What Is a Short Circuit and What Causes It?

Electrical circuits allow electricity to flow through copper wires as they’re effective conductors. But when there’s trouble with the wires, the electrical current can travel via an unintended route, resulting in what’s called a short circuit.

An electrical short circuit occurs when electricity doesn’t go where it’s designed to go. It’s when electricity travels via a low-resistance route or takes a shortcut – hence the term “short” circuit. This can occur when the current comes into contact with a conductive material that’s not meant to carry electricity.

What are the types of short circuits?

There are two main types of short circuits: a “normal” short circuit and a ground fault short circuit.

  • Normal short circuit. This occurs when a hot wire (a wire carrying the electrical current) comes into contact with a neutral wire. This causes the resistance to drop and the current to go through an unintended route.
  • Ground fault short circuit. This is when there’s contact between the hot wire and any grounded part of the electrical system, such as the metal wall box or bare ground wire. Similar to a normal short circuit, the current travels via an unsuitable route, but there’s a reduced chance of an electrical fire.

What causes a short circuit?

Let’s take a look at the common causes of a short circuit:

#1 Wire insulation

Electrical wires come in non-conductive casings made of PVC. However, this casing can get damaged over time due to being chewed out by rodents or by screw punctures. When this occurs, the wire will be exposed, resulting in a short circuit.

#2 Loose connections

Loose wiring increases the chances of a live wire coming into contact with a neutral wire. Loose connections can also increase the resistance, which can then cause the wire’s temperature to rise. This puts your property at risk of an electrical fire, an accident that happens more than 51,000 times per year, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). If you notice loose connections, call a licensed electrician – do not try to fix it yourself.

#3 Appliance wiring

When you plug an appliance into a socket, its wiring becomes part of the whole circuit. This means that any problems it currently has will also become the circuit’s problems. If there’s something wrong with the appliance’s wiring, its plug, power cords, etc., this can trigger a short circuit.

Are short circuits dangerous?

During a short circuit, the resistance will change, causing a sudden spike in electricity. This has the potential to do damage to the appliance, cause an electrical fire, or worse – electrocute you. The increase in temperature can also melt plastics or set flammable materials on fire.

Can a circuit breaker prevent short circuits?

Your electrical system comes with a circuit breaker, which is a device that cuts off the flow of electricity once it detects a short circuit. While your circuit breaker can be relied upon, it’s best to have it maintained to make sure it continues to do what it’s supposed to. With that said, be sure to schedule circuit breaker maintenance with your local electrician. Ideally, circuit breakers should be tested once every 1 to 3 years.

Keep your electrical system in check with Beeson Mechanical Service, Inc.

The key to keeping your property safe from electrical fires is by scheduling an inspection. The electrical experts at Beeson Mechanical Service, Inc. can examine your electrical system from top to bottom and pinpoint any problems that may cause short circuits. Our team will provide cost-effective solutions to prevent short circuits, as well as resolve all of your electrical issues. Contact us at 317-535-9338 to schedule an electrical inspection today.