Let’s start with “what is an LED light bulb and what makes it so different?” The LED or Light-Emitting Diode differs greatly from the traditional incandescent light bulb.
Incandescent light bulbs have been around since the 1800s, and the basic principle has remained the same: an electrical charge creating heat to the point where a filament reaches incandescence, or glows, is the bulb most of us are familiar with.
LEDs first appeared around the 1960s but were not commercially popular until the early 2000s. Made up of electronic components, essentially an LED bulb is a microchip or semiconductor, that is creating the light when a current is applied, these semiconductors can be combined to create light in a multitude of colors and temperatures.
Great … but why do my LED bulbs flicker?
Have you ever noticed video footage of TVs or computer screens, where it appears there is a flicker or rotating dark lines running across the screen, especially footage from a number of years ago? This flickering most often occurs when the camera taking the video and the screen in which the video is being watched are out of sync — your eyes pick up the difference in frame rate.
The same is true for LED light, it has what can, in laymen’s terms, be called a frame rate where it turns on and off in succession to operate and create the light you see. Usually, your eye doesn’t pick up this change, but occasionally, especially in the case of a lower quality bulb, the components don’t clean up the flicker as readily as a bulb that has been constructed and tested with quality components.
The LED electronic components are also responsible for picking up any sort of interference on the electrical system it’s tied into. Interference can be defined as simply using appliances that have a larger electrical draw within your home (such as ovens, dryers or even your blow dryer), or even picking up heavy consumption times of day, such as morning and dinner times. Quality components have usually been tested to bridge these fluctuations normally put on your electrical system. As with most things, the better quality the bulb, the more reliable it often is.
Dimmers are another factor to consider, as not all dimmers are compatible with LED light sources, and vis versa, not all LED light sources are capable of being dimmed. When there is a compatibility issue, it will appear as a noticeable strobing effect. When installing a LED light bulb into a dimmable location, make sure the bulb is labeled “dimmable” and the dimming switch is labeled as LED compatible.
Why didn’t I experience this with my old incandescent bulbs, I thought LED was supposed to be better?
The lists of pros and cons between the two types of bulbs is long, but generally LED lights provide an extremely long lasting, energy efficient light source, and can come in a variety of colors and applications. However, because of the electronic components, LEDs are susceptible to things such as interference and failure. So, it pays to spend a little more on a quality, known and tested bulb that will accommodate some of the drawbacks associated with them.
Incandescent light bulbs, while generally tried and true, are inefficient and fragile, which led to them having a poor lifespan for the user. Flickers were never an issue with incandescent because they worked on a completely different electrical principal with different components. Essentially, they offered a stable light source, until the filament fails, and the bulb needs to be replaced.
So, what do I do if my LED bulb flickers?
A flicker can be the result of a variety of issues, but often is a byproduct of a poorly made bulb. We recommend to isolate if the flicker is coming from one bulb in a fixture, or multiple bulbs. If it’s a single bulb or fixture that’s flickering, it’s likely just a matter of replacing that bulb with a new one. If you notice multiple fixtures on a single switch flickering, and all the bulbs appear to flicker at once, it might be time to bring in a professional to assess if the wiring on the circuit is correct. If your dimmer switch makes your lights strobe, its recommended to first check compatibility of switches and bulbs.
And remember: if you’re investing in LED bulbs throughout your home, invest in a quality, tested product. This will allow you to get the most out of the change and make the higher investment cost worth it when the bulb lasts to its full potential and years of quality clean light.