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Mysterious Light Flashes

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DaveH

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Ottawa, Ont.
I'm a bit concerned for spending more time in the Tavern lately,
maybe partly due to a 4-day weekend...anyway fortunately this is
not a real tavern!

I have a mystery. My house, partly due to pressure from the
insurance company, has been completely rewired recently. A lot
of older wiring, nothing truly scary, needed to be done eventually,
so it was done. Insurance companies are chasing after "knob-and
tube" wiring, an older style that disappeared in the 1950's. Odd
because the electrical inspector didn't flag any problem with any
of it.

I have a ceiling light on a 3-way circuit with a spiral compact-
fluorescent tube. Day and night, the tube exhibits a weak flash every
8-9 seconds, when both light switches are OFF. The bulb itself operates
normally when turned on. Another different type of tube doesn't
exhibit this in the same socket. The flash is confined to near the middle
of the tube.

I don't have any large sources of RF operating in the house (that I
know of :) )

I have my theory on this (no, not possessed by anything). Anybody else
hazard a guess?

Dave
 

I_10_92

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Joined
Feb 29, 2004
Messages
392
Location
Toronto
My friend. You have a haunted lightbulb. Try changing the lightbulb... might just be a defect or something. I don't really see any other reason why it would do that. If it was wired properly, then that should not happen.
 

mancow

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Is there an airport or weather station nearby where a high powered radar would sweep continuously?
 

SCPD

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Messages
65,126
Location
Virginia
DaveH said:
I'm a bit concerned for spending more time in the Tavern lately,
maybe partly due to a 4-day weekend...anyway fortunately this is
not a real tavern!

I have a mystery. My house, partly due to pressure from the
insurance company, has been completely rewired recently. A lot
of older wiring, nothing truly scary, needed to be done eventually,
so it was done. Insurance companies are chasing after "knob-and
tube" wiring, an older style that disappeared in the 1950's. Odd
because the electrical inspector didn't flag any problem with any
of it.

I have a ceiling light on a 3-way circuit with a spiral compact-
fluorescent tube. Day and night, the tube exhibits a weak flash every
8-9 seconds, when both light switches are OFF. The bulb itself operates
normally when turned on. Another different type of tube doesn't
exhibit this in the same socket. The flash is confined to near the middle
of the tube.

I don't have any large sources of RF operating in the house (that I
know of :) )

I have my theory on this (no, not possessed by anything). Anybody else
hazard a guess?

Dave

Had a three way circuit that did the same thing. Two bulbs in each fixture and only one fixture flashed. It flashed proportional to the amount of time the light had been on. At first I thought it was one of the switches or a ground. Contacted Leviton, the makers of the switches and they'd never heard of it. Sent them some video of the blinking lights. they sent new switches but the problem persisted.

Finally changed to a different type of compact flourescent bulb and the problem disappeared. Same wattage, different manufacturer. The troublesome bulbs were made by Sylvania.

Took one of the offenders apart and there are two fairly hefty capacitors in there...I think they were feeding off of each other possibly from bulb to bulb until finally discharging completely. I'm no electronics major so this might be completely off base but that is what I think was happening. Haven't had any problems since changing them so haven't dissected one of the new ones to see if there are obvious electronic differences.

In other words, try another make of bulb and see if the problem disappears. Rest assured there is likely no problem with the wiring, switches or fixture(s).

Hope it at least helps to know at least one other person has had the problem.
 

rcvmo

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Joined
Aug 11, 2004
Messages
433
Location
Romulus, Mi.
Day and night, the tube exhibits a weak flash every
8-9 seconds, when both light switches are OFF

Are you near a large metropolitan airport? Quite possibly, every time the radar makes a sweep, your bulb will flash. I live within the shadows of a major airport. You would'nt beleive the many strange happenings around here. One real good one that keeps our local PD a hopping is the garage doors opening on their own.
rcvmo
 

biglaz

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Messages
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Blue Mounds, WI
There are a few different ways to wire a 3-way circuit, depending on if the power source is at the light or at one of the switches and where the light is in relation to the switches. But what you describe sounds like something was wired incorrectly. Did you do the wiring yourself? Does any flickering happen with an incandescent bulb? My guess is the switches are switching neutral instead of hot. Does turning off the breaker stop the flicker? That or you're getting some EMI from a nearby wire.
 

kb2vxa

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Hi Dave, Ghost Hunters, Ghostbusters, and Buster the crash dummy,

This is the clue right here;
"Another different type of tube doesn't exhibit this in the same socket."

