What Is an Electrical Fault? Definition and Types
Whether upgrading, renovating or installing new electrical systems, understanding electrical faults, what they are and how they occur, can stop not just the electrical short circuit, but the human one as well. More importantly, understanding how to prevent them can keep you, your home, and your family safe.
Electrical Fault Defined
Electrical faults are defined as any flaw within the electrical system that leads to a failure to deliver the appropriate current or an unexpected change in voltage. These faults can occur anywhere within the system, from the electric panel to the wiring, to individual components, and maybe the result from misuse, overuse, or improper installation.
Of course, faults can also originate at electrical power lines and systems outside the home including buried cables. Regardless of the location, in worst-case scenarios, faults can cause instability in the system, damaged electrical equipment, or lead to overheating and fire hazards.
Types of Electrical Faults
Faults can be broken down into two ways: open circuit and short circuit. Open circuit faults occur at the conductor level and essentially mean there's a failure to deliver the current as expected. Short circuit faults are the ones we are more familiar with as, in our homes, safety systems trip the breaker when there is a short circuit, preventing further damage.
Short circuit faults occur when two circuits, designed to handle different voltages, come into contact. Essentially, the conductor expects a certain voltage load and short circuits when an overload is delivered.
Short circuit faults can be further broken down and understanding where and how they occur can help determine the best way to design and protect your electrical systems.
The first type of fault is known as a symmetrical fault which is sometimes called a balanced fault. Though these occur infrequently, they impact all 3 phases of the electrical system.
Because home wiring requires significantly less voltage, it is typically a single-phase system and so not susceptible to this type of fault. Symmetrical faults occur in larger systems, including overhead power lines and industrial components, and, even there, are rare.
Unsymmetrical faults impact only 1-2 phases of the system and are therefore more frequent, though no less damaging. These can occur from ground to line or from line to line and may be caused by faulty wiring or a lightning strike. They indicate an imbalance in the system occurring between two components.
Regardless of the type of fault, the impact on your safety remains the same. Each of these can cause lasting damage to your electrical system including the wiring, components, control panels, and are, therefore, quite risky in terms of safety.
Safety Switches for Complete Coverage
To ensure electrical safety in your home, the system is already equipped with circuit breakers to help protect the wiring should one of these faults occur. When the circuits are overloaded, the breaker "trips" protecting that particular circuit.
However, panels should also be equipped with safety switches. While circuit breakers protect the wires, safety switches protect everything else. A safety switch differs in that it monitors the entire system and when it senses any issues in the system, it shuts off power to protect everything in the system, not just the circuitry.
Understanding Electrical Faults and Safety
Having a basic understanding of how electrical currents fail and where in a system an issue needs to be addressed is a great first step in learning to troubleshoot issues in home building or repair. While there's plenty out there to learn, anytime you're working with electricity, safety is paramount and there's no such thing as overkill.
Installing both circuit breakers and safety switches ensures the integrity and safety of the system and your own personal safety as well.
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