Flickering lights and low power surges

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  #1  
Old 03-10-16, 08:26 AM
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Exclamation Flickering lights and low power surges

Hi all,
I'm hoping to get some insight on some trouble I've been having with the electrical in my house. I'm not looking to fix this myself, but I've had two electricians look at it, and I'm tired of spending money stabbing in the dark. I'm planning on getting another opinion, but thought I would post something here first.

The problem that I have is that I routinely get power surges and flickering lights when load on some circuits goes above what it should. At least that's what it seems like. I can reproduce the issue by simply turning on a given appliance that seems to draw a lot of power, like my espresso machine. The moment I turn it on, I start getting flickering lights, the UPS in my office starts to turn off and on, etc. As soon as I turn it off, it goes away. The same can be said for occasionally when the toaster oven goes on or if I use my printer in my office. I don't ever trip any breakers. This issue seemingly came up out of nowhere, and we didn't do any work on the house to cause this. It's almost like one day it just started happening.

The reason why we think it's overload is because the electrical in the house is seemingly not up to current code. So in the kitchen we have a ton of outlets, and they were all connected to one breaker. The range and microwave were separate but even the Fridge was on the same circuit as the wall outlets! So I had an electrician drop a new line and isolate the Fridge on its own. Even though that was a good move it made no impact on the situation itself.

So rather than spend thousands of dollars haphazardly dropping new line everywhere, what do you recommend I do to troubleshoot this? Should this be easy to diagnose by just measuring the draw on the circuit when I reproduce the issue? My assumption is that in certain rooms, like the kitchen, the draw is too much which causes the whole house to get affected.

Thank you!
 
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Old 03-10-16, 08:33 AM
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Do all of the lights flicker or just some flicker? How intense is the flicker? Do the lights ever get brighter during these episodes?

Is it only appliances in the kitchen or are other areas of the house effected with a high current appliance, for example a vacuum cleaner?

Do you have overhead or underground service from the power company? What is the approximate age of your main electrical panel, and any other details you can provide (make, model, size, etc)?
 
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Old 03-10-16, 08:33 AM
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What brand of breaker panel? What size is the main breaker. Do you have electric heat, electric dryer, electric stove?
 
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Old 03-10-16, 08:59 AM
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Thanks for the quick responses. When I get home I'll get stats on the breaker panel itself, as I'm not familiar with that information.

Some of the other answers are as follows:
  • Most of the lights flicker in some way when I see the surge, so not just in the room where I've triggered it
  • I've noticed that it triggers every time when I turn on my espresso machine or toaster oven in the kitchen or when I try to use a printer in my office. For some reason those two rooms seem to always trigger it. If I use a vacuum I do not notice it. I will also see a lower surge when initially running my washer (laundry). It's a newer machine that has a very high power initial cycle that causes a similar surge where the lights modulate from bright to dim until that cycle is over. Washer/dryer is obviously on its own circuit.
  • Strangely enough I have actually noticed that occasionally the lights appear to get brighter. Almost as if I didn't realize they were dim and then all of a sudden a lamp is brighter.
 
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Old 03-10-16, 10:42 AM
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Most of the lights flicker in some way when I see the surge
You may be a bit off in your terminology. A surge means increased voltage and brighter lights. Flickering is usually caused by the voltage decreasing. Have you asked your neighbors if they are having similar problems.
 
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Old 03-10-16, 11:00 AM
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You're probably right, because I'm not an electrician.

My neighbors are not experiencing this, as far as I know.

So the summarize, I mainly get flickering when this triggers. So the lights flicker and get dimmer continually. But there are experiences when the light appears brighter, which I guess is a surge. But if I made a video of what happens, I turn on the espresso machine and instantly lights start flickering in certain areas and I can hear the fridge make a modulating hum sound. I've even noticed that it affects exterior lights, especially Christmas time. When this occurs, my Christmas lights will flicker. It's like a dimming effect for a second or two and then it gets brighter, and then it repeats this process until I turn off the offending appliance.

Hope that helps.
 
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Old 03-10-16, 11:04 AM
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Some flickering is normal when a large load starts up, but an excessive amount can be indicative of a problem. It does not sound like what you're describing is an emergency, but it does appear to be off from normal.

It may be a loose or weak neutral connection in the service entrance. There are two approaches toward a fix. The first is to have the power company come out and check the connections on their side, which would be at the transformer, pole and at the weatherhead where the service drop connects to your house; weather can loosen these over time. They may also be willing to check out the meter box, but depending on the power company the meter box may not be their responsibility. Second course of action is to have an electrician check and tighten the connections in your half of the service, which would be the meter box and the main panel. Of course in this process they would also be inspecting for any other possible damage or corrosion which could be a contributing factor.
 
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Old 03-10-16, 02:31 PM
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Try plugging in an incandescent light in different rooms. Are there any receptacles in any room for which the light does not flicker or brighten when you turn on the expresso machine that is still plugged in at its original location?

Does a hair dryer set to maximum heat cause the same effects?

Have you measured the voltage? (Not the current draw.) From hot to neutral in the other half of the receptacle where the expresso machine is plugged in? In the other half of the receptacle where the incandescent light you are moving around is plugged in?
 
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Old 03-11-16, 06:26 PM
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The problem that I have is that I routinely get power surges and flickering lights when load on some circuits goes above what it should.
And you have what kind of equipment to indicate you are having power surges? Damaging surges can happen, but I believe you are using the term "Surge" to describe something you don't understand. The flickering, how long do the lights continue to flicker? OR....do you really mean the lights dim down when you turn on a high power draw appliance?

I lean toward what ibpooks has told you, you need to have the connections checked both on the utility side and in your own service entrance wiring. What you are experiencing isn't all that unusual for a house that has had no maintenance.
 
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