the outlined problem.

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Here’s What Do When the Lights are Flickering

First Thing’s First

The first thing that you should do when lights begin to flicker or dim is to turn off the power to those electrical components. This can be as simple as flicking the switches off, but you can even go as far as to flip off the breaker, too. While you’re at it, you can check to see if the breaker has been tripped.

Electrical injury, shock, and risk of fire are all very real, very serious hazards to be aware of. Taking improper precautions can lead to damage to your home or injury to yourself or others. Take the proper safety precautions and kill the power before moving forward.

Lights are Flickering, but the Circuit Breaker hasn’t been Tripped

When the lights are flickering on and off, the first thing to do is to check the breaker. Unfortunately, there are times where the lights will flicker on and off, but the breaker will not be tripped. When this is the case, there are things to look out for.

The first thing to do is to change out the light, especially if they are LED. LED fluorescent bulbs are quite a bit more likely to flicker when first installed but may keep doing so afterward. It could also be that the bulb is loose in the outlet or the switch is fault. These are two issues that you can fix on your own.

There is another issue that is not recommended for amateurs. If the lights are flickering, particularly after turning on a large appliance, it could be that the voltage in your house is not up to the required standard. If this is the case, call a professional immediately. Loose wiring in particular is the third-leading cause of house fires and being reckless puts the home at risk for fire.

Lights are Out, But the Circuit isn’t Tripped

When the lights – either some or all – have gone out in your home and you notice that the circuit breaker hasn’t been tripped, it is time to start looking for other culprits. The most common is the ground fault circuit interrupter or GFCI.

Whenever there are electrical imbalances in the home, the GFCI outlet will trip quickly to protect from possible electrocutions. A good way to check this is if you hit the “test” button and it doesn’t click. When this happens, the GFCI has been tripped. You can simply press “resent” until it clicks, restoring power back to that specific outlet as well as any outlets that may be downstream of the impacted outlet.

Loose Outlets, Wiring

Depending on the age of the home, the screws and wiring start to come loose. When this is the case, an outlet can go out and ultimately impact several other outlets throughout the rest of the house. After checking the aforementioned culprits, check to make sure that outlet screws are tight.

If the problem persists even after tightening the outlet screws, there is a chance that the wiring is loose. When this is the case, unless you have experience with electrical work, it is imperative to call a professional electrician to check out the problem. Electricity is a serious business and is not to be toyed with by the inexperienced or uneducated.

Whole Building or Just Specific Areas?

The biggest indicator of a problem may be whether or not the lights are flickering or losing power in one part of your home or all throughout. If the issue is throughout the entirety of the home, the most logical culprit is probably somewhere in the electrical panel.

Unless you have experience with this, let the electrician handle the problem. They will not only check the panel and the main breaker, but they will check any service entry wiring, including the service natural wire and the two hot wires. Again, let a professional handle this because electricity is nothing to trifle with.

Limited to Your Home?

Another way to assess any potential issues is to take a look around the neighborhood. See if neighbors are experiencing the same dimming and flickering of lights as well. If they aren’t, the problem is isolated to your house and will require further investigation.

If the neighbors are experiencing the same problems, however, then it is likely due to a problem in the electrical supply network or even at the local electrical wiring or power transformer. When this happens, report the problem to your electric company (someone will probably beat you to the punch). The electric company will then come out to assess the issue and make the repair.

If the Problem is Specific to an Appliance

There is a chance that you may notice a specific appliance flickering on and off, a light dimming, and so on. If this is the case, the most likely explanation is that there is an issue with the appliance itself. It could be something like a motor or switch that is the culprit.

Check the breaker first and foremost; if it hasn’t been tripped, try resetting it and checking the problem again. If the problem persists, then there is likely a problem with one of the internal components of the appliance. The goal is to isolate potential issues to as specific an area as possible. This will help eliminate any false culprits.

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How to Tell if the Breaker is Bad

Circuit breakers are meant to protect you from electrical short circuits and overloads that can lead to personal injury and fire. There is a chance that the breaker may be bad, but first, we need to identify the problem before assuming such.

The first step is to go to the breaker and look for the label of the breaker that might be tripping or a specific sheet on the door of the panel that outlines which breaker belongs to which room or outlet. This will give you a much better understanding of what’s being protected by the breaker.

The goal here is to rule out an overloaded circuit. Make sure that you unplug everything that is on that particular circuit. An overload could damage those items and the last thing that you need is to have to replace everything.

When everything is unplugged, flip the breaker. When the breaker is working fine, a click will be definite and audible. If you don’t hear the breaker trip right away, there’s a good chance that the circuit is overloaded. If the breaker trips right away, there is either a bad breaker or a short circuit somewhere down the line. At least then you have a clearer idea of where the culprit is.

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Ryan Womeldorf
Ryan Womeldorf

Ryan Womeldorf has more than a decade of experience writing. He loves to blog about construction, plumbing, and other home topics. Ryan also loves hockey and a lifelong Buffalo sports fan.

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