May 18, 2018
Why is My Outlet Sparking?
Have you ever plugged in your appliance, phone charger, or flick a switch and see a nice blue spark at the outlet? Most of the time, this is completely harmless. However, there are certain times where this is something to pay extra attention to, because it can be an early sign of a future problem that may be larger. The aim of this blog is to explain why an outlet sparks, what it could mean, and what you should know to properly handle this issue if it does turn out to be serious.
What Causes Outlet Spark?
There are “good sparks” and “bad sparks”. Every time you plug in an appliance to an outlet you’re connecting something to an outlet. Your home, for example, runs continuously through a loop known as a circuit. Along the circuit there may be multiple outlets, where a charge can be channeled through in order to provide power to whatever appliance or utility that requires an electrical charge. So every time you connect a plug to an outlet there is always a point where the connections are almost connected and touching, and when that happens a spark is produced, this happens every single time and is considered completely safe and natural.
However, there are such things as bad sparks that are a cause for concern and can actually constitute a real problem. The good news is it can be fairly simple to diagnose when you have a problem that needs professional service. The distinctions between good sparks and bad sparks are clear as day, but it is vital for the safety and integrity of your home that these problems get addressed immediately for reasons of safety.
What’s The Difference Between a Good Spark and The Bad Spark?
Just like weather conditions, there are several types of common sparks that a professional electrician will encounter time and time again, the bad sparks are not harmless, and should not be ignored. If you’re experiencing any of the following types of spark it is your duty and responsibility to have this problem properly handled and managed as soon as physically possible.
Smelly Sparks- Possibly the most dangerous and urgent type of spark you’d want to take note of is what is referred to as a “smelly spark”. This is when the outlet you’ve connected a device too is followed by a smell, whether that’s “smoke”, “melting plastic”, “or a burning smell”. This is a cause for concern and does constitute a serious problem. The most actionable advice you could get is to immediately shut off the outlet at the circuit panel and when you’re ready call a professional to troubleshoot and diagnose a solution to this issue.
Large Sparks- If you’ve ever seen a spark actually pop out of a socket, then this simply can’t be considered a harmless spark. Maybe you’re sitting down, and plug in an appliance like a laptop, and out of the corner of your eye you catch a blue spark POP out of the circuit. This isn’t normal and it certainly is not safe. Take a note of what circuit this is occurring on, avoid using it for the time being, and call an electrician that cares.
White or Yellow Colored Sparks- Remember the harmless sparks you will see are typically a visible blue in color. When it comes to electricity the color does matter, because it suggests the strength and intensity of the circuit. When you see a spark that is yellow or a bright white, chances are this is something for concern and better left in the hands of an electrician whom is comfortable giving you a diagnostic check up!
Lingering Sparks- The easiest spark to immediately notice may be the lingering spark. This a spark that will flash, pop, fizzle, and dance. It does not take a genius to see that something like this can be a signal of something a professional will need to work on.
What are the Causes of Bad Sparks?
There are many reasons why bad sparks happen but in my experience as a seasoned professional, there are quite a few common root causes of these problems, something I’ve dealt with numerous times:
Moisture- Another common issue to cause sparking and short circuiting is moisture in the outlet. If water has gotten into the socket or a leak from a pipe, or roof this may be at the heart of what is causing your outlet to spark.
Overload- Overload occurs when too many appliances are placed on the same circuit. Adapter plugs that allow multiple appliances to be plugged in should be used sparingly. Appliances should generally be distributed fairly equally across a circuit in order to avoid an overload. With an overloaded circuit you may here buzzing sounds as well… this is a sure sign that something is wrong with your current circuit.
Old Outlets- In cases of extreme wear and tear and usage outlets can become worn out and this can result in significant electrical arcing.
Short Circuits- When an outlet’s hot wire touches the neutral or ground wire something known as a short circuit can occur. When the outlet draws excessive current it can produce quite a lot heat, and in some cases this leads to melting of wire sheaths, and even electrical fires. Checking to see if there’s any visible signs of a short circuit are as simple as shutting off the outlets circuit breaker, and removing the outlet panel to check for scorching or melting that would be an indicator of a short circuit.
Improper Repairs- As much as it is a pain to admit, sometimes the problem simple is that the job just wasn’t done right the first time. Whether the person lacked current education and experience, certificates and licensing, or just didn’t know how to properly inspect the home… bad things happen to good people, and improper repairs can lead to serious consequences, consequences that range from sparks to electrical fires… so it just makes the most sense for everyone involved that you leave the repair job to an expert in their field and a force to be reckoned with.
Do Any of These Scenarios Match Your Current Situation?
Do not let a problem progress any further, especially when something of this nature can quickly escalate not only into something very costly, but extremely dangerous as well.
Electrical fires cost over $1.3 billion dollars a year in damages and injury or kill upwards of 1,900 people yearly as well. The good news is this is something totally in your control and something Greg from Integrity Electric would be more than happy to help you with.
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