We all know how beneficial electricity can be; it powers countless household items every day. While convenient, electricity can also be dangerous. An electrical short circuit, for example, can cause serious damage to a home and threaten the safety of everyone in it.
What is an electric short?
To understand what an electrical short is, you first need to understand how a home’s electrical system should work. Electricity flows along copper wires in a circular flow from your home’s service panel and back. This flow should remain a continuous loop. Outlets and lights do not interrupt this circuit but simply pull electricity from it as it flows by.
An electrical short occurs when the electrical current follows a different pathway, breaking the circuit. In other words, the “hot” wire carrying electricity comes into contact with a wire that is not live, which allows the current to jump from wire to wire. Once this happens, electricity takes the shortest route back to the ground, regardless of what may stand in its way. Electricity does not discriminate between person, property, or wire.
What causes an electrical short?
Since an electrical circuit is a never ending loop, something needs to interrupt the flow to create an electrical short: for example, vermin chewing through wires, damage to outlets, or a surge of electricity. Other causes of electrical shortsinclude
- Water or other fluid coming into contact with the wiring
- Loose connections in the electrical box
- Deteriorated electrical cable sheathing
- Faulty wire insulation
- Appliances with faulty wiring, plugs, or power cords
Damaged power cords and plugs can be obvious, as they usually become scorched or melted. Be sure to stop using any cord or plug that shows signs of damage.
How can electrical shorts be prevented?
Most homes have an electrical service panel with breakers that control specific circuits. These circuit breaker systems gradually replaced fuses after 1960, but you may still hear the panels referred to as “fuse boxes.” Circuit breakers protect your home by detecting an electrical overload or short and then breaking the connection to stop the flow. You can take additional proactive steps to prevent electrical shorts.
Keep up with all home maintenance and inspections for each component of your home: HVAC, appliances, etc. Catching any damage before it can lead to an electric short can be lifesaving.
- Make sure ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) are installed in in all areas required by the National Electrical Code, and also use them when operating powerful electrical equipment like garden and power tools. GFCI outlets or circuits can sense even tiny changes in current and immediately shut down the flow of electricity.
- Arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) help prevent electrical fires by detecting dangerous arcs and shutting down the current. AFCIs are required in most rooms in newly constructed homes, and they are available in both outlets and circuit breakers.
What are common signs of an electrical short?
While electrical fires can happen suddenly and without warning, there are some signs that can alert you to the presence of a short, including
- Burning smell from outlets
- Obvious burn marks
- Buzzing or popping sounds from an outlet
- Sparks coming out of an outlet
- Circuit breaker shuts off
- Devices stop working
- Electrical fires
- Electrical shocks when coming into contact with device or short circuit
If you notice any of these signs, turn off the power to the affected area immediately to help prevent further damage. Then, call a professional electrician like those at Pacific Sheet Metal to assess the electrical system and identify the problem. Once the electrician fixes any issues, it may be a good idea to have the area inspected by a fire safety professional, as well.
Never try to repair an electrical short circuit on your own! Pacific’s experienced professionals can safely help you identify the cause of the short circuit and make any needed repairs. For more information on maintaining your home’s electrical system, subscribe to our blog today!