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How Exactly Does a “Short-Circuit” Happen?


If you’ve been reading our articles, you know that a short circuit is generally considered a bad thing to happen in your electrical system. That’s why we do our best to ensure that your wiring, outlet receptacles, and circuit breakers are all in great condition to prevent a short circuit, among other electrical problems. When you’re reading about electrical safety or assessing potential hazards in your own system, it can be helpful to know what causes these issues. This week, we are going to take a look at short circuits and how best to prevent them.

Exactly What It Says on the Tin.

Short circuits are exactly what the name implies; when the electrical flow completes its journey through a shorter distance than originally intended. This can happen in wiring systems where the wires are damaged or even just loose. Electricity is always looking to travel along the path of least resistance as quickly as it can. Wires with a faulty connection create the perfect opportunity for the electrical current to take a detour. Unfortunately, that alternate route could be through flammable materials or even you! Short circuits can cause electrical burns, fire, and electrocution. Even if you don’t get hurt, your appliances and electrical system could experience considerable damage from a stray electrical current.

The Pièce de Résistance

The most dangerous aspect of a short circuit is that it causes a sudden change in electrical resistance. Think of it like pushing open a door with a couch leaned against it. That couch causes a large amount of resistance, making it harder to push open the door. Now imagine that someone suddenly takes the couch away without you knowing and you push with the same force you used when there was high resistance. You’re going to come flying through that door! The same type of thing happens in the case of a short circuit, now that resistance suddenly and drastically plummets, the electrical flow will spike, carrying a large volume of current unimpeded through its newest unexpected pathway.

Effective Preventative Measures

Luckily modern homes have been built to reduce the risk of short circuits. Here are some key elements any home should have in order to experience the best protection:

  • Circuit Breaker. These breakers in your basement will trip a circuit whenever it detects a change in the electrical current.
  • GFCI Protection. More sensitive than your circuit breaker, these devices are typically used in outlets near to water to protect against ground faults, a specific type of short circuit.
  • AFCI Protection. Arcing is another type of short circuit that occurs when loose wires cause electricity to jump from wire to wire. These can create a generous amount of heat and the risk of fire, so AFCI protection is a must!
  • Regular Electrical Maintenance. Wear and tear is the most common cause of short circuits, making maintenance key to electrical safety. Annual routine inspections will ensure that your system is not falling to disrepair.

Short circuits can be a dangerous problem to have, but luckily, most are entirely preventable! Call our electricians today to take a look at your home’s wiring system. After all, your safety is our number one priority!

Written by 4-Star Electric

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