Background

I’ve always been bothered by flickering LED lights. Initially I only noticed LED string lights that people put up around the holidays. But an increasing number of lights are being installed that flicker very annoyingly! It’s becoming a hazard!

It’s not that the LED technology itself is problematic, it’s that many manufacturers make lights that flicker on and off very quickly instead of staying a constant brightness. It’s a technique that saves some money during manufacturing and “most” people don’t notice it, but it drives some people crazy! Imagine for a moment if all your favorite places installed disco strobe lights instead of light bulbs, and left them running all the time. It’s awful.

One important example is that in 2022, most new cars are sporting LED tail lights and running lights that flicker in a distracting way. It’s a safety hazard for me. Whenever those lights flash in my eyes, I’ve got to redouble my attention on the road. It is a very safe bet that the flicker in car lights has caused accidents due to distraction and drivers having difficulty tracking vehicles.

Some of the LED lights we buy to replace incandescent bulbs flicker a lot, some flicker a little, some not at all. There is no way to know until you bring them home and plug them in. That might not sound like a problem but it has big consequences. For one, it creates quite a bit of friction in the marketplace for flicker-sensitive consumers; buying lighting shouldn’t be like playing roulette. Many consumers can’t identify the flicker per se: a good friend told me how her parents didn’t notice the flickering lights in their home until she replaced it. Everyone immediately noticed the difference and irritability and sleeping difficulties in the house immediately decreased! Listen to her story.

Increasingly, public buildings use LED lighting. Much of this lighting is terrific, the light looks great, the fixtures last a long time, and they save money compared to incandescent and even florescent lighting. But sometimes the new lighting is very bad for a percentage of the people. The first examples that come to mind are the West Branch of the Berkeley California Library and a local restaurant called Bangkok Jam in Berkeley, CA. Since Bangkok Jam replaced their lighting with flickering LEDs, I can’t stand to be in the restaurant for more than a few minutes. Hear Lee’s story about Bangkok Jam.

The West Branch Library was rebuilt in 2013 and the building won several awards, notably for being California‚Äôs First Net Zero Energy Library and for it’s innovative, efficient lighting. No one noticed that the lighting flickers like mad. I went there for an event last year and before I got to the front desk, I knew something was amiss. The lighting looks like a fast strobe light to me, raising my anxiety level with every minute in the building. I am sure that is not what the builders intended!

At a rough estimate, 5-10% of people are bothered by flickering LED lights. Ask twenty of your friends and it is likely some of them will say “Oh yes, those new light drive me crazy!”

I was at a “Dad’s Club” meeting for my daughter’s school in the fall of 2021 with fifteen people in attendance. The topic of flickering lights came up and one of the Dad’s chimed in, saying, “Wait, I thought we were all supposed to just get used to those new lights.” We can’t let this become the norm!