What is a Short Circuit and Why is it Dangerous?
Short circuits can happen for a variety of reasons. When they happen in your home, you and other members of your household could be in danger. Short circuits can cause electrocution, fire, and other forms of damage. The more you know about short circuits, the easier it is to protect yourself from this kind of problem.
In this article, we'll answer the question, "What is a short circuit, and why is it dangerous?" We'll also talk about what you can do to prevent short circuits, what you can do to identify a short circuit, and discuss when is it important to get help from an electrician.
Understanding Short Circuits
A short circuit is a direct path of low resistance that bypasses the normal electrical load. What does that mean?
In your home, a circuit is a flow of energy that leads away from your electrical panel, into your home, and then back to the panel. The energy is always looking for ways to flow back to the ground. When the flow of energy finds a faster way to flow to the ground, it will take it. This is what we call a short circuit.
What Causes a Short Circuit?
There are many things that can cause short circuits, including:
Faulty wiring. Wiring that was improperly installed, or wiring that was installed according to old building codes, can cause a short circuit. For example, aluminum wiring, which is no longer installed in homes today, commonly experiences problems like short circuits and arc faults because of loose connections.
Damaged insulation. All wires are protected by sheathing that insulates the flow of electricity from everything in the environment. When that insulation is damaged, the flow of electricity can leave the wire and flow elsewhere.
Loose connections. Loose electrical connections allow the flow of electricity to leave the wire, while also creating heat that can lead to electrical fires.
Equipment malfunction. When a switch or an outlet malfunctions, this can cause a variety of problems (such as loose connections, power surges, etc) that lead to a short circuit.
Vermin. Vermin are known to chew through electrical insulation, creating the perfect circumstances for a short circuit.
Electrical surges. Electrical surges can damage wiring, switches and other parts of your home's electrical system, causing malfunctions and short circuits.
When any of the problems above occur, the electrical path may find a new route with less resistance than the original circuit. In other words, electrical current will always follow the path of least resistance, leading to an unintended connection between two points.
The Dangers of Short Circuits
Why are short circuits bad? Short circuits can lead to many problems, all of which can cause risk and danger for homeowners and the people they live with.
Risk of Electrical Fires
Short circuits cause a rapid increase in the flow of a current, which can lead equipment and wiring to overheat. Ultimately, this can lead to the ignition of flammable material near the circuit, causing a fire. According to the US Fire Administration, electrical malfunction caused 24,200 fires, 295 deaths, 900 injuries and $1,201,500,000 in dollar loss in 2021.
Short circuits can cause damage to connected devices. Sometimes this happens when an increased flow or surge of electricity causes damage to the electrical components. This increased current flow during a short circuit can overload those components, causing them to fail. Usually, the only way to get those components to work again is to replace them with new, undamaged components.
Electrocution and Personal Safety
A short circuit creates an unexpected path for electrical current. If the unexpected path happens to be across a surface that a person is in contact with, this accidental contact can lead to severe injury. Electrocution can cause burns, internal damage and cardiac arrest. If a person comes into direct contact with a short circuit, the high current flow can even result in death.
Detecting and Preventing Short Circuits
Identifying a short circuit starts with knowing the symptoms and knowing when to call an electrician. If your home has a short circuit, here's what to watch for:
- Frequent tripping of circuit breakers. Circuit breakers should not trip regularly unless there are too many appliances drawing power from one circuit, or if there's something wrong with the circuit (like a short).
- Flickering lights. Flickering lights when an appliance turns on is an indication that the circuit is not getting enough electrical service. However, flickering lights at other times could be an indication of a short in the circuit.
- Burning odors. Burning odors are an indication that the short circuit is creating heat which is causing material to melt or burn.
- Sparks. Sparks can occur at the outlet when there's a short circuit, when something is being plugged in.
- Heat. Short circuits can generate heat, which may cause the switch or outlet to heat up.
- Buzzing sound coming from outlet. A short circuit may create a buzzing sound as the electricity switches to the path of least resistance.
- Burn marks on outlet. When the short circuit generates heat, the outlet may develop burn marks or melting marks.
Professional inspections can identify the kind of hazards that can lead to short circuits, such as faulty wiring, loose connections and more. Have your home's electrical system professionally inspected to find out what kind of hazards could be found in your home's walls. If your electrical system shows signs of a problem as described above, contact an electrician.
Preventing Short Circuits
As a homeowner, there are many things you can do to prevent short circuits.
1. Avoid DIY installations. DIY electrical work can be dangerous. Improperly installed electrical fixtures and appliances can experience failures that lead to short circuits.
2. Distribute load evenly. Overloads can cause electrical failures that eventually lead to short circuits. Keeping the electrical load distributed evenly can help prevent this kind of problem.
3. Use circuit breakers and fuses of appropriate ratings. If you have a fuse box, replace it with a circuit breaker box and use circuits of appropriate ratings.
4. Ensuring proper grounding of electrical systems. A properly grounded system provides an additional path for the electrical current to return to the ground, in the event of a short circuit. This can prevent problems like electrocution.
5. Promptly addressing any signs of electrical issues or abnormalities. In the event that your electrical system starts to display symptoms of problems, get your system inspected by an electrician as soon as possible.
Need An Electrical System Inspection? Contact Add-All Electric Today
A short circuit can be a dangerous problem, putting your house and members of your household at risk. If you believe that your home's electrical system may have a short circuit somewhere, it's important to get help from an electrician. It's also important to get your home's electrical system inspected from time to time. Getting an inspection can help you identify problems in their early stages and avoid the circumstances that would create a potential overload and short circuit.
For more information about how you can get electric repair for your home, an electrical inspection and more, call Add-All Electric today. We provide electrical services for homeowners in Fort Worth and Dallas, TX.