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Short Circuits And System Overloads

An electrical overload occurs when you have too much demand on a particular circuit. A short circuit occurs when there is an interruption in the path of a traveling current. To better explain these problems, let's go over some very rudimentary laws of electricity.

Electrical currents travel in a loop like a boomerang. To offer a rudimentary explanation, current travels from its source (the "hot" side of your breaker box) through a hot (aka "live") black wire to a destination such as your lamp, hairdryer or heater. These various destinations are cleverly named "loads" since they load the circuit by demanding a certain number of amps to make things work. The current then returns home through a neutral white wire to the neutral side of your breaker box, called the "ground."

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All sounds fairly simple, right? It is, but all wiring must adhere to this path or it can be enormously dangerous. To lead a hot wire, for example, to a load without giving it a neutral path back to its source is an electrical shock or fire waiting to happen. Similarly, to lead a circuit straight back to the ground-side of your breaker box without first attaching it to a load to balance the connection breaks the laws of currents and is a recipe for problems.