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Common electrical problems and solutions - flickering lights to excessive energy bills

With our modern lifestyles, we are all dependent on electricity, but most don’t feel qualified to take part in any electrical DIY - and rightly so! Understanding the causes of the most common electrical issues can ease the frustration we all feel when things don’t just ‘work’ and help make the decision of when to call on the services of a professional electrician.

Flickering lights

Pay attention to where and when the lights dim or flicker. Are others in your neighbourhood experiencing something similar at the same time? Then the problem is likely supply-based and therefore a job for the local energy supplier.

Is the flickering or dimming happening in your whole house or just in particular sections? Or just one particular light? This can narrow down whether the issue is coming from the electrical panel, an individual circuit, from wiring/switches to an individual light … or the light itself.

Also, take note of whether the flickering/dimming is happening in conjunction with the use of another appliance. For example, does it only happen when the air conditioner switches on? High-power appliances like air conditioning units can cause short drops in power to other appliances.

Never underestimate issues with electricity supply. Undiagnosed issues with supply, circuits or appliances pose a very real safety issue. While some causes of flickering lights may be harmless, it may also be a symptom that there is a serious problem that may lead to fire, electric shock or injury. Always have any electrical ‘symptoms’ checked out by a qualified electrician.

Light bulbs constantly blowing

Nothing is more irritating than a job that is never complete and living in a house where dead lightbulbs are an ongoing issue certainly fits this category. So what causes the problem and what can be done to fix it?

  1. Over voltage - this is a common cause of light bulbs regularly burning out and also affects the lifespan of electrical appliances. Even a five per cent increase in voltage can reduce the lifespan of a standard lightbulb by as much as fifty per cent. Modern electrical meters usually have a voltage reading display, offering a simple method of checking the voltage going to your house. With an older meter, it’s necessary to have an electrician take the readings for you. Readings will fluctuate depending on the time of day and time of year, but 230 - 245 volts is the normal range for a home.

  2. Overheating - traditional light bulbs produce heat energy as well as light. Although light fittings are theoretically designed to allow ventilation, heat build-up can still be the cause of bulbs blowing. Try looking around above the light in your roof and see if you can move insulation away from the light fitting to reduce the problem. Also switch the lightbulbs to modern, energy-saving varieties that run much cooler. For example, LED downlights such as M Elec use up to 85% less energy than incandescent lights.

  3. Vibration - if you are still using incandescent light bulbs consider if your house is near railway lines, high-volume roads, under flight paths or near work being carried out by heavy machinery. The filaments in these light bulbs are delicate and vibration can cause them to break. Modern LED light bulbs don’t use a filament so are not susceptible to vibration.

Unusually high electricity bills

If your electricity bills are consistently higher than for the average size of your household, it might not be the kids not switching things off, it could be a symptom of electrical faults in your home. For example:

  • outdated appliances could be consuming more power than necessary or creating power surges. When deciding if you can afford to replace your whitegoods it’s worth comparing what it will cost to run your current appliance over the next five years rather than just considering the price of the new appliance. New whitegoods are significantly more efficient than older appliances and, in some cases, it can be more efficient long term to replace an appliance now instead of paying higher running costs on old appliances.

    Likewise with out-dated air conditioning systems. As an example, products like the Daikin US7 wall mount split system have a 7-star energy rating, which can save you more over the life of the system.

  • Leaks in the hot water system create a continual drain on power that drives up electricity bills, so getting any leaky plumbing repaired can help improve your electricity bill.

Other ways to actively reduce your electricity consumption and make your home more energy efficient include:

  • Slightly adjust the temperature on appliances like heaters, air conditioners and refrigerators - there is generally an optimal range to run these appliances, not an exact temperature. By adjusting your refrigerator, freezer and air con up by a degree or two within the recommended range and your heating down a notch in winter you can still live in comfort and make real changes to your bill.

  • Close doors and curtains to keep either warm air in or hot air out, depending on the season.

  • Switch off appliances at the wall when not in use - appliances left plugged in create a constant low drain on the power, particularly those that run clocks or other LED displays 24/7.

  • Consider installing solar panels with high efficiency such as the Q.PEAK DUO-G6+ 350 to your home. Solar energy technology is becoming increasingly cost-efficient and is proving to be a good investment in the value of your home.