What Causes a Short in an Electrical Outlet?

A short circuit in an electrical outlet occurs if the bare metal of a hot wire touches the bare metal of the neutral or the ground wire. While referred to as a short in an outlet, it often occurs in the wires behind the circuit.

Short circuits are low-resistance connections in a circuit. Normally, the electricity has a resistance load, such as a light bulb or motor to slow the flow of energy. Without the load, electricity flows rapidly, creating enough heat to ignite nearby combustible materials.

A warm outlet cover is a sign of a potential short. Noises, such as buzzing sounds or pops, indicate a problem. Due to the energy draw of the short, lights on the same circuit flicker or dim. As the plastic insulation warms or nearby materials start to char from the heat, occupants may note a burning smell. Circuit breakers protect the home from danger by turning off the power to the outlet.

According to FEMA, the annual average cost of electrical fires is $1.1 billion. Each year, more than 25,000 house fires occur due to an electrical source, leading to 280 deaths and over 1,100 injuries. Of these electrical fires, 39 percent involve electrical outlets, switches and wiring. A short circuit in an electrical outlet requires immediate attention.