Today we had lights flickering, odd brown outs, and power surges. Problems would come and go. Called our power company. The man they sent determined we had lost our connection to the neutral.

Before calling, I tried my hand at determining if it was something in the house. Discovered a really odd symptom. The lights in the kitchen would be flickering, but when I turned on the basement lights, the kitchen lights would stop flickering. That's when I realized it was over my head. When I learned to wire ACs 40 years ago, increasing load shouldn't improve load on another circuit.

Any idea why that would happen? If I have another problem brewing, I'd like to know and get it fixed before it becomes something.

Both are on the old panel from the 80's. As we can afford, we're moving things to the new panel. The basement lights are fluorescent and one ballast probably needs replacing. The kitchen lights are screw in LEDs.


Update: Am satisfied with the answer. Thanks. And dimmers are way too high tech for this place. (Don't let it know about the WiFi.)

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    > I know I have a lost neutral > explain weird symptoms though .... when you have a lost neutral, your house will be wall-to-wall weird symptoms. Therefore no symptom is meaningful until the lost neutral is fixed. This is made worse by the fact that many people go days or even weeks before discovering that they have a lost neutral. My sweetie said "Sorry the toast is taking so long, the toaster has been slow all week!" I was up out of my chair instantly looking for a voltmeter, point is, it took that long for anyone in our complex to even notice. Oct 23, 2020 at 14:55

1 Answer 1


With a neutral, everything is forced to be split 50/50, regardless of load. When you have a lost neutral, your circuits that are normally ~ 120V can be anywhere between 0 V and 240 V. The voltage on each side will float depending on the relative load of each side. Add more load and things could even out.

Some devices won't work well outside a narrow range - perhaps 100 V - 130 V. Many devices can handle a wide range for internationalization - e.g., 90 V - 250 V. But go too low, especially below 90 V, and a lot of devices simply won't work properly. Flickering lights would be the least of the problems. LED lights in particular will flicker if voltage is too low, unless (and sometimes even if) they are designed to be dimmer-compatible.

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    The OP’s flickering lights are probably non-dimming LEDs or CFLs. Low voltage would definitely make these flicker.
    – DoxyLover
    Oct 22, 2020 at 21:42
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    And that fits perfectly with the breaker for one on the left and the other is on the right. Thanks. And I feel better about my present situation.
    – Steve R
    Oct 23, 2020 at 2:29
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    @SteveR Breakers on left and right aren't how it works, unless your panel is Pushmatic. It's more complicated than that. Oct 23, 2020 at 14:51

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