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Renovation & Design

Cause of blinking lights difficult to diagnose

Question: We hope you can help us. In the summer of 2021, we decided to upgrade and improve our electrical system. We moved our panel from the basement bathroom and installed a new one in our laundry room. We added new outlets in our kitchen, because the old ones kept tripping. We put in new pot lights in the living room, basement rec room, and bedroom downstairs. Previously, we had 100 amps total for our 1080 sq. ft. house and garage. The new house service is 100 amps. and we added a 200 amp. new panel in the garage. The service wires were buried in our yard 30 years ago. We also put in CO alarms, smoke detectors, dimmers, furnace disconnect switch, and GFCIs. Our problem is that our dining room light, kitchen light, upstairs master bedroom and bathroom lights flicker, only when we run our washing machine, which is five years old and energy efficient. This only occurs during the wash and rinse cycles. If we use an extension cord from the rec room outlet for the washing machine, we have no flickering.

Expert Electrical was called back to address this issue and they did several alterations, none of which fixed the problem. They changed our old LED bulbs to incandescent bulbs, and then back to brand new LED bulbs. They changed the dimmers to upgraded new dimmers, and then to regular on/off switches. They tried to change phasing in the new panel and tightened all connections inside. They bought a new LED fixture and changed the breaker and outlet for the washing machine. Finally, they ran a separate circuit for the problem lights. After all of that, the lights still flickered.

We called Manitoba Hydro to check their connections at the pole for both panels. When the work was first being done, numerous mistakes were made and had to be corrected. Now, the contractor is stating that they have done all they can do. They suggest hiring another company to come and see if they can fix it, and depending on what is repaired, they will pay for some of the cost. We did not have this issue with flickering, pulsating lights before all this work was done.

What do you suggest we do and how do we correct this problem? Both Manitoba Hydro and Expert Electric stated that this is safe. We are disheartened that we spent thousands of dollars to make our electrical system safer and to Code, and now this.

We are looking forward to your reply.

Thank you, Shirley and Mitch Kiesman.

Answer: Analyzing the unusual effects of your washing machine on your lights, to determine the exact cause, may not be worth the extensive time or effort. It may be more economical, and much less effort, to replace the washer rather than spend countless more hours trying to remedy this unusual but harmless problem.

It would not be proper for me to second guess Red Seal electricians, when attempting to determine the exact cause of your problematic light issue. These licensed individuals are some of the best-trained tradespeople in our area. They often deal with highly technical installations, frequently in difficult locations. While modern electrical conductors and fixtures are very safe and straightforward in their installation, they sometimes are defective. These defects can range in nature, from faulty GFCI receptacles and breakers to wonky switches. Just like any other mass-produced products, components of our electrical system are not foolproof.

The causes of the blinking lights could be numerous, from improperly grounded receptacles or boxes to something with the washer or wiring. It may be very difficult to pinpoint the issue, unless an electrician has seen the identical situation before, and knows the remedy. I would have initially suspected the washer itself, but your comments about it not happening when plugged into an extension cord, powered by a different receptacle, makes that less likely. Since that works, it would be logical that there was something wrong with that particular receptacle, conductors, junction box, or circuit breaker? Even a loosely connected wire, ground, or another component may be responsible. Did the contractor install new wires for the new dedicated receptacle for the washer? That would be the obvious conclusion, that something was wrong there, since the problem goes away with the alternate source of power and extension cord.

If the wiring and breaker supplying the washer receptacle have been replaced and made no difference then there may be one simpler but less pleasant option. Getting rid of the old washer and replacing it with another model may be the simplest alternative. There is a possibility that the frequency of the washer motor, the vibration of the unit while in use, or some other electrical defect within the unit is causing the issue. One would think that the problem should still be there with the unit connected to a different receptacle, but that anomaly may remain a mystery.

While the flickering lights may be a real nuisance, it is doubtful that they are a serious safety concern. Especially since the bulbs, fixture, and switches were all replaced several times, any signs of overheating or damage would have been visible. If there was any arcing or other major safety concerns, there should have been readily identifiable evidence in the boxes or the fixtures.

It appears your electrical contractor, despite your comments about the initial mistakes, has tried their best to locate the cause of the newly problematic lights and find a remedy. While I agree that another experienced electrician may be able to shine a light on the situation, it may be easier and cheaper to replace the washer, instead.

Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and a Registered Home Inspector (RHI)(cahpi.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.

trainedeye@iname.com

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