Why Is A Short Circuit So Dangerous?

Why Is A Short Circuit So Dangerous?

wire plug on fire resulting in electricity wire burnt

Have you ever wondered why as a child you were warned against sticking a piece of metal into an electrical appliance or power socket? Why exactly would you be at risk of an electrical shock? The answer is that a short circuit happens. Yet, this is not the only danger of short circuits, as they can cause danger to your circuits, appliances and home.

In this article, we will be explaining what a short circuit is, how it occurs, the dangers that it poses under different circumstances, preventive measures and what you should do once a short circuit occurs.

What is a Short Circuit?

At its root, a short circuit occurs when part of an electrical current carrying wire touches another electrical conductor such as a wire. When this occurs, an additional path for electricity to travel through emerges. Since like any other form of energy, electricity takes the path of least resistance, it then proceeds to enter into this alternate path.

Once this occurs, given the lowered amount of resistance, the amount of current, which is essentially the measure of flow of electrical charge flowing through a circuit, is allowed to amplify. If the amount of current in the circuit exceeds safety limits, then large amounts of power and heat will be generated both within the circuit as well as in the connected appliances.

Causes of Short Circuits

short circuit resulting in old and defective adapter to burn

Several underlying reasons could facilitate the contacting of a current carrying wire with another electrical conductor. Here are the frequently found root causes:

  • Using old or defective electrical appliances. Found within each of these appliances is a little circuit that powers each component of the appliance. Over time, either the wiring or parts become faulty and vulnerable to short circuits occurring.
  • Defective insulation due to melting. When a wire carries current, part of the flowing electrical energy gets converted to heat due to the resistance within the wire. As such, when excessive current flows through, large amounts of heat are produced leading to the insulation material being melted. At this point, the conducting wire material becomes exposed and capable of coming into contact with other electrical conductors.
  • Loose connections. When electrical attachments are loosened, there is a chance that the live wire and neutral wire can come into contact. Since the neutral wire is designed to complete the closed circuit by connecting back to the electrical panel, it is capable of offering an alternate path for electricity in the live wire. In other words, a short circuit is formed.
  • Physical damage to the wires by impact or from pests is another common occurrence. When damaged, wires become exposed and offer up a real risk of allowing a short circuit to occur.

What makes Short Circuits Dangerous

laptop caught on fire caused by a short circuit

As alluded to before, short circuits allow for an increase in electrical current to flow through the circuit. 3 dangers thus emerge from short circuits.

Firstly, when excessive current is fed to electrical appliances, exceeding their safety limit, they might explode. At best, you will find a destroyed electrical circuit within the appliance, rendering the device unfit for use. At worst, the device might break out into flames which would endanger the immediate surroundings.

Secondly, even if it is not the electrical appliances that fail to accommodate the surge in current, your power socket and wires may not be able to handle the increased heat generation. If so, the materials themselves would reach melting point and allow for an electrical fire to breakout. This is a highly dangerous event that might lead to the fire rapidly spreading throughout your house.

Thirdly, if you are in contact with the conductor that facilitated the creation of the short circuit, then you will be in danger. Be it a metal rod or even a body of water, electricity from the wire will rapidly take the path of less resistance and reach you at a high voltage. This would shock your body and may deliver horrible injuries.

What to do in the event of an Electrical Fire?

Should an electrical fire breakout, immediately call the emergency number for your country’s emergency fire services.

At no point should you attempt to use water to contain or snuff out the fire as electrical fires actually become more dangerous when water is applied to them. Not only is the appliance or power socket more likely to explode, but you would be exposing yourself to the risk of an electrocution.

Instead, try to turn off your home’s electrical circuit in order to prevent any further power from being delivered to the area.

Safeguarding your home from Short Circuits

main breaker replacement to prevent short circuits

Your home’s circuit should be safeguarded by a circuit breaker that prevents an electrical fire from breaking out. How does it work? Circuit breakers are designed to break your home’s electrical circuit when excessive current flows through it. It is based either on a fuse, which is a thin wire that breaks easily from high current volumes or electromagnets that pull the switch into the off position when sufficient current magnetizes it.

Using these mechanics, should a short circuit occur, the increase in current will cause the circuit breaker to “break” your circuit and stop all flow of electricity. When this happens, your home enters a “blackout”.

What to do when your Circuit Breaker Trips

When a black out occurs, it is important that you do not panic. Instead, calmly fetch your home’s torchlight, switch off appliances in the area that caused the trip before proceeding to your circuit breaker. You can now attempt to flip the circuit breaker and bring electricity back to your home.

Instead of turning back on all appliances, do so in staggered fashion as a large surge in power demand might lead to a second trip. Additionally, you should closely examine the condition of your circuit breaker. In particular, check it for any smoke or scotch marks. Should you find these or are unable to flip the switch back on, then you will need to get a main breaker replacement.

To do so, search for emergency electrical services as soon as possible in order to have your circuit breaker up and running. It is critical that you do not delay this engagement as any time spent without the protection of your circuit breaker would put your home at risk of having an electrical fire.

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