Electrical Wiring in the Home/Circuit short


Hi Bob:

I contacted you a few months ago regarding an electrical short I was experiencing. This is a 2nd house so I only come up occasionally and the problem still exists (see dialog below). I couldn't locate the short even after following your suggestions so I had to call in an electrician. He could not locate it either. His recommended strategy is to bypass that circuit altogether, tap into a working circuit close by (I had to break drywall in the ceiling for other reasons and there is visible wiring) and tie into a non working outlet to provide power to the rest of the line. My question is- in your opinion is this a viable strategy? He claims that this will not overload the working circuit because of the type of area it is. Thanks for your help.


One of my circuit breakers (for the living room) keeps tripping and there is nothing extra plugged in that hasn't been plugged in for the last 13 years (just 2 lamps). The first time I was able to flip the switch back on, lights came back on and I thought the issue was resolved. Now I can't even flip the switch. Could it be the breaker itself? Thanks.

ANSWER: Most likely a short developed in the circuit.  When you turned it back on, the breaker malfunctioned because of the short.  Turning a breaker on without fixing the problem could cause a fire, especially if you do it more than once, so it is always best to fix the problem first. Disconnect the wire from the breaker, and see if it can be set back on.  If not, it is bad, but there is likely still a problem with the wiring.  Open up every outlet, switch and fixture on the circuit and check for black spots or any wires that are touching that shouldn't be. Also, make sure you do not have FPE, Federal Pacific Breakers.  There are major problems with them, which you can Google if you do have them.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


Thanks for the quick response. Question- can I disconnect the wire from the breaker without killing myself? Should the power be turned off somehow before I attempt this? I've done my share of electrical work but not in the panel. Thanks.
Answer:   The problem with working in the panel is that there is always part of it that is energized.  If you have a main breaker and turn it off, then less will be energized.  If you turn the breaker off, and it is working properly (not an FPE breaker) then the screw that the wire is connected to should not be energized. But the other end of the breaker that clips onto the metal bar will be energized. Be careful not to let the screwdriver slip, and touch only the plastic handle.
I hope this helps.  Feel free to ask any follow up questions if you need more information or I didn't give you the information you need.


ANSWER: There are several issues here:

First of all, if there is a short, there is still going to be a short if you tap another circuit unless you can disconnect the shorted part, which nobody knows where it is.

Depending on what is being used on the new circuit and shorted circuit, it may overload it. If they are in rooms that are seldom used, or not much is used in the rooms, you might get away with it.

Both circuits would have to be general lighting circuits. You could not connect a lighting circuit to a kitchen outlet circuit, for example.  Both circuits would have to be the same amperage rating.  You can not connect a 15 amp circuit to a 20 amp circuit.

I would be against it, mainly for the first reason.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks Bob. I agree with you 1000%. That being said, how in the world do I go about finding this short? I followed your suggestion but see no evidence of a short. Is there a fool proof method that an electrician can use to find it? I find it hard to believe in this age of advanced technology that this can't be tracked down. Help!! LOL.

I assume you have unplugged everything, and turned everything off.  The next step is to disconnect the wiring at points along the circuit.  If the circuit breaker still trips, it is between the point you are working and the panel.  If it doesn't trip, it is further away from the panel.

I also assume you have looked at all of the outlets and switches in the circuit. Look for ground wires touching the screw terminals, or the screw terminals touching metal boxes. Look for black marks inside of the boxes.
About Electrical Wiring in the Home
This site answers questions related to home electrical wiring, home wiring, general electrical help,and other electrical questions related to aleternating current (AC). You can find help on the National Electical Code, home electrical issues, wiring electrical outlets, installing lighting, electrical grounding, and general electrical help for do-it-yourself projects not require an electrician. If you do not see your home electrical wiring question answered in this area then please ask your electrical wiring question here

Electrical Wiring in the Home

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Bob Sponaugle


Just about any home wiring question. (not appliance repair) I have done all kinds of home wiring for myself, including adding a new breaker box, etc. Please, questions from North America only. Please be specific with details.

©2017 About.com. All rights reserved.