My guess is simply some weirdness in the lamp since it's obviously not the socket or wiring. Since it's behaving oddly I wouldn't use it, might just develop a dangerous fault, just go to the hardware store and spring .99 on a new one. I just love that government energy subsidy, my place is full of those dirt cheap screw in flourescents and I haven't changed one yet.

BTW, are you SURE all the ancient wiring has been bypassed and deenergized? Some electricians have this nasty habit of interconnecting new and old willy-nilly however it is convenient for them. When it comes to straightening out someone else's mess I have been through hell and back, Audy Murphy has nothing on THIS ex electrician.
 
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N

N_Jay

Guest
Do you have lighted switches?

If so that is what is causing the flash.

If you don't have lighted switches, then you have some leakage somewhere.

Don't bother looking for the remaining possibilities till you rule these out.
 

ReceiverBeaver

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Take a good digital voltmeter and measure accross the bulb socket with the switches off. This will show if there is any leakage through the switches. A no-leakage condition should reveal 0.0 volts. If you're getting a little leakage and it's letting 2 or 3 or 4 volts through, the voltage is harmless but it could build a charge on those capacitors (ballast) previously mentioned and could be firing the bulb. All flourescent bulbs utilize a capacitor-tranformer device (ballast) to lower the voltage and add the capacitance required for operation.
 

MacombMonitor

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There's not a light dimmer somewhere in that circuit is there? Dimmers don't work with fluorescents. Dimmers leak current also.
 

NeFire242

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Nebraska
I bet the light flickers everytime there is a new post to a forum.

You would most likely be better off calling someone who is qualified to come look at it, rather than burning your house down.

This would save you from having to post how you heard your own address come across the scanner in the "scariest things heard on a scanner" thread. =)
 

kb2vxa

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I again,

I thought I put an end to this by pointing out what was said in the first place.

>>>"Another different type of tube doesn't exhibit this in the same socket."<<<

Now doesn't that tell you it's simply a funky lamp and NOTHING else? DUH?
 

car2back

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Tulsa, OK
ReceiverBeaver said:
Take a good digital voltmeter and measure accross the bulb socket with the switches off. This will show if there is any leakage through the switches. A no-leakage condition should reveal 0.0 volts. If you're getting a little leakage and it's letting 2 or 3 or 4 volts through, the voltage is harmless but it could build a charge on those capacitors (ballast) previously mentioned and could be firing the bulb. All flourescent bulbs utilize a capacitor-tranformer device (ballast) to lower the voltage and add the capacitance required for operation.
yeah, and if you don't have a voltmeter, just pull the bulb out, and with the switch off, lick your index fingers and stick them both of the sockets and see if you hair stands up every 8-9 seconds!
 
N

N_Jay

Guest
kb2vxa said:
I again,

I thought I put an end to this by pointing out what was said in the first place.

>>>"Another different type of tube doesn't exhibit this in the same socket."<<<

Now doesn't that tell you it's simply a funky lamp and NOTHING else? DUH?
NO, it tells me that some compact fluorescents have enough leakage in their ballast to not build up enough voltage to fire the lamp.

Yes, I have seen the EXACT same effect, and it is ALWAYS on a circuit with a lighted switch. (I have a newer home so leakage is not am issue.)
 

ReceiverBeaver

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Well now I observe at least 37 different factors at play in this conundrum and I believe we should scholarly explor each and every one plus all other new ones that should show up to reveal the most minute detail.

Some of the more scientifically minded among us might be interested in learning exactly why this is happening, if only for idle curiosity. Homeowner Bob here is keenly interested as it is his house and flagelating bulbs. While the slack-jawed yokels chiming in may only dimmly be seeking the answer as to how many RR Members it takes to unscrew a light bulb.
 
