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What Does Short Circuit Mean And How Do I Know if I Have One?


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Short circuiting is when an electric current flows down the wrong or unintended path with little to no electrical resistance. It can cause serious damage, fire, and even small-scale explosions. In fact, short circuits are one of the leading causes of structural fires around the world. If you've ever seen sparks in your electrical panel, it most likely was a short circuit causing them.

What Causes A Short Circuit?

There are number of factors that can lead to a short circuit. Here are some of the most common causes.

  • The wiring encounters water or some other liquid.
  • Faulty insulation or loose connections can result in the live and neutral wires coming in contact with each other.
  • Nail and screw punctures that cause the wire casings to deteriorate.
  • An abnormal build-up of electrical currents within your home's electrical wiring system.
  • Common pests like rats, mice, and squirrels, chew the wires.

Old or malfunctioning appliances with damaged plugs or power cords can also cause a short circuit. That's because when an appliance is plugged into a wall outlet its wiring essentially becomes an extension of the circuit.

Protection Against Short Circuits

Short circuits pose a danger of shock and fire. Fortunately, your home's wiring system has various means in place to safeguard against these dangers.

  • Circuit breakers or fuses use an internal system of springs or compressed air to detect changes in electrical current flow. They are designed to break the circuit connection when any irregularity occurs.

  • Ground-fault circuit interrupters, or GFCIs as they're commonly known, provide a similar function to circuit breakers. They too sense changes in current flow, but are much more sensitive than breakers, automatically shutting off the current's flow at the slightest sense of fluctuation.

  • Arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) protect against arcing, a phenomenon that occurs at loose electrical connections and causes electricity to jump between metal contacts. These devices anticipate short circuits and shut the power off before it can reach a short circuit condition. Where GFCIs protect against shock, AFCIs are a better solution for preventing fires caused by arcing.

How to Deal with a Short Circuit

It's a job best left to a professional, but there are some things you can check on your own. For example, if a circuit breaker regularly trips immediately after being reset, you probably have a wiring problem someplace along the circuit or in an appliance that is connected to it. Take a good look at all the power cords plugged into outlets along the tripped circuit. If you notice damage or it looks like the plastic insulation has disintegrated, unplug the appliance, and then switch the circuit breaker back on. If the circuit now remains active, you can be fairly certain the appliance was the problem .

Repairing a circuit wiring problem should typically be done by a professional electrician. The repair involves shutting off the circuit, opening up outlet and switch boxes to inspect wires and connections, and making any necessary repairs. You may also need changes to your home's electrical panel. This is definitely not a job for most DIYers!

If you suspect you have a short circuit problem in your Jacksonville, FL home, our team of highly trained electricians are here to help. Contact David Gray Electrical Services online today or call us at (904) 724-7211 to learn more.

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