Flickering LED light causes a headache
February 5, 2021 7:37 PM   Subscribe

I recently moved into a new apartment. Yay! However, the elevators in the building have lighting with a lot of flicker, which causes me discomfort and headache. I complained, but was told that flickering is a normal part of LED lighting and that there is nothing that the managers can do about it. I don't believe that.

I talked to the maintenance manager, and was told that there is nothing wrong with the current wiring of the lights. In fact, he doesn't see the flicker at all, so he doesn't see my complaint as high priority. He also told me that if there is one particular bulb that is flickering, he could change that -- but that was the limit of what he could do.

I don't believe this at all. I have had LED desk lamps before, and they have never caused any headache. In fact, I took a slo-mo video of the elevator LED light and my personal LED ring light. The video of the elevator light definitely shows a flicker, whereas the video of my personal light does not.

What can I do to make the management take me seriously? Are there regulations on lighting that I could send? Are there clues as to what might be going on with the elevator lights? I live in Washington State, in case that is helpful information.
posted by tickingclock to Grab Bag (10 answers total)
Some people don't see the flicker when face on, but if they look at it from the corner of their eyes they may see it. Corners are more sensitive to "motions".

I don't know why the bulbs are flickering. If they ALL flicker, one possibility is they used non-dimmable bulbs with dimmable sockets, but you may end up asking the elevator manufacturer, which may be more problem than it's worth. I guess you can leave a sign on the elevator or the community bulletin board or the local FB group or such and see if anyone else complains.
posted by kschang at 7:50 PM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Cheap LED lamps have cheap driver electronics that don't smooth out the 60hz AC when making DC, and the ripple can show up that way.

If all the elevators do it, that does not sound like a hardware malfunction. Some motors or other drivers can impact LED's on the same circuit.
posted by nickggully at 8:15 PM on February 5, 2021

Aside from wiring, the LED bulb driver can be a cause of flicker whether due to attempts to dim using PWM or due to current conversion as others mentioned and standards guidance (e.g., IEEE 1789) in that area does exist.

Waveform Lighting's article on the topic might be also helpful.

If the bulbs are to be replaced, selecting new bulbs with a high CRI might help with addressing a related problem if color issues are also noted.
posted by UrbietOrbi at 8:29 PM on February 5, 2021

Full size LED bulbs like in the lamps in your home have electronics that drive the LED with a relatively steady current so there is no flicker.

Where you usually see a problem are small specialty bulbs like candelabra and appliance lights. These bulbs are so small that there isn't room for electronics. They run directly off the AC current which means they turn completely on and off 120 times a second. Some people can't see this flicker but others can, especially if you move your head from side to side you might get a strobe effect.

I'm guessing that the bulbs in your elevator are one of the smaller specialty bulbs, so they are going to flicker. The LED bulbs are probably replacements for older incandescents that don't flicker but may no longer be permitted by building codes in your area because of their low energy efficiency.

The wiring isn't defective and the LEDs aren't defective, but that is the design limitation of these kinds of smaller bulbs. The only fix would be to ask if they can replace them with incandescents.
posted by JackFlash at 9:01 PM on February 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

Another possibility is that the LEDs are drop in replacements for older fluorescent tubes. Some of these will flicker if they don't also replace the old ballast driver with a new LED driver.
posted by JackFlash at 9:06 PM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

What can I do to make the management take me seriously?

Do you have any way of communicating with the other residents and seeing if anyone else is similarly bothered?
posted by trig at 10:48 PM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Elevators are like their own little world, including the lights, and it seems to be a 12 or 24V world, AC or DC, mostly AC these days apparently, and companies which supply elevator lights have responded to the voltage duality by making lights which function from 12 through 24V.

But true to their diode nature, individual LED elements only conduct and shine above certain threshold voltages, which means, absent tricks such as phase shifting the voltage to some LEDs in the array, that a given set of LEDs will have slightly longer intervals of darkness running at 12V AC stepped down through an appropriate passive transformer than at 24V, and it seems possible to me that could be part of your problem if your system is 12V.

One company claims to provide flicker free elevator lighting, but as you can see from that PDF, it compares itself only to fluorescents in that regard.
posted by jamjam at 1:05 AM on February 6, 2021

Some people can see LEDs flicker, some cannot. But you needn't use slo-mo for video to capture and display the flicker; regular-speed video taken with the cameras of most cell phones show and even exaggerate it, by default (something about the frame-rate). You can use these videos to make your case.
posted by Rash at 10:05 AM on February 6, 2021

And here is a typical LED elevator bulb. It runs off 12V AC or DC so most likely does not have power smoothing electronics. It is going to flicker if your elevator uses 12V AC.

New energy standards require that elevator cab lighting use no more than 0.6 watts per square foot. For a 6 by 6 foot elevator cab that's only 21 watts which would be no more than 7 of these 3 watt LEDs.

Is this bulb what yours looks like?

The older incandescent type is shown here. It uses 20 watts for a single bulb and may not be compliant with your local building code energy requirements.
posted by JackFlash at 1:46 PM on February 6, 2021

this is an argument you will need to let go. i am one of those sensitive people who can see the flicker and for whom it causes headaches if exposed for too long. your maintenance person might not be able to see it. if it were me (and it has been) i would just close my eyes for the very short time i was in the elevator. save your maintenance complaints for when your sink is flooding or the heat doesn't work.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:46 AM on February 8, 2021

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