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How to Avoid the Danger from a Short Circuit

September 6th, 2018

Short circuits are abnormal electrical connections that can be dangerous to you and damaging to your home and/or appliances. A short circuit occurs when electricity follows the path of least resistance between two conductive points, generating additional heat. For example, when a current-carrying wire with faulty connection touches a metal light switch (a conductive point), the flowing current can short circuit, resulting in a spark, fire or shock. Knowing what causes a short circuit — and how to prevent it considering electrical safety — can help keep you safe. 

What can trigger a short circuit?

Electrical SafetyMost shorts in your home are the result of poor maintenance due to:

  • Old or damaged insulation that permits neutral wires (those that carry current in branch circuits) and live (exposed) wires to touch, or punctures in wire casings that cause deterioration
  • Loose connections that allow neutral and live wires to touch
  • Old, broken appliances or those with faulty or damaged power cords

Sometimes a mouse, rat or squirrel gets into your house or attic and chews on wires. They may fray and cross, resulting in a short circuit. If you notice any possible issues that could cause a short circuit and create even more damage, you should contact an electrician to do a safety check.

How do you know if you have a short circuit?

A sure sign is if the power suddenly goes out on an appliance or light, tripping the switch on one of your circuit breakers. More serious signs would be a spark, smoke or the smell of burning wires. If you suspect a short circuit, there are a few things you can do to determine where the problem is:

  • Look to see which circuit breaker switch is flipped.
  • Check the power cords plugged into the outlets along the particular circuit and see if you notice damage or melted insulation.
  • Turn off all the power and then reset the breaker by flipping the switch in the opposite direction. If a switch trips immediately, you probably have a short in the switch or receptacle, and need to call an electrician.
  • If you’re not sure which breaker or circuit is at fault, turn on each light switch until it trips again.
  • If the switches don’t trip the breaker, begin plugging in each appliance one at a time, noticing which one trips the breaker; that is the one causing the short.
  • If you’ve done all of the troubleshooting and nothing is an obvious problem, it might be in hidden wiring that needs to be checked by a professional electrician.

Why is a short circuit dangerous?

When there’s additional electricity flowing through a switch, outlet or appliance, it generates additional heat. If the affected wires come in contact with

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flammable parts in your home, they can cause a fire. Likewise, if you or a pet happens to touch a live or damaged wire or cord, you can get shocked. Both you and your pets conduct electricity, and when that current flows through to the ground, it results in electrical shock.

How can grounding electricity help prevent a short circuit?

A ground wire, often insulated with green, doesn’t carry current and is an Electrical safety measure to prevent you from accidentally coming into contact with electrical hazards. When a ground wire is connected to an appliance, for example, any unwanted electricity travels through it and back to the electrical panel to stop any additional electrical flow. The ground wire is also connected to something that is in turn connected to the ground outside — usually a grounding electrode or ground rod — and is known as “earthing.”

How can a home safety inspection help protect you from electrical malfunctions?

If you’re buying a new house, making major renovations or have an older home, scheduling a home safety inspection with a licensed electrician can give you peace of mind — and alert you to any potential problems that need to be addressed. Here’s what the electrician will check:

  • Electrical service panel (i.e., fuses or circuit breakers) for wear and tear, outdated fuses or damaged parts
  • Wiring to make sure there are no loose or damaged wires, or wiring that is not up to code
  • Bathroom and kitchen outlets to make sure ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) are installed and light switches are away from water
  • Outlets and lighting (interior and exterior) to see if anything is loose, noisy or hot to the touch
  • Cords to check for fraying or punctures
  • Light bulbs for the correct wattage per fixture size

How can I become a licensed electrician?

It is essential to train and have practical experience before you can receive your journeyman’s license and become an electrician. Loenbro Technical Institute offers a comprehensive training program that includes hands-on learning opportunities and an apprenticeship to prepare you for a career as an electrician. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for electricians is expected to grow 9 percent between 2016 and 2026 — partially due to increases in construction spending and the demand for alternative energy sources.

At Loenbro, you’ll learn industrial, commercial and residential requirements; electrical codes and National Electrical Code (NEC) requirements; control theory; and safety and OSHA standards. Once you complete four years of training, you will be eligible to test for your journeyman’ license. However, even after completing your first year of training, you will be eligible for employment opportunities.

Contact Loenbro today for more information about training to become an electrician.

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