A short circuit occurs when electricity strays from its intended path and completes its journey via a shorter route—one of less resistance. This occurs when the flow of electricity is interrupted by a flaw in the established wiring. If a short circuit in your electrical system is not found and promptly fixed, it could produce sparks, smoke, or fire or cause electric shock.
Before we get into common causes of short circuits in a home, a brief science lesson is in order to help you better understand how circuits work.
Electrical Circuit Wires
Two wires are required to complete a circuit: a hot wire (carrying a negative electrical charge) and a neutral wire (carrying a positive electrical charge). If there’s a flaw in the system and current escapes from either of these wires, then a grounding wire will come into play. A grounding wire runs parallel to the hot and neutral wires and is, essentially, a backup wire that channels current back to ground if it strays from its intended path. If your home doesn’t have a grounding system in place, it’s at higher risk for fire.
Short Circuit vs. Ground Fault
Short circuit and ground fault are both terms that refer to electrical shorts. When electricians use the term “short circuit,” they are generally referring to a situation where a hot wire touches a neutral wire. A “ground fault,” on the other hand, occurs when a hot wire touches a grounded portion of your electrical system, such as the metal wall box or an appliance. In both cases, a large amount of current escapes its intended path.
Common Reasons for Short Circuits
1. Loose Connections
If wire attachments loosen and sag, two wires may encounter each other and create a short circuit. If you notice a hot wire and a neutral wire touching, don’t tighten the wires yourself; you could be severely shocked. Call an electrician to fix the issue for you.
2. Aging & Outdated Wiring
Wires and wire insulation will experience wear and tear over time. The typical lifespan of an electrical system is 30–40 years. If your system is older than this, it may no longer be safe.
If your home was built in the 1970s or earlier, it could still have aluminum wiring. Aluminum wears more quickly and overheats more easily than copper, which puts your home at greater risk for fire. Additionally, older wiring systems weren’t designed to handle the amount of electricity modern homes require.
If your home’s electrical system is getting old, it may be time for an update. Call an electrician you trust to perform an inspection and recommend the best course of action.
3. Faulty Appliance Wiring
Short circuits can occur in appliances by means of a faulty plug, faulty power cord, or a flaw in the appliance itself.
4. Damaged Insulation
Hot and neutral wires are designed with insulation to prevent the two wires from touching and creating a short circuit. Over time, however, this insulation can wear down or become damaged. Be careful that you don’t accidentally puncture electrical wires by placing nail and screw holes in walls. Also watch for evidence of pests chewing through insulation and wiring by checking crawl spaces regularly and repairing any cracks or holes you see throughout your home.
How to Tell If You Have a Short
If you have a short in your electrical system, it’s usually pretty obvious. Fuses may blow or your circuit breaker may trip repeatedly. Often, you will here a loud popping noise when these events occur. If you experience these events frequently, call an electrician to inspect your system as soon as possible.
If you believe your home electrical system may have a short somewhere, contact an electrician who is experienced in fixing these issues. For more information, tips, and advice about electricity in your home or business, subscribe to our blog!