N

N_Jay

Guest
ReceiverBeaver said:
Well now I observe at least 37 different factors at play in this conundrum and I believe we should scholarly explor each and every one plus all other new ones that should show up to reveal the most minute detail.

Some of the more scientifically minded among us might be interested in learning exactly why this is happening, if only for idle curiosity. Homeowner Bob here is keenly interested as it is his house and flagelating bulbs. While the slack-jawed yokels chiming in may only dimmly be seeking the answer as to how many RR Members it takes to unscrew a light bulb.
Ah, and some here would expect a certain leakage voltage without taking into account the impedance of the meter being used.

With today's digital meters you will see 2 to 10 VAC on almost all open lines due to inductance.
Leakage will usually show up at 50+ volts.

But I would not have bothered to post this if it were not for your comments. :twisted: :twisted:
 

DaveH

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Messages
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Ottawa, Ont.
Very interesting comments, mostly. I can't answer in too much
detail until later today.

Three of four bulbs from the same package behave the same.
They could all be defective (unlikely), have some design flaw,
or just behave differently. That doesn't explain where the flash
energy comes from.

The radar thing crossed my mind but I am not near an airport
or any other likely radar source (that I would know...). There
are no lighted switches or dimmers in the circuit.The switches
are new, and two leaky ones is a bit unlikely. I will measure
the leakage when I get the chance.

Theses circuits are protected by "arc-fault" breakers in the
panel. This is a new animal to me, not sure exactly what they
are (similar to GFI breakers?), or what effect they might have.

I didn't do the wiring myself...it was a very large job
and I was counting on certain expertise in minimizing damage
to walls etc. I saw some of ongoing, and the contractor's
reputation is riding on a signed statement that all the old
wiring is disconnected, although much of it remains in the
walls.

There's a lot of new wiring and my theory is induced current
from runs in parallel (like the switch loop running down one
floor) is charging something in the electronic ballast, but
there's not enough energy for more than a weak flash.

Dave
 
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biglaz

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An arc-fault breaker (AFCI) is specifically intended to detect an arc within the circuit and trip immediately...something a normal or GFCI breakers can not do. You can identify them by a pigtail wire that gets attached to the neutral/ground bar in the panel. They're definately safer than normal breakers, though more expensive.
 

car2back

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Seriously this time, I spoke to my father who has been a Journeyman Electrican for 25 years about his thoughts on this... His first reaction was maybe there is a powered wire running nearby the Flourecent lamp tht is bleeding energy to it... He used an example of flourecent bulbs glowing when near high voltage power lines.
 

DaveH

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Messages
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Location
Ottawa, Ont.
N_Jay said:
Ah, and some here would expect a certain leakage voltage without taking into account the impedance of the meter being used.
With today's digital meters you will see 2 to 10 VAC on almost all open lines due to inductance.
Leakage will usually show up at 50+ volts.
I measured 75vac leakage on the offending circuit (switches off).
In another 3-way circuit, ~20vac was measured, both with a high-
impedence (4.5Mohm) DMM. A non-3-way light fixture showed
very low leakage, less than a couple of volts. It will be interesting
to measure with an incandescent load in the circuit. I'll be in touch
with the electrical contractor.

So it appears some CFLs react differently to leakage than others;
not necessarily a defect.

The dimmable ones cost 2-4x what the regular ones do. Why
bother...I just have two lights in a room, one bright and another less
bright, and switch between them.

A few points on CFLs. They are great, I've been using them since 1989.
I gave one to a neighbour, who leaves her porch light on continuously
(something to do about not signalling whether you're home or away).
The 10,000 hr. bulb ran for about 2-1/2 years (20,500 hours) and saved
$80CDN...one bulb! It had not even burned out but was getting dimmer and
running a bit hot.

These things contain mercury. Some municipalities are just getting around
to figuring out how to deal with disposal. I have a few expired ones plus a
few duds, which are packed in a box awaiting some disposal process.

Here we can get an 11W/5000hr lamp for $1, no subsidies. For about
2x the price one can get a 15W/10,000hr lamp, which generates more light
and 1/2 the waste. Cheaper isn't always better.

Dave
 
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