A short circuit occurs when your home’s electrical system stops supplying regular power. Short circuits are annoying and always require a trip to your electrical panel. But short circuits can be very dangerous too.
Keeping your home safe from hazards and electrical fires requires a little bit of electrical maintenance. Knowing what to look for when using electricity in your home can help prevent short circuits and other problems.
Professional electrical experts can help prep your home for electrical safety. Annual electrical inspections help prevent the dangers that can result from wiring that has been installed improperly or circuit hazards that can come with age.
Short circuits can occur because of several reasons. You may be overloading a circuit with electronic demand and this is something you can remedy yourself. But if your power is constantly shutting off or short circuits happen for no apparent reason, it’s time to call professional electrical services.
Let’s discuss what you can do to avoid short circuits in your home.
What is a Short Circuit?
Your home’s electrical system has a network of wires that connect electricity all over your house. Each individual pathway of electricity is called a circuit. A short circuit occurs when electricity follows a shorter, unintended pathway, instead of following the electrical circuit.
An electrical circuit in your home flows from your electrical panel to different parts of your house or apartment. It’s typical for different rooms to be on different circuits. These circuits have a perpetual flow of energy, whether or not you are using electricity from the circuit.
Electricity will always follow the path of least resistance, meaning it wants to flow as easily as possible. When your home’s circuits are working safely, electricity will flow through wires to electrical outlets, and eventually into your devices and appliances.
When there is an abnormality in the circuit, it can allow electricity to “take a shortcut” in its pathway. This can be very dangerous and lead to sparks or fire.
What Causes Short Circuits?
Electricity is always trying to find the quickest path to the ground. Because of this principle, electricity will always flow along the path of least resistance. So a short circuit in your home is caused when electricity finds a path easier or shorter than the designed wiring.
Short circuits in the home can be caused by:
- Water or fluids coming into contact with electrical wiring
- Loose connections in an electrical box
- Old or damaged outlets, switches, lights, appliances, or other electrical devices
- Wire damage due to animals, pets, construction, or
- Deterioration of electrical cable sheathing
- Build-up or surges of electricity
Understanding Circuit Breakers
Have you ever seen a box or panel full of fuses and switches in your home? This is most likely your electrical panel or main service panel. They are often located in the basement or a utility room.
The electrical panel contains a series of circuit breakers. The job of a circuit breaker is to recognize a short and immediately cut power to that circuit. This protects your home from the risks of short circuits. Circuit breakers are electrical safety devices.
Short Circuit Prevention
Not all circuit shorts are foreseeable, but there are some best practices to follow as your home ages. Being conscious about your home’s electrical safety can help prevent dangers that come with an aging residence.
Follow these guidelines to help keep your home short circuit-free.
Get Annual Electrical Inspections
Professional electrical inspections are one of the best ways to make sure your home is secure from shorts. Annual inspections keep you apprised of potential risks and allow your electrician to recognize any trouble spots.
There may be some areas of your home exposed to short circuits or showing signs of potential electrical failures. Annual electrical inspections provide the peace of mind that your home’s wiring is in good condition and your circuits can handle the load of daily life.
Unplug Devices Not In Use
There’s a chance that devices left plugged in when not in use are still on and draining power from the circuit. Some short circuits are due to high power demand. Devices like TVs and computers use “phantom power” while they’re turned off but still plugged in. Consider unplugging these items when away.
Devices such as a toaster or heater should ALWAYS be unplugged after use. These are high amperage devices (draw more energy), not to mention the fire risks due to overheating.
Check Connections Before Use
Before plugging a device in or using an outlet, give a quick check to make sure both are in normal working condition. The wiring to your appliances or devices should have a strong connection with no visible signs of wear and no tears in the plastic wire insulation.
Malfunction with an electrical outlet can cause short circuits, too. An electrical outlet may present problems if you notice the following things:
- Burn marks or melting around the receptacle
- The outlet is not working
- The outlet is cracked or chipped
- The connection is very loose or plugs fall out
- The outlet feels hot to the touch
Don’t Overload a Circuit
Each circuit in your home has a maximum load (amount of electricity available). This is a safety measure to ensure each circuit is never unsafely overloaded. So when you use too much electricity from one circuit, your circuit breaker will cut power to that room.
Try limiting high-demand appliances in use at one time. For instance, running your vacuum while having a heater on in the same room might be too much demand for that part of the house. If a circuit does “trip” (power is shut off) take a look at the electrical demand on that circuit and adjust accordingly.
Know Your Circuit Breakers
Having a general idea of how your electrical panel is laid out will help you turn the electricity back on after a short circuit. An electrician can help familiarize you with your circuit breakers during an annual electrical maintenance visit.
A simple circuit map beside your main panel is an easy way to trace each circuit breaker back to the rooms of your house it regulates.
Rely on Professional Electrical Safety
Your home does have safety measures in place to prevent short circuits from becoming serious electrical disasters. But these devices are only valuable if they are maintained and always working. Electrical professionals make sure that your home is prepared for short circuits during electrical inspections.
So next time the power cuts out in one room or another, take a moment to ask why. Take the right steps to prevent further circuit trips and don’t hesitate to call a residential electrician if short circuits are happening too frequently.