Lights in my house keep turning off and on, and my wife thinks our house is haunted. I prefer a more scientific explanation; but knowing nothing about electricity or wiring, I am turning to you all to come up with one. Anyone heard of this before?
At random could be haunted :) or maybe bad grounding on some systems...try moving the service panel ground to a water line (you need to learn about grounding) or drive new grounding rod or just fix the loose connections.
Could be a fault in the utility companies transformer...ask them
If its all lights at once its a loose wire on a main feed line or at the meter... if its just some of the lights a bad breaker on that circuit or loose wire at the breaker.
Look to see if copper wires and aluminum wiring is mixed, or spliced...that would be dangerous in many but not all cases and also cause that sort of problem.
Rent an old movie called "Gaslight" first. Maybe someone is trying to drive you crazy.
If the lights that are going on and off are ceiling mounted "can lights" they may have been installed improperly with insulation covering them or may have bulbs with too high wattage. Those fixtures sometimes have thermal switches that turn them off as they heat up.
Does the house have X-10 home automation switches? If so there might be a controller somewhere activating a vacation "away" mode, or a neighbors X-10 system is leaking in. If this is the case you have to change the house code on all your devices.
If you have an older house, you may have a wiring problem such as aluminum wire or "back stabbed" (poorly installed) switches or outlets. When the lights have been on a while, go around the house and feel for heat near the wall plates of the switches and outlets around the house. Also check the breaker panel for heat buildup. It wouldn't hurt to use your nose and check for overheated smell.
Since you admit "knowing nothing about electricity or wiring", you should call an electrician to make the fix. My advice is just to help you localize the problem so you don't pay an electrician to wait all day for a light to blink out. If any of your lights are suddenly getting bright or any appliances are operating like their voltage is changing drastically, don't wait to get an electrician out before you have a fire.
You haven't given enough information for an intelligent answer. All the lights, or just some? Are the lights on the same or different circuits? Just lights, or other devices? Do either of your neighbors have this problem. I am sure there are 20 other questions to ask, but since you know nothing about electricity, there would be little point to it. This could be trivial like one loose wire in a branch circuit, or it could be extremely serious. Get an electrician in as soon as possible in case it is the latter. You might also get a priest in to cover the haunted possibility.
yes, they were ceiling mounted can lights, and yes, an electrtion told me today that there were thermal switches that were making the lights go off. thatnx for the " intelligent" answer(see post below). when you suggested the possibility, i figured that was it, because both "cans" are the same make, and located roughly the same height in the cieling. i needed to make sure though, because i have a mini me that lives on the other end of the house!
Since you profess to "knowing nothing about electricity or wiring" I suggest you employ an licensed electrician to check it out. This is probably a bad connection, these can cause fires. I would give you a few pointers but by doing so could be placing you in harms way. Troubleshooting wiring problem can be very dangerous, especially for the inexperienced.
You have gotten several good ideas about where the problem may be, but none of them are things that an amateur should do. Disconnecting grounding wires and tightening screws in the main panel require knowledge and experience to avoid possible electrocution. I highly recommend that you hire a qualified electrician to look into your problem.
I have one customer on the coast just beyond the Golden gate bridge who runs a guest ranch and needs to upgrade a really bad service... he has been an electrician of sorts in the past... he doesnt want the city or utility company out there...so he said he is going to cut the over head feeders at the weather head hot... do his work and splice them hot... no problem he said... he will wear gloves. :)