What Causes an Electrical Short?


It’s happened to many people: You go to heat up something in your microwave but, instead of popping your popcorn or reheating your pizza, the appliance turns on and then immediately goes dark. Unless the GFCI outlet has tripped, the problem is certainly an electrical short. This issue can happen in electrical circuits or in an appliance’s wiring. Either way, electrical shorts are always irritating and sometimes dangerous.

How Does an Electrical Short Work?

What happens in an electrical short may seem like a riddle, as electrical circuits are intricate systems. Simply put, electricity flows along the circuit to power up devices such as lamps, appliances, and phone chargers. However, if a “hot wire” is contacting a neutral or ground wire in an electrical outlet or appliance, it completes what is called a “short circuit”. With an electrical short, excess current flows through the circuit for a short period until the fuse blows or the circuit breaker clears the circuit. The overflow of current can lead to things as severe as damaged appliances or even a house fire, potentially resulting in devastating losses.

Related Topic: Your Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping, Now What?

What Causes an Electrical Short?

The cause of an electrical short is when the hot wire (the wire carrying the current to appliances) makes contact with a neutral wire (which is the wire that provides the return path to the electrical panel) or the ground wire (the green or bare wire that also returns the electricity to the electrical panel especially during a short circuit). What causes this to happen?

  • Aged wiring. As wires age, they can deteriorate and become a safety hazard. Older homes might even have aluminum wiring instead of copper wiring, making the chances of overheating and short circuits greater.

  • Damaged or weakened wire insulation. The wires within your home and appliances are insulated to prevent contact, but if this insulation is damaged, you could observe more frequent shorts. Damage can come from natural wear and tear, or even rodents chewing through it.

  • Incorrect or loose wiring. Lastly, if the wiring is loose or installed incorrectly, wires are more likely to touch, creating a short.

How To Tell If You Have an Electrical Short

Because there are several causes of electrical short circuits, it’s important to look for the warning signs so you can fix the issue in the present and prevent future damage to your home and appliances. To figure out if you might have an electrical short, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you smell burning or smoky odors around your outlets?

  • Do you feel warm spots on your wall, far away from heat sources?

  • Are there discolored spots or burn marks around your outlets?

  • Is a certain circuit breaker, maybe in your kitchen or home office, tripping more frequently over time?

  • When you see exposed wires in a basement, crawl space, or other such areas, are there any signs of damage to the wires?

If your answer to any of these questions was yes, you might have an electrical short. If you answered yes to multiple questions, the odds of an electrical short are not only greater, but worrisome enough that you should investigate this immediately.

If you have one appliance that constantly stops working while in operation, the electrical short is most likely in the appliance’s wiring. If the problem is in the appliance itself, replacement or repair is necessary. If the appliance is good, then the problem is somewhere else in the wires or outlet that feed the appliance. The professionals at Mr. Electric are trained to fix these types of issues.

How To Find an Electrical Short in Your House

Although there are many ways to test for electrical shorts in your home, electrical wiring, especially wiring that is potentially faulty, is risky to work with. Occasionally, a short is relatively simple to find, but it often takes an experienced professional with specific tools to locate the cause of a short circuit. The professionals at Mr. Electric have the training and tools to identify and fix your electrical shorts, and keep you and your family safe in the process. If you suspect you have an electrical shot or would like your system inspected for safety, call us at (844) 866-1367 or schedule an appointment today.


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