Voltage tester makes light flicker

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Old 07-04-13, 08:06 AM
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Voltage tester makes light flicker

Hi all -

Have a situation where I feel like I should be concerned, but don't have the experience to know if I actually should be.

If I have a switch to a light and I put the voltage tester on both the hot screw and on the switch leg screw, it makes the light in the ceiling flicker. Is this normal? Like I said, I feel like this is bad, but don't have the electrical knowledge to back up my suspicion.

On an aside: I don't know if it's relevant or not, but this is a 3-way switch and I only looked at the one side. If it's not normal to flicker, could the issue be on the other side of the 3-way or would it be a good indicator that the switch I tested is also bad?
 
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Old 07-04-13, 08:13 AM
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What kind of voltage tester were you using? There is no neutral in a switch, so you were crossing two potentially hot wires, and it would not give a good reading. What was your meter set on...Ohms, voltage, diode, ?? And, most importantly why were you fiddling with the switch and a voltage tester? Was there something wrong with the light, or its switching??
 
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Old 07-04-13, 08:46 AM
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I wasn't initially looking at that switch, but here's the full detail (I was worried that I'd give too much information and make it confusing):

I have a two gang switch. The left switch (#1) is a three way switch to the hallway light. The right switch (#2) is the attic light. I was replacing the attic light switch with one that has an indicator light when it's on, simply to draw attention to it if I accidentally forget to turn it off.

While power was still on but both switches were off, I was doing a quick test to make sure that the breaker I was going to turn off was the right one. So -- on the attic switch -- I put one lead to the ground and the other to the hot. I would have expected there to be voltage and there wasn't. So I saw the neutrals from both legs wire tied together and started testing different combinations on both switches to identify if there was a wiring issue or maybe a switch issue. That's when I discovered that the switch on the left would flicker. But now that I'm thinking about it more, you might be on the right track. If I put the leads on both the hot and the switch leg, that would effectively bypass the switch and power it, though it wouldn't have enough power to stay lit -- meaning that I caused it by the tester and that there's no actual issue. Would that be accurate?

As for the tester itself, I'm not sure. It's an old, old one that my dad gave me and the LED isn't visible anymore, but it lights up and vibrates if there's voltage.
 
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Old 07-04-13, 09:02 AM
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I was worried that I'd give too much information and make it confusing
Nope, only wives can do that

It could be the switches have their wires in the stab back locations. High potential for flickering there. I would remove the wires from the stab back by twisting and pulling, place a crook in the wire and put them under the respective screw heads.
I think you were using a Wiggy, and it could have induced current from your common to the traveler not being used.
 
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Old 07-04-13, 09:04 AM
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Affectionately known as a Wiggins. Heavy duty and pretty much you can't kill them. The early ones were manufactured by Square D.

If it was a light that used some kind of non incandescent lamp then it may be possible to see a flicker as the tester has a load coil built in to it.
 
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Old 07-04-13, 09:19 AM
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I'm certain that they are connected via screw heads... at least on the side that I looked at. I didn't check the other side, but I'll do that just for sake of due diligence. It's a house that I've only been in for a small time, but based on some of the things I've found that weren't noticed in the home inspection... let's just say that I'd rather see everything for myself.

In any case, the light is a CFL with a GU24 connector, so it sounds like I have nothing to worry about.

Appreciate all of the help!
 
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