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I wired up a set of ELV lights and installed a Lutron dimmer switch specifically designed for ELV lights. They have a problem with flicker. The manufacturer of the lights has advised me that having a good neutral connection is key.

Here is a brief description on the Lutron site about how Electronic Low Voltage (ELV) dimmers differ from standard dimmers and Magnetic Low Voltage (MLV) Dimmers.

I did wirenut a pigtail from the neutral terminal on the switch to neutral wires in the box.

How can I test the integrity of the connection? Some things I've thought of that might be causing a problem:

  1. The neutral wire does not make a continuous circuit to the breaker downstairs.
  2. There is noise on the neutral wire.
  3. Somewhere in the circuit neutral is tied to ground prematurely.

How can I test for these situations? And what other things might be the cause of a less than optimal neutral connection?

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The problem could be either (or both) a marginal neutral wire and/or an unusual load on the circuit.

To narrow it down, I would place an oscilloscope at a representative point on the circuit—such as an outlet beyond the lighting. With a dual channel scope, probe the hot and neutral wires with the scope grounded to the circuit ground at the same point. That way the scope will see the same conditions as the lighting.

Experiment with various sweep frequencies at a time the lights are flickering. On the hot wire, square waves would tend to indicate an intermittent wire connection. Spikes with harmonics in the 100 kHz to 5 MHz range would indicate arcing which could be a almost-broken wire or loose connection.

A significant signal (> 0.5 volts) on the neutral probably means the wire is not well connected. With an assistant, see if wiggling outlets and switches affects the signal. Or simply shut off power and open every outlet and switch and tighten the wire connections. Also, open the breaker box and firmly screw down every neutral and ground wire in the terminal strips. If that doesn't clean up the neutral, unplug/turn-off everything else from the circuit to see if there is any effect. 1980s-era switching power supplies (such as in computers) could cause this problem.

Follow up with a comment about any findings so someone (maybe me) can help pinpoint what they mean.

  • Remembering that the oscilloscope ground is connected to mains ground, do you mean to tape off the probe negative leads so they can't touch anything and use a channel difference mode on the 'scope? – Andrew Morton Apr 7 '17 at 17:13
  • @AndrewMorton: No, just plug the oscilloscope in the same outlet as being tested. – wallyk Apr 7 '17 at 19:09